FIRST Wildcare Tours Presents High Desert Haven….by Lynnette Bonner

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old…or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today’s Wild Card author is:
Lynnette Bonner
and the book:
High Desert Haven
Lynnette Bonner via CreateSpace (DATE)
***Special thanks to Lynnette Bonner for sending me a review copy.***
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

The daughter of missionaries, Lynnette was born and raised in Malawi, Africa. After graduating high school from Rift Valley Academy, a boarding school in Kenya, she attended Northwest University in Kirkland, Washington where she met her husband, Marty. They married in 1992 and moved to Pierce, Idaho a few years later.

Marty and Lynnette have four children, and currently live in Washington where Marty pastors a church and Lynnette works as an administrative assistant.
Visit the author’s website.

SHORT BOOK DESCRIPTION:

Is Jason Jordan really who he says he is?
Everything in Nicki’s life depends on the answer.

Oregon Territory, 1887

When her husband dies in a mysterious riding accident, Nicki Trent is left with a toddler and a rundown ranch. Determined to bring her ranch back from the brink of death, Nicki hires handsome Jason Jordan to help. But when William, her neighbor, starts pressing for her hand in marriage, the bank calls in a loan she didn’t even know about, bullets start flying, and a burlap dummy with a knife in its chest shows up on her doorstep, Nicki wonders if this ranch is worth all the trouble.

To make matters worse, terrible things keep happening to her neighbors. When her friend’s homestead is burned to the ground and William lays the blame at Jason’s feet, Nicki wonders how well she knows her new hand – and her own heart.

A desperate need. Malicious adversaries. Enticing love.
Step into a day when outlaws ran free, the land was wild, and guns blazed at the drop of a hat.

Product Details:

List Price: $14.77

Paperback: 334 pages

Publisher: Lynnette Bonner via CreateSpace

Language: English

ISBN-10: 1477586482

ISBN-13: 9781477586488

MY THOUGHTS ON THIS BOOK

This is my first book from this author and wow, I love it! High Desert Haven takes readers back to the 1800′s Oregon Territory, a historical setting I love reading books about. Imagine being bought by a strange man, and volunteering to go because you want your family to be debt free. This is just what Nicki did, not knowing if she would ever see her precious parents and family again. Life was not so bad, until her husband died from an accident and left her alone with someone trying everything possible to take her land from her. What Nicki didn’t realize was that God had a young man all set to come and rescue her. But then so much happens, and can Jason really find out what is going on and protect Nicki from someone who wants her dead?

This book captured me in the first few pages, and I couldn’t put my Kindle down until I finished it. Took me less than one day to read this wonderful book! Lynnette Bonner creates a cast of characters that are interesting and intriguing, some that you grow to love, and some that are really difficult to even like. A lot goes on between the pages of this book, there are so many twists and turns to keep your eyes glued to the book to see what is happening next. And I really appreciate the way Lynnette stresses putting God first in our lives, and letting Him have control. This is what it’s all about, and I am always encouraged to read fiction stories like this. Don’t get me wrong, these characters had more than their share of heartaches and difficult situations, but when they kept their eyes on the Lord, they had peace that the Lord would see them through.

I highly recommend this book for you to read and enjoy. And if you are a historical fiction buff like me, this is a must read! You will be very glad you read it! I didn’t read the first book in the series, but it was ok as a stand alone. I do encourage you to read the entire series by Lynnette Bonner, The Shepherd’s Heart.

On and I forgot to mention, the detailed and vivid descriptions of the setting, first California, then the Oregon Territory was amazing. I could feel the dusty dry sand, the beautiful scenery and the feel of historical living during that time. This book is not only a great read, but a great history lesson!

I want to thank the author, Lynnette Bonner and FIRST Wildcard Tours for providing a copy of this book for me to read and review. The opinions in this review are mine only. I was not required or expected to write a positive review.

AND NOW…THE FIRST CHAPTER:

High
Desert Haven
THE SHEPHERD’S HEART SERIES, Book 2
Copyright © 2012 by Lynnette Bonner. All rights
reserved.
Cover design by Lynnette Bonner, images ©
http://www.istockphoto.com,
File: # 9303865 Cute Bride.
http://www.fotolia.com,
File: Bringing in the Herd, Jeanne Provost #2658808.
http://www.bigstockphoto.com,
File: Old Map of the US Pacific Northwest #5998922.
Title-plate
created with Photoshop Swirls by Obsidian Dawn, http://www.obsidiandawn.com.
Author photo © Emily Hinderman, EMH Photography
Scripture taken from the New King James
Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All
rights reserved.
ISBN:
978-1477586488
High
Desert Haven
is
a work of fiction. References to real people, events, establishments,
organizations, or locales are intended only to provide a sense of authenticity
and are used fictitiously. All other characters, incidents, and dialogue are
drawn from the author’s imagination.
Printed
in the U.S.A.
UV
TO
MY PARENTS:
DUANE AND SYLVIA STEWARTA truer example of walking in God’s
Grace and Mercy would be hard to find.
UV
AND
TO MY SIBLINGS:
BETHANY AND HERB,JON AND PATTI,

MELISSA AND KEVINI love you all and am so glad I can call
you family twice—once through our own blood, and once through Christ’s.

 

Acknowledgments
UV

Once
again, I owe much thanks to my English-teacher mother. I can honestly say I
wouldn’t be here, writing this sentence, if it wasn’t for her encouragement
along my writing journey.

Lesley, my crit-partner-extraordinaire,
thanks for all your input. I’m so thankful God brought you into my life. I
truly appreciate you (even when I’m grumbling through a rewrite).

 

Psalm 23A PSALM OF DAVID
UV
The Lord is my shepherd;
I shall not want.He makes me to lie down in green pastures;

He leads me beside the still waters.

He restores my soul;

He leads me in the paths of
righteousness For His name’s sake.

Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no
evil;

For You are with me;

Your rod and Your staff, they comfort
me.

You prepare a table before me in the
presence of my enemies;

You anoint my head with oil; My cup runs over.

Surely goodness and mercy shall follow
me All the days of my life;

And I will dwell in the house of the Lord Forever.

 

Prologue
California
July 1883
A
s Dominique Noel Vasquez
methodically scrubbed clothes in the tub of soapy water, she listened to the
quiet, strained tones of her parents who sat against the shady side of the
house.
Scorching
afternoon sun shone on the hard-packed, earth yard of the small adobe hut. Heat
waves, radiating from every sun-baked surface, turned the landscape into a
shimmering sepia blur. Dead brown land lay in every direction; the only hint of
green life was the small scraggly plot of corn that would hopefully feed the
family for the year to come. Even the wheat struggling to grow added to the
dull brown vista. A solitary chicken, scratching for a meager meal, sent small
puffs of dust filtering across the yard and a lonely cow, the children’s only
source of milk, rested her head on top of her split-rail fence and let out a
low bellow.
In
this heat everyone should have been down for a siesta, but on this day only the smallest children of the household
were resting. Tension rode the heat waves.
Dominique
plunged harder and glared at the clothes. The creditors had come again this
morning. Last year Papa had been forced to borrow money for seed, and now for
the second season in a row the rains had failed them. There were no crops; they
were down to their last chicken; the one cow’s milk was needed by the children;
and the creditors were howling for their money like a pack of hungry wolves hot
on the scent of lame prey.
Nicki
tossed an angry glance at the sky. “Lord, where are You when we need You?”
Sweat trickled down her temple and she rubbed it roughly across one shoulder as
she shook out a little skirt with more vigor than necessary and tossed it
across the line. Gentle conviction washed over her. She was throwing a bigger
temper tantrum than two-year-old Coreena did when Papa told her “No.”
Nicki’s
anger eased. “Forgive me, Lord. You alone know and care about our plight. But
if there were anything I could do to help Mama and Papa, You know I would do
it.” She paused in her prayer, thinking, then continued, “What is there to do,
Lord? Show me what I can do to help.”
Mama
called across the yard, interrupting her prayer. “Nicki, you work too hard.
Sit! Rest! We will finish the washing when it is cooler.”
“Almost
done, Mama. Then I will rest.”
“That
girl!” Mama turned to Papa but the rest of her words were drowned in a dry, hot
breeze.
Nicki
smiled. Mama often castigated her for working too hard, but with twelve children,
nine of whom were still at home to feed and clothe, Mama needed and appreciated
all the help she could get.
Silence
reigned for a time. The only sounds filling the afternoon air were the soft
swish, plunge, and gurgle of Nicki’s washing and the giggling of her two
younger sisters splashing each other with cool water by the well. Nicki gave
the last small shirt a snap and deftly flipped it onto the line where the
laundry was drying. Dumping the soapy water in front of the door, which helped
keep the dust down, Nicki hung the wooden bucket on its nail and moved to
carefully empty the contents of the rinse bucket on the one small rosebush at
the corner of the hut.
“Girls,
please!” Juanita Vasquez called from the shadow of the house to Rosa and Juna,
who were getting a little wild and loud with their splashing game. “I have just
gotten Manuel to sleep. Quiet!”
This
sent the girls into another gale of giggles. Their mother’s voice had been
twice as loud as theirs. But when Papa tipped his sombrero back and glared at
his two wayward offspring, the giggles ceased immediately.
Nicki
shook her head fondly at her sisters’ wayward ways and sank to the ground next
to Mama, suppressing a groan of satisfaction as she leaned back against the
cool adobe wall. She was tired. All morning she had helped Papa haul water from
the well to carefully water their acre of wheat and corn. A large enough plot
to hopefully get them through another year. Later they would repeat the
process, because watering with buckets did not soak the ground like a good rain
would, and the crops needed plenty of water if they were to produce well.
Nicki
closed her eyes, trying to ignore Mama and Papa’s furtive conversation.
“The
chicken, Carlos?”
“Mama,
the chicken will not bring in enough to get us through one day, much less pay
the money we owe.”
“Yes.
You are right, of course, and it has stopped laying, so we don’t even have the
eggs from it anymore.” Mama sighed. “Ahhh, maybe we should have chicken
tonight, sí?”
Papa
sighed at Mama’s little joke. “We could sell the cow.”
“Papa,
she is the only milk for the children. I would like to keep her if we could.”
Hot
tears pressed the back of Nicki’s eyes, and she leaned back against the wall.
What were they to do? Papa would be taken to jail if he didn’t come up with the
money by next week, and then they would all die for sure. The creditors would
take their meager crops to recoup as much of their money as they could. They
wouldn’t care that they’d be leaving a woman and her nine children to starve to
death. Where was Juan when they needed him? Were he here, he’d think of some
way to make the money they so desperately needed.
A
slight breeze rustled the dried grasses, and Nicki pulled her skirt up around
her knees, not caring that Mama would chastise her for such an unladylike
action. The small breath of fresh air was worth it. Reaching up, she brushed at
the long wisps of black hair that had escaped her braid and rubbed the
perspiration from her upper lip. She wanted a drink of water but felt almost
too tired to get up and get it. Eventually the thought of the cold water won
out. She shifted forward. Mama and Papa could surely use a drink as well.
“Child, you don’t sit still for even a minute! What are you heading to do now?”
“A
drink, Mama,” Nicki said lovingly. “Would you like one as well?” She pushed
herself up from the wall.
Mama’s
voice turned tender. “What would I do without you, child?”
Nicki
chuckled. She was hardly the child her mother kept insisting she was. At seventeen
she more than carried her weight, but Mama didn’t like to see her children grow
up. Nicki remembered Mama calling Roberto “my little man” on the day of his
wedding! Those had been happier times, Nicki thought as she walked to the well.
The rains had been good in those years, and debt had not hung over the little
adobe hut and its occupants.
As
Nicki cranked the lever that would pull the bucket up from the depths of the
well, she scanned the horizon and stiffened. “Papa.” Her tone held a soft
warning. Someone was coming on the trail.
Papa
rose and stood by her side. Nicki pulled the bucket toward her, filling the
dipper with cool water. If the creditors had come to take her papa away, he
would go having just drunk his fill from the chilled water of his own well. She
handed the dipper to her father. He drank, never taking his eyes off the rider
heading their way, then handed the dipper back. Nicki filled it and moved
toward her mother, who still sat in the shade, tears filling her eyes.
“They
said not until next week.” Mama’s words stabbed a knife of pain through Nicki’s
heart. Whatever happened, Nicki knew Mama would die a slow death once Papa was
taken. Not from starvation, but because the love of her life would be gone.
Fierce
determination filled Nicki as she marched with the empty dipper back toward the
well. Tossing back a gulp of water, she wiped the droplets from her chin and
pivoted to glare at the man coming into the yard.
She
froze. He was not the man who worked for the bank.
“Howdy.”
The man tipped back his dusty, black hat and smiled down at Carlos. The smile
didn’t quite reach his eyes. His gaze flicked past Papa and came to rest on
Nicki. Considerable interest flamed in their depths. He nodded to her, the
smile now reaching his eyes, and touched the brim of his hat in a one-fingered
salute. “Ma’am.” He ignored Papa and spoke directly to her. “I was thinking how
nice a cool drink of water would be. I’d sure be appreciating it if I could
light a spell.”
Carlos
stepped between Nicki and the newcomer, effectively blocking his view. “Draw
fresh water, Dominique.” He stretched his hand toward the man, indicating he
could dismount. “Welcome.”
But
Nicki could hear an edge in his voice. This man could mean trouble.
“Obliged.”
He nodded and swung from his saddle. The man was tall, had graying hair, steely
blue eyes, and a wad of chewing tobacco stuffed in his cheek. He stretched his
hand toward Carlos as Nicki pulled up a fresh bucket. “Name’s John Trent.”
Papa
took his hand. “Carlos Vasquez.”
Mr.
Trent studied her over the dipper as he drank his fill. Nicki averted her eyes
but held the bucket for his next dipperful. She had received more than her
share of such looks and knew what he was thinking. For although this man would
say nothing to her in front of her father, the men down at the cantina showed
no such qualms whenever Mama found it necessary to send her there. The thought
of their suggestive remarks burned a blush across her cheeks. John Trent lifted
the dipper again and raised his eyebrows in amusement.
Papa
made small talk about the long hot spell as Nicki pulled buckets of water from
the well for the man’s horse, but Nicki didn’t miss the looks John Trent kept
throwing her way.
When
he mounted up to ride out, Mama, still seated in the shade, gave an audible
sigh. Nicki couldn’t deny she felt plenty relieved as well.
Just
as he arrived at the crest of the trail, the man paused, and Nicki stiffened.
John Trent rubbed a hand across his face and said something to himself, then
swung his horse once again toward their adobe. His eyes raked her more boldly
this time as he pulled to a stop in their sun-baked yard.
Leaning
his arms casually on the horn of his saddle, he spat a stream of tobacco into
the dust, turned toward Papa, and brazenly asked, “How much for the girl?”
Nicki
and Mama gasped in unison.
The
bucket in Nicki’s hands crashed to the ground, splashing water over her feet.
Quickly she bent and picked it up. She spun on her heel and marched toward the
well to return the bucket to its hook. The
audacity!
Papa
spoke with authority. “The señorita is
not for sale.”
John
Trent’s eyes scanned the small house and the scraggly field beyond, then
traveled pointedly to seven of Nicki’s brothers and sisters who had gathered in
a little clump to watch the goings-on. Then he stared into Papa’s face before
spitting another stream of brown sludge. “I think everything’s for sale as long
as the price is right.”
“My
daughter is not for sale, Señor. I have to ask you to leave us now.”
Ignoring
him, Trent reached into the pocket of his vest and pulled out a coin. He tossed
it to the ground near Papa’s feet.
A twenty dollar gold piece! Nicki had
not seen Mama move, but the audible click of a cocking shotgun cracked into the
afternoon stillness. All eyes turned toward the door of the house to see her
there, the gun aimed squarely at John Trent’s chest.
Nicki’s
eyes dropped to the money on the ground. That little piece of gold could save
Papa’s life. It would get him out of debt and even give them enough to start
over somewhere. Remembering her earlier prayer, she started to step forward.
But
Papa beat her to it. Picking up the offensive gold, he threw it toward John
Trent as if it were too hot to touch. “She is not for sale!”
Trent
deftly caught the coin, pulled two more pieces just like it from his pocket,
and tossed all three on the ground. “I want that girl. Now I am trying to go
about this in a civilized manner, but if I have to, I will take her by force.”
He sat up straight and casually rested a hand on his thigh near his gun.
Nicki
felt dizzy from the sheer shock of this proposition. Her eyes flashed from
Mama, bravely holding an unloaded gun on the man insulting her daughter, to
Papa, stooping to pick up the offensive coins, to the hand of John Trent
inching toward his holster. She surprised even herself by what happened next.
“Papa,
wait!” She stepped forward. Sixty
dollars!
“I will go with him.” Her hands trembled as she smoothed the
material of her skirt.
“Nicki,
NO!” Mama screamed.
“Mama,
por favor! The money! You will be
free from all this trouble! I will be all right. God, He will go with me, sí?”
Dominique,
don’t do this.” Papa’s words were thick with restrained emotion. “We will work
something out with the bank. You take too much on yourself for one so young.”
“Papa.”
Nicki wrapped her arms around his neck. “You are the one who taught me to be
strong, ? Take care of Mama and
make Rosa help her now.” Nicki pulled back, gazing deeply into his dark eyes,
so much like her own, and rested a hand on his stubbly cheek. “She would have
died without you, Papa.”
She
spun toward her mother, throwing herself into her arms, before the threatening
tears could overflow. “Mama, te amo!” The
choked words were all she could squeeze past her constricting throat. Would she
ever see her beloved mama again?
Nicki
hugged her brothers and sisters in turn, giving them each a piece of advice on
how to be helpful to Mama and Papa, drying their tears with her skirt and
promising she would see them again someday. Going into the house, she ran her
fingers across the baby-soft cheek of little Manuel, the only member of the
household still sleeping through all the commotion.
And
then, head held high, she walked out into the searing sun and allowed herself
to be pulled up onto the horse behind John Trent’s saddle.
“Wait!”
Mama ran toward her, carrying the family Bible. She pressed it into Nicki’s
hands, making the sign of the cross and blessing her daughter one more time, as
she had done every day since her birth.
Nicki
didn’t let her family see her cry, but as she rode away from the only home she
had ever known, part of her felt like it died. She allowed herself the small
luxury of quiet tears.
They
rode north for several days. Nicki was thankful that John Trent seemed to be a
kind man. A justice of the peace married them in his dusty office in a small,
one-street town that Nicki didn’t even know the name of. By evening, they were
moving north again.
They
had been traveling for more than two weeks, making mostly dry camps at night,
when Nicki heard her husband utter an oath of awe. It was mid-afternoon and
Nicki, her forehead pressed into John’s back, was almost asleep when she heard
his exclamation. Lifting her head, she blinked into the sunlight, almost unable
to believe the sight before her.
A
lush valley stretched before them. A small creek meandered through its center,
merging with the Deschutes River at one end. The Deschutes was normally
inaccessible due to its steep canyon walls, but here the descent to the river
was simply a long, smooth slope. Here and there a cluster of evergreen trees
could be seen, but the verdant meadow was what had drawn John’s eye.
It
was like a vivid oasis dropped in the middle of the high-desert sagebrush they
had been traveling through for the last week. The swaying grass was belly high
to a good-sized horse.
At
that moment, Nicki knew she was looking at her new home. The valley was a
rancher’s paradise, and John had talked of nothing else since their journey
began. He wanted to become a rancher. A rich rancher. And this was where he
would make his start.
They
made camp early, and Nicki sighed in satisfaction as she waded into the creek
for her first bath in a week. She rolled her head from side to side, rubbing
her neck, working out the kinks of knotted muscle.
John
waded in as well, and she stiffened as he slid his arms around her waist from
behind, pressing a kiss to her neck.
Apparently
sensing her tension, he sighed. “I’m gonna make you a good husband. You’ll see,
Dominique. We’re gonna have one fine spread across this valley. One day you’ll
wake up and realize what a good life we’ve had, and you’ll no longer regret the
day you first met me.”
Nicki
bit her lower lip, hoping he was right. She didn’t think she’d be able to live
with this dreadful despair all her life. She closed her eyes, missing Mama and
the family. Willing herself not to cry, she stepped out of his arms and turned
to give him a tentative smile, but her heart did not lighten.
They
found the soddy later that evening. There was also a run-down barn, a partially
erected bunkhouse, and a corral all clustered on the lee side of a knoll just
tall enough for the soddy. But the spread had long since been abandoned. The
windowless house was dark, and when they lit John’s lantern, Nicki saw the
spiders scurrying to escape the light. She shivered and went in search of some
brush to use as a broom. Soon the room was cobweb-free, and they made a bed on
the floor for the night.
It
was still dark the next morning when she heard John saddling the horse. She
roused herself and set about making coffee. He only took the time for one cup
before he rode out with a terse, “I’ll be back soon as I can.”
He
was gone for two weeks. When he came back, he informed her they would be
staying.

 

1
Shilo,
Oregon, in the Willamette Valley
January 1887
T
he tepid January sun
struggled to warm the day, but this winter had been one of the Northwest’s
worst in a number of years. The temperatures barely reached the teens.
At
the knock on the door, Brooke Jordan rose from scrubbing the kitchen floor and
dried her hands on a towel. Pressing a hand to her aching lower back and
resting one hand protectively on her rounded belly, she moved to see who it
was.
“Who
do you suppose would be knocking on our door at this time of day?” she asked
the unborn child.
It
had become her practice to talk to the baby during the day to ease the
loneliness of Sky’s absence. Since they had moved back to Sky’s childhood home
from the Idaho territory where they had met, Sky had gone to work as a deputy
sheriff for his father and was gone most of the day. She missed him terribly
but couldn’t bring herself to tell him, knowing how much he loved his new job,
even though it kept him away from home for hours at a time.
Swinging
the door wide, Brooke gasped. “Jason!” She pulled the blond man, almost the
spitting image of her husband, into her cumbersome embrace. “Come in! Sky and I
were just talking about you last night, wondering where you might have gotten
to.”
Jason
smiled as his eyes dropped to her midsection. “I see I’ve missed some news of
my own while I’ve been gone.”
Brooke’s
grin broadened. “This isn’t the only news you’ve missed. Just let me send the
neighbor boy to call Sky, and I’ll be right in. Make yourself at home.”
Brooke
waved him inside and headed for the house next door.
Jason
entered the little house, noting the bucket on the kitchen floor and the line
delineating the clean side from the dirty. Hanging his black Stetson on the
back of a chair, he bent down and took over where Brooke had left off.
“Oh,
Jason,” Brooke said as she came back into the house, “get up off that floor and
sit down!”
He
grinned at her. “Not on your life. You just plant yourself in that chair right
there,” he pointed toward the dining table, “and start filling me in on all the
news I’ve missed.”
Brooke
sank into the indicated chair. “First I want to know all about what you’ve been
doing. My, you’ve lost a lot of weight.”
Jason
hated the heat he felt wash his face. “Most of my weight was due to the fact I
drank too much. Now that I’ve given that up, I can’t seem to keep the pounds
on.”
Brooke
smiled tenderly. “We are so proud of you, Jason.”
He
nodded but did not look up. His life had changed because of his relationship
with the Lord, not because he was so great a person. There was no reason for
Brooke to be proud of him, but knowing she hadn’t really meant the words
exactly as they sounded, he kept this thought to himself.
“So
tell me what you’ve been up to,” she prodded.
“Oh,
not much. I’ve punched a few cows here and there, but I thought it was time I
came home to see how all the family was doing. I’ve really missed Marquis,” he
said of his sister. “I would have stopped by there first, but your house was on
the way, so I wanted to stop and say hello.”
“Well,
we’re all doing fine. As you can see—”
The
front door opened. “Jason!” Sky strode in. “Where’ve you been? Brooke and I
were talking about you last night.”
Jason
and Brooke exchanged amused glances.
“Sky.”
Jason extended his wet, soapy hand, but Sky pulled him into a manly embrace.
Then the cousins stepped back and eyed one another.
“How
are things?” Sky asked.
“Fine.”
Jason grinned. It was good to be home.
“I
mean with your relationship with the Lord,” said Sky.
Jason
grinned at Brooke again. “He sure knows how to get to the point, doesn’t he?”
Brooke
smiled in response, but her eyes held the same question.
Jason
swallowed and fiddled with the scrub brush. “I’m doing good, Sky. I’ve had my
struggles, especially giving up the bottle, but I haven’t given in so far. God
has given me the strength I needed every time.”
“Praise
God! We haven’t given up praying for you even for a minute.”
“Thanks.”
The one word could never express his deep gratitude. He tapped the scrub brush
against his palm. “Brooke told me I’ve missed a bunch of news.”
Sky
sat next to his wife and took her hand. “Have you ever.”
Jason
bent to continue scrubbing the floor, curiosity filling him. “Well?” he asked,
waiting.
“Let’s
see. First, you can see Brooke is expecting. We’ll have an addition to the
family sometime around the end of this spring.”
“Hopefully
sooner than later,” Brooke said, reaching one hand to her lower back.
Sky
continued, “Then there is Sharyah. She’s finished her schooling and plans to
find a teaching position for this fall.”
Jason
rocked back on the balls of his feet, letting the scrub brush hang between his
knees. “Sharyah. Wow, I seem to only remember her as the little pig-tailed
beauty who drove all the boys at the church picnics crazy ’cause she only had
eyes for Cade Bennett.”
Sky
smirked. “Well, she still drives all the boys crazy, but I don’t know about her
having eyes for Cade Bennett anymore. He’s been seeing a lot of Jenny
Cartwright.”
“Oh,
honey!” Brooke voiced exasperation. Turning back to Jason, she rolled her eyes.
“Men are so blind! Of course she’s still in love with Cade, but he doesn’t have
a brain in his head where Sharyah is concerned. If he had a thimbleful of
wisdom, he would have snapped her up a long time ago!” She emphasized her point
with a snap of her fingers.
Sky
chuckled. “As you can see, Brooke and my family don’t get along very well.”
Giving
a mock frown, Jason agreed, “Yes, I can see that.”
Sky
went on. “Rocky is still a deputy in town. He, Dad, and I keep the town running
criminal-free.” A twinkle leapt into his eyes. “And I guess that’s about all
that’s new.”
When
Brooke spun, wide-eyed and incredulous, in Sky’s direction, Jason surmised that
Sky had been teasing her and the largest piece of news would be forthcoming. He
swiped his cheek against his shoulder and returned his concentration to the
last section of the kitchen floor. Someday,
Lord, if You’re willing, I’d like to have someone to love that way
.
After
giving Sky a friendly punch, Brooke said to Jason, “Your cousin is deliberately
withholding information from you, but maybe we shouldn’t ruin her surprise.
You’d better go visit Marquis right away, though. She’d be terribly
disappointed if you heard the news from anyone else.”
“Is
she all right?” Jason asked, tension crawling through his chest. “She’s fine,”
Sky assured.
Jason’s
shoulders relaxed, but a niggling worry still clung to the back of his mind.
“Maybe I’ll mosey on over that way.” He stood and picked up the scrub water.
“Can I empty this for you somewhere, Brooke?”
“Oh,
to one side out the back door is fine.” Brooke waved him through the kitchen.
As
he made his way back to the front of the house, Jason grabbed his hat, trying
not to let his worry over his sister’s news show on his face. He’d always been
a little overprotective of her, since a childhood illness had robbed her of her
sight. He had been gone for several years when he headed to the Idaho territory
to exact revenge on a man that he blamed for their mother’s death. But he’d
known that, since Marquis was living with his grandmother, she was in good
hands. Since his return to the Lord, finding work had forced him away from his
family, but he had faithfully sent Marquis money every month. Now he wondered
what news Marquis could have that she wouldn’t have told him in her last
letter.
“I’ll
head on over to Gram’s, then. It’s good to see you both…and congratulations.”
Brooke
embraced him once more. “Thank you for stopping by. On Sunday everyone is
getting together at our place for lunch, so come on by and join us.”
“I’ll
do that.” Jason settled his Stetson and headed down the street to Gram’s house,
which sat on the edge of the snow-bound little town.
UV
The Prineville bank was
stuffy and hot. The teller had obviously forgotten to turn down the damper on
the wood stove. The heat had felt nice to William Harpster for a few minutes
after coming in from the single-digit temperature outside. Now, sitting across
from the banker, Tom Roland, he frowned.
Behind
his desk, Tom mopped his sweaty brow and tossed an occasional irritated glance
at the teller.
William
paid no attention to the teller. His eyes were fixed solely on the short,
paunchy, balding Roland seated across from him. “I told you it would take some
time.”
“It’s
been over two years!” The words were forceful but voiced low so as not to reach
the ears of the clerk. “The Association is going to be running us off if we don’t come up on the good
side of this deal. We guaranteed them we’d have the small-timers gone by next
month. You said you could get the job done!”
William’s
eyes narrowed. “Do you think I don’t know that? You’re the one who said he was
the perfect man for our plan! It’s not my fault he’s welching on his end.” His
voice became a little too loud and drew a look from the curious teller.
But
at that moment a patron entered the building, taking the man’s interest off
their conversation. When it was once again safe to resume, Tom’s pale blue eyes
flashed. “Keep it down, would you? This is not my fault. First,” the banker
held up one short finger, “his wife isn’t nearly as timid and withdrawn as you
said. She’s made friends with over half the country, for goodness’ sake!
Second, he’s no longer willing to go along with our plan. And now…” A third finger
joined the first two. “You’re telling me you think he might have a herd of
horses back in those hills that could pay off his loan?”
William
rubbed the back of his neck. “I don’t know. Things just don’t add up. He’s been
making his payments?”
“Right
on time, every time.”
William
sighed. There was only one way to ensure their plan would work. “We know what
the Association thinks. But how badly do you want your share of that land?”
Tom Roland
dabbed at his glistening pate with a handkerchief. Then, leaning back, he lit a
cigar and blew a ring of smoke in William’s direction. He wanted that land. The
original owner had given up on ranching and moved back to Chicago, leaving the
land up for sale. Tom had been tempted to buy the land himself, but then John
Trent had walked into his bank. The only reason Tom had loaned John the money
was that he was almost assured the gambler wouldn’t be able to come up with his
payments. Then the land would revert to the bank, where Tom could discreetly
snap it up at a lower price. That and the fact The Stockman’s Association had
needed a scapegoat for their dirty work. But then John had developed a
conscience. And, on top of that, he hadn’t missed one payment.
Tom
ran his handkerchief across the back of his neck. Five thousand acres of the
finest range land in central Oregon, and half of it was to be his. Well, maybe
more than half, but he was careful to keep that thought off his face. Yes. He
wanted that land very much. But a couple of things bothered him. “What about
his wife?”
William
smiled sardonically. “Let me worry about the little woman. Once John is out of
the way, she’ll give up. There’s no way she’ll be able to make a go of it.
They’ve only got two hands.”
“The
Stockman’s Association will break loose with all the fury of Hades if this
doesn’t pan out,” Tom warned. “They were plenty upset that I let him buy that
land in the first place. And if things don’t work out for me, you know they
certainly aren’t going to work out for you, right?”
“Things
couldn’t be clearer. Have I ever let you down before?”
Tom
blew another ring. “No, William, you haven’t. But let’s make sure this isn’t
the first.”
William’s
gaze hardened. “Tom, this better be the last time you need my services. A man’s
patience can only be stretched so far.”
“Just
do your job, William. Do your job and let the future take care of itself.”
The
men glared at each other across the desk. Tom didn’t want to be the first to
look away. Finally William conceded the battle.
Tom
looked down at his desk, pulling in a deep drag on his cigar. “Now, back to the
job at hand. I think we both know there is only one way to solve this little
problem.”
The
two men’s eyes locked. A silent understanding passed between them.
William
stood, straightened his cowhide vest with a tug, and placed his hat carefully
on his head. He shook Tom’s fleshy hand and said loud enough for the teller to
hear, “Thanks. You won’t regret making me this loan, Mr. Roland.”
With
that, he moved toward the door, stepping out into the cold. He took a cleansing
breath of the refreshing air, then headed toward the livery, his boots thudding
loudly on the boardwalk. He had a job to do back home. And maybe, just maybe,
if he played his cards right, by the end of the year he’d be owner of some of
the finest range land in Oregon, not to mention the husband of one beautiful,
desirable Mrs. Dominique Trent. A smile lifted the corners of his mouth at the
thought. Yes, indeed, now that was a dream worth chasing.
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