Wild Card author is: Karen Baney and the book: A Life Restored (Prescott Pioneers 3)

Today’s Wild Card author is:
Karen Baney
and the book:
A Life Restored (Prescott Pioneers 3)

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:
Karen Baney
and the book:
A Life Restored (Prescott Pioneers 3)

Publisher: Karen Baney (August 28, 2011)
***Special thanks to Karen Baney for sending me a review copy.***

Karen Baney, in addition to writing Christian historical fiction and contemporary novels, works as a Software Engineer. Her faith plays an important role both in her life and in her writing. Karen and her husband make their home in Gilbert, Arizona, with their two dogs. She also holds a Masters of Business Administration from Arizona State University.
Visit the author’s website.


Making mistakes is a part of life…

Social butterfly, Caroline Larson, longs for adventure. Since her best friend left Texas, she grows dissatisfied with her life. A little lie to her parents sends her on the journey of her life. Stranded in the Arizona desert, far from her final destination, she must rely on a stranger who gets under her skin.

Thomas Anderson has always struggled with making good decisions. A twist of fate, or Providence, leads him to Arizona to take a job as an express rider. Dealing with the ghosts of his past threatens to overshadow his future—until he meets a woman needing his help. Sparks fly as she grates on his nerves.

As they both struggle to move beyond their past mistakes, will they find their lives restored?
Product Details:

List Price: $14.99

Paperback: 330 pages

Publisher: Karen Baney (August 28, 2011)

Language: English

ISBN-10: 098354865X

ISBN-13: 978-0983548652


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Wickenburg, Arizona Territory

August 19, 1865

The stagecoach bounced over the rough terrain. Caroline Larson tried not to slide into the man sitting next to her on the hard, bare wood seat. The least they could have done was put some upholstering on the thing. Then she would not be jostled so much from the side against the window to the poor young man next to her.

Another jolt of the Celerity stagecoach shoved her into his side once again.

“Sorry,” she murmured, glancing at the young man.

“No harm, Miss.” A smirk played on his lips causing the jagged scar on his right cheek to wrinkle unattractively. She wondered how he got the scar. The hint of laughter in his voice indicated he was enjoying this.

Caroline stifled a snort of disgust as she turned to look out the opening with a small canvas cover secured to the top of the window frame. The dust billowing up from the front wheels obscured much of the view, filtering into the interior of the stage. The small town—if one could call it that—of Wickenburg faded behind them. The only good thing about facing the rear of the stage was that she did not have to endure a face full of dust with each breath.

The stage jerked violently, propelling the man across from her forward, landing awkwardly in her lap. She turned her shocked green eyes towards him, narrowing them slightly until the red of embarrassment tinged his cheeks. He offered profuse apologies as he tried to return to his designated seat.

She should have listened to Millie. She and her father had acted as chaperones, escorting Caroline west. Unfortunately, their travels ended in Wickenburg. Millie and her father assured her they would take her the rest of the way to Prescott by mid-September. But, she had come this far and did not want to wait another month or more before being reunited with her brother Adam and her best friend Julia.

As the stage crossed over a huge bump, sending Caroline airborne for a few seconds, her mind returned to her present circumstance. Despite Millie’s concern, she boarded the stage this morning headed for Prescott. Things were just fine. She could handle the inquisitive looks of these men.

Abruptly, the stage skidded to a halt, propelling Caroline into the arms of the man across from her. Her almost apology died on the tip of her tongue.

“I wouldn’t do that if I were you.”

Rifle fire echoed in her ears. Her head snapped towards the window. The driver fell from his perch on the front of the stage. As she jerked forward, the young man with scar clasped his hand down on her arm. She turned her eyes toward him. He lifted a finger to his lips and shook his head. He pushed her back against the seat, out of the view of the window.

“What’d ya do that fer?” another voice sounded.

“I told him not to reach for his gun.”

Caroline froze. The stage was being robbed!

“Y’all come out slow like,” the first man shouted.

“Miss,” the man with the scar whispered. “Let me go first to make sure it’s safe for you.”

A lump formed in her throat. She watched as he exited the stage. Maybe she had been too quick to judge him earlier.

“How many more of you are in there?” the first robber’s voice asked.

“Just four more,” the man with the scar answered.

That was not true. There were four more men. And her. What was he doing?

“Come out nice and slow.”

The rest of the men did as instructed. Caroline hesitated in the shadows, wondering if the scar-faced man—now she wished she would have asked his name—was trying to protect her. Tapping her finger against her temple rapidly, she tried to figure a way out of this situation. Scanning the landscape offered no solutions. Nothing but vast open desert presented itself. There was no place to hide.

For the first time in her eighteen years, Caroline had no solution. No plan.

“Bart!” the first robber yelled. “Check out the stage. Make sure no one else is lurking around.”

She heard the distinct sound of a man dismounting a horse. Moments later, shuffling feet sounded just outside of the stagecoach door. Flattening herself into the shadows as much as possible, Caroline wished she had not worn her bright yellow dress this morning. Her dark green would serve much better to hide her now.

“Looksee here,” Bart said with a broken toothed smile. “Come here missy.”

He leaned in and caught hold of her foot.

“Unhand me,” she said before realizing she had destroyed any hope of hiding her presence from Bart’s boss.

As Bart tugged harder on her ankle, she slid off the seat, landing with a thud on the floor of the stage. Kicking his face with her other foot, she freed herself long enough to make a somewhat graceful exit. Bart’s beefy arms clamped around her shoulders as soon as her feet hit the ground. He shuffled her to the line of passengers.

Bart flung her toward the scarred man who helped her earlier. The force was so hard she lost her balance and landed at his feet with a whimper. When he knelt to help her up, the robber cocked his pistol, stopping him in mid-crouch. All she could see was the scar on the passenger’s face as she tried to control her breathing. It wasn’t as noticeable now as it had been before. For some reason, she found that comforting.

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The air rushed from Robert Garrett’s lungs. In all his life he had never been this lucky. There was no mistaking those flashing green eyes. The young woman Bart just pulled from the stage was definitely Caroline Larson.

As his lackey, Bart, pushed her forward, she fell at one of the passenger’s feet. Robert cocked his gun, leveling it at the passenger.

“I think she can stand on her own,” he said, covering his momentary shock.

When the passenger made no further move to help her, Robert pointed his gun at Caroline. His sinister smile hid behind the red bandana covering his face. She straightened with that defiant look she always had etched haughtily on her face. He would relish wiping that expression away later. He had to finish the business at hand first.

He spoke with an exaggerated accent to further disguise his identity, not that Caroline would recognize his true identity if she saw his full face. “Now, I want y’all to empty your pockets of all yer valuables and place ‘em in the bag Bart has. We don’t want no trouble, so just do as yer told. Otherwise, I might decide to empty my pistol into this little gal.”

Robert plotted his next move, while Bart went down the line taking all the valuables from each of the passengers, including Caroline Larson. He hated her blasted brother, Adam, almost as much as he hated Will Colter. Almost. Patience. You’ll have your revenge soon enough.

A slow plan was always much better than a hurried one. In fact, robbing this stage had been a bit hurried—it’s how he ended up doing it himself, instead of hiring it out. It was a dangerous move to get his hands dirty. After this, he would distance himself from the execution of his plans. Too risky. But, if he hadn’t been here, he wouldn’t have seen Caroline and the ideas taking shape in his head would be a missed opportunity.

First things first. He had to finish this job then rendezvous with his other men. He would have his associate pay off Bart before taking the stage horses to La Paz to sell. He would instruct his associate to return to the stagecoach, where he would leave Caroline alive, and have his associate fetch her and take her to the small shack on the outskirts of his property. He’d let the men have fun with her, as long as they kept her alive. He needed her if he was going to ransom her for money.

Oh, Adam Larson wouldn’t have anywhere near enough funds to rescue her. That would be part of the fun. And it would be what would force Will Colter to get involved.

The best part was that no one would have any idea he was involved in any of this. He would clean up, shave, and change into his fine clothes after his meeting with his associate. Then he would head back into Wickenburg and spend the night at the hotel before heading out to Prescott tomorrow as the respectable Robert Garrett.

Inwardly, the swell of anticipation for the next phase of his revenge sent giddy shivers up and down his spine. He would come back despite all that Colter and Larson took from him and he would do it while destroying them.

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When Bart stopped in front of her, Caroline realized she would need to part with her items as well. Slowly she unfastened the broach her mother gave her and let it slip into the bag. Then she emptied her reticule, thankful she had taken the time to discretely hide half of her money elsewhere on her person this morning.

Once the man had a full bag, he began dumping luggage from the back of the stage, littering things everywhere. He picked through her trunk, strewing her clothing on the dusty ground. Finding nothing of worth there, he went to the next trunk. After several minutes ticked by, he announced he was finished with his search.

Then the boss man dismounted his horse. He came straight towards her. With a small bandana in his hands, he shoved her over to one side of the stage.

“What are you doing?” the scarred man asked, making a move towards the robber.

The robber turned and shot him.

Caroline gasped as the man’s body fell limp in a pool of blood. As his face relaxed, the scar became almost invisible. A tear trickled down her cheek.

“Any more questions?” the robber asked. When no one moved, he added, “Good.”

He turned her back towards him, pushing her face into the side of the coach. She tried to struggle, but stopped when he pressed the barrel of his pistol against her neck. When she stilled, he yanked her hands behind her back and tied them together with the bandana. Then he shoved her to the ground.

“Stay,” he commanded. “And don’t give me no trouble.”

Her heart pounded loudly in her ears as she watched helplessly. He unhitched the team of four horses from the stagecoach. He barked another command to Bart, who then led the remaining four men to the other side of the stage.

At the first rifle shot, Caroline jumped. Looking through the undercarriage, she saw two of the men who sat across from her lying in a heap on the ground. Blood soaked their clothing and the odd angle of their bodies suggested they died from the same shot. Two more rapid rapports of a pistol were followed by the harsh thud of another man hitting the ground.

Tears streamed down her face as she heard the pleas of the last man. The echo of a rifle cut off his cries. Glancing over to the other side of the coach, she saw his body land on the others.

Quickly, she looked away. Fear squeezed her heart. She would be next.
Raising her knees to her chest, she buried her face in the folds of her skirt, as well as she could with her hands still tied behind her back. Lord, help. I shouldn’t have lied to papa. But, I need you. I don’t want to die.
The sound of men mounting their horses brought her eyes up.
“Boss, ain’t ya fergetting something?” Bart asked.
The robber turned dark eyes on her. “Naw. I ain’t about to kill a woman. Let her be.”
“We just gonna leave her?”
“Yeah. Desert will kill her soon ‘nough.”
Those were the last words she heard before the robber’s loud “Yaw” forced the unhitched stage horses into motion between him and Bart.
Caroline stared after their dust cloud for what seemed like hours, still stunned that she had come out of the ordeal unscathed.
When she was certain they were gone, she stood, arms still tied behind her back. Looking around, she found a rough metal edge to the harness system on the front of the stage. Kneeling awkwardly, she rubbed the bandana against the metal until her hands were free.
Flexing her fingers in front of her, she stopped short at the blood on them. Reaching down to her petticoat, she ripped off a strip and wrapped her cut left hand.
Her stomach revolted at the thought of what she must do next. Taking a few deep breaths, she walked toward the scar-faced man. Crouching down beside him, she searched for any sign of life. There was none. She didn’t even get to thank him. She wiped her eyes on the sleeve of her dress.
Caroline proceeded to the other side of the stagecoach. Three of the men’s bodies were piled one on top of the other. She wasn’t strong enough to move the first to check on the other two, though she could see no evidence that any survived.
The last man lay prostrate nearby. As she approached, she thought she heard him groan. When she kneeled next to him, his body shook violently. She managed to turn him over just as the last spark of life slipped from his eyes.
Jumping to her feet, she staggered to the other side of the wagon. Sinking to her knees, she let the tears fall down her face. Her stomach roiled at all she witnessed. Crawling on her hands and knees she moved only a few feet before she lost the contents of her stomach.
Wiping the back of her hand across her mouth, she despaired. Was she going to die before ever reaching Prescott?
Then the guilt settled in. If only she had stayed in Texas and married Nathan Finley. She wouldn’t be in this fine mess.

Karen Baney and the book: A Heart Renewed (Prescott Pioneers 2)

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:
Karen Baney
and the book:
A Heart Renewed (Prescott Pioneers 2)
Karen Baney (April 17, 2011)

***Special thanks to Karen Baney for sending me a review copy.***

Karen Baney, in addition to writing Christian historical fiction and contemporary novels, works as a Software Engineer. Her faith plays an important role both in her life and in her writing. Karen and her husband make their home in Gilbert, Arizona, with their two dogs. She also holds a Masters of Business Administration from Arizona State University.

Visit the author’s website.


Headstrong. Unconventional. Until life turns upside down…

Julia Colter struggles to accept life under her controlling brother’s greed. The suitors he selects would benefit him, but are far from the ideal husband for her. When her rebellion against her brother puts her life at risk, she turns to her friend for help.

Adam Larson longs to train horses and plans to head west to the Arizona Territory to see his dreams fulfilled. When his sister’s best friend shows up in the middle of the night, he agrees to help her flee. The decision changes his life, in more ways than he expected.

Can Julia forget the pain from her past and open her heart to love?

Product Details:

List Price: $14.99

  • Paperback: 338 pages
  • Publisher: Karen Baney (April 17, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0983548625
  • ISBN-13: 978-0983548621


Star C Ranch, Texas

July 4, 1864

“You cannot be serious, Reuben!” Julia Colter shouted, not caring that she might wake her niece and nephew from their afternoon nap. Pacing back and forth across the length of the kitchen, she stopped in front of her older brother, her temper flaring almost as hot as the stove. “He is balding and fat and twice my age!”

“You will marry who I say!” Reuben thundered. “I expect you to treat Mr. Hiram Norton with the upmost respect this evening. He has shown great interest in you and the least you can do is be civil with the man.”

“But, I could never love him!”

As Reuben shoved her violently up against the wall, Julia’s breath left her lungs in a rush. Digging his fingers into her arms, she could feel the bruises starting to form. His brown eyes darkened with unrestrained anger as he glared down at her. She swallowed in fear, stunned by his abrupt action.

“Stop, you’re hurting me,” she said, trying to break free from his vice like grip.

He raised his hand as if he meant to strike her—something he had never done before. The action startled her to silence. Instead of hitting her across the face, as she thought he might, Reuben returned his hands to her upper arms squeezing even harder.

Leaning so close the heat of his breath warmed her cheeks, he said, “You have no idea what hurt is, Julia. You are an insolent little whelp. You will paste a smile on that tart little face of yours. And you will do your best to win his affections or,” his voice menacing, “you will suffer my wrath, the likes of which you have yet to see.”

Releasing his hold, he pushed her so that she tumbled to the floor in a heap. As he turned to walk away, he added in a sinister tone, “It would be best if you get used to the idea of Hiram Norton and give up fanciful notions of love, dear sister. You will not have that luxury. The sooner you come to accept that, the better it will go for you.”

She sat in stunned silence as Reuben stalked to his office down the hall. Tears streaming down her face, Julia bolted to her feet, running out the front door of the ranch house to the nearby stables, still frightened by her brother’s brutal behavior.

The smell of hay and horse assaulted her delicate senses as she selected a gentle mare. Throwing her saddle on the horse’s back, she led her from the barn. Once under the open blue skies, she shoved one foot into the stirrup, swinging her other leg over the mare, riding astride. Nudging the mare into a full gallop, Julia fled to the one place she would always feel free—the back of a horse in the wide open pastures.

Reuben may be her guardian now, but she had only to endure a few more years of this before she would be of age and in control of her life. If only she could stop him from marrying her off before then.

At seventeen, she considered herself too young to get married, though many women her age and younger married. She wasn’t ready. She didn’t pine for the responsibilities marriage entailed. She liked her freedom. But, when she was ready to marry, she would marry for love and not because Reuben wished it.

Certainly, she would never marry Hiram Norton. The thirty-seven year old rancher was the exact opposite of what Julia wanted for a husband. His short stature and fading hairline made him look even older. He had a reputation for loving excess. When it came to food, his waistline showed the results of that love. There were other unsavory aspects to his reputation as well which included rumors that he frequented the saloon and brothel.

No, the man for Julia would be young and handsome. His character would be impeccable, his honor undeniable. Land, money, and wealth held no importance to her. She only cared that her dream man would be able to provide for her and their family.

As the wind tangled her long, sandy brown curls, she continued to press the horse for more speed—needing it to soothe her fear and anger. In the distance she saw the herd of longhorns kicking up dust. The sight sparked a memory of Will, the kinder, more honorable of the Colter brothers, sending her mind racing in another direction. So many times he’d taken Julia out to the pasture, teaching her how to rope, ride, and work with the cattle. Some thought such behavior unacceptable for a lady. She was glad to learn these skills. Should her handsome young dream man end up being a rancher, he might appreciate her ability to work the ranch by his side.

Why hasn’t Will written? The thought of Will brought fresh tears as memories of his hasty departure flooded her mind. Not only had she buried her father, but she also lost the brother she was close to—all within a few short weeks. Almost a year ago, following her father’s death, Reuben forced Will to leave the ranch when he had been deeded the house and ranch. While Will and Reuben both received half of the herd and the financial holdings, Will was left with no home or land. Unable to find anything close, Will moved to the Arizona Territory, leaving Julia behind. Alone.

The only time she heard from him was in November 1863. Will wrote that he, his men, and his cattle arrived safely and set up their new home near the Granite Creek settlement in the Arizona Territory—wherever that was. No other letters came.

Despite the thirteen year age difference between Will and Julia, they adored each other. She followed him everywhere, never far from his side even when he worked with the herd. When she needed protecting, it was Will who came to her defense.

Oh, how she could use his protection now. If he were here, he would stop Reuben from forcing her to marry that awful Hiram Norton.

But, he wasn’t here. He was in a distant territory, far from Texas, far from her aid. Her father left her in Reuben’s care—not Will’s—even though Will would have been the better choice as far as Julia was concerned.

Their father never saw the evil that clouded Reuben’s heart and he knew nothing of his manipulative ways. In her father’s eyes, Reuben was as good of a son as Will. If her father knew of Reuben’s late nights in town or of his forceful tactics for bankrupting other ranchers and taking over their lands, he turned a blind eye. She found it hard to fathom that father could have missed such thinly concealed behavior.

As the mare started to struggle for breath, sides heaving with great effort, Julia eased up the pace. She was so torn. She had thought more than once to runaway to Arizona, but was afraid Reuben would find her and drag her back. Now he wanted her to flirt with Hiram Norton and get him to marry her. She had no desire to do what Reuben was asking. Mr. Norton may be wealthy, but he was twenty years older than her. There was something indecent in that alone. Nothing about him or his character appealed to her.

Realizing she was nearing the outer pasture, Julia turned the mare around to head back to the ranch house. She did not want to risk angering Reuben further by being unprepared for their dinner guests. Lord, please don’t make me have to marry that repulsive man. Will always said you could work things together for good. I am not seeing much good right now. Please give me the strength to make it through this evening meal.

As she pulled the mare to a stop in front of the stables, she slid off the horse. One of the young cowboys, Bates, took the reins from her hand.

“Miss Colter, you best hurry,” he said, nodding toward the lane leading to the ranch house.

A cloud of dust at the far end of the lane indicated their guests were already arriving. Julia shot a quick word of thanks to the friendly cowboy before picking up her skirts and running to the house. As she threw the door open, panting for breath, she caught Reuben’s seething look.

Rushing down the hall she slammed her bedroom door shut. She splashed some water on her face, wiping away the dust from her ride.

“Where have you been?” Mary’s panicked voice preceded her entrance into Julia’s room. Reuben’s normally calm, quiet wife seemed rather anxious as she picked up the corset she laid out.


“Whatever for?” came the squeaky, agitated response.

Julia tore off her day dress, tossing it over a chair. As Mary came to assist her with the corset, Julia took her last deep breath of the evening. She hated the confining contraption. Once the stays were tightened, she lifted her arms as Mary helped settle the lovely yellow silk down over her shoulders.

“You should have been in here an hour ago,” Mary lamented. “Now there is no possible way we can fashion your hair into ringlets. The other women will think you don’t care about your appearance.”

They would be correct, Julia thought. “You fret, too much,” she replied, brushing out her tangled curls. She would be content with twisting her unruly hair into a chignon, despite how much it fought against the pins.

“Go on. I’ll finish,” she instructed Mary, hoping to have a quiet moment to compose herself before entering the fray.

Mary hesitated for a brief moment before softly exiting the room. Taking as deep a breath as she could, Julia let it out in a heavy sigh. Undoubtedly, Hiram Norton was already here, waiting for her in the other room. Pasting a smile on her face, she squared her shoulders and left the solitude of her room.

“Hiram,” Reuben said as Julia approached, “I do not believe you have met my sister, Julia.”

It took every ounce of courage to hold her smile steady and extend her hand towards Mr. Norton’s rotund frame. Taking her hand, he placed a sloppy kiss on top, before asking, “Reuben, where have you been hiding this lovely filly?”

Filly? The distasteful comment sickened her.

“Mr. Norton, a pleasure to meet you,” Julia said with more decorum than she thought she possessed. As soon as his hold lifted, she discretely wiped the back of her hand on her dress.

“Miss Colter, you are absolutely stunning,” he replied, allowing his lustful gaze to rove over her neckline, down her curvy figure, making overtly inappropriate stops along the way.

She fought to tamp down her mounting abhorrence. As the guests were seated around the table, she eagerly helped Mary set out the food.

Still irritated by Mr. Norton’s uncouth comment, she decided to fight back as she took her seat. “Mr. Norton, my brother tells me you have been very successful with your ranch, despite the Union’s blockade. Tell me, how do you do it?”

Reuben’s eyes narrowed slightly, letting her know he caught her barely hidden sarcasm.

“My lovely Miss Colter, such matters are too complicated for your simple mind to understand.”

Another mark against Mr. Norton—condescension towards women, she thought, keeping the sweet smile firmly in place. Lobbing a spoonful of potatoes on her plate she waited for him to continue.

“However, I shall endeavor to enlighten you,” he said with an air of superiority, snatching the potatoes from her hand. “While the Union may have blockaded our route to drive cattle to the New Orleans market, they have made no such effort to stop us from driving to points north or west. It seems that as long as we aren’t supplying the Confederate Army, they care little where we sell our cattle. We have simply changed our route north to the railways in Missouri. While I don’t care for the Union and their imposing ways, a profit is a profit. And I have made significant gains by being one of the first Texans to sell to eastern markets by way of Missouri.”

“Mr. Norton.” As her irritation rose, Julia retorted, “If a large profit is to your liking, why not drive the cattle west towards the California market where prices are more than triple that of the eastern markets?”

Reuben shifted in his chair uncomfortably. His darkening eyes warned her to hold her tongue. Julia knew she should have heeded the warning, but she preferred being forthright. Let Mr. Norton find that out now.

Mr. Norton laughed off her question, causing her to dislike the man even more. “You are a spirited little woman, I will give you that. But your comment shows your youth and your naivety.”

Taking not one, but two large pork chops from the platter she handed him, he said, “While the prices west are much higher, so is the cost to drive the cattle such a great distance. The length of time it takes to drive the cattle to California is almost three times as long as the northern route. It is also much more dangerous. There are many more Indians and cattle thieves westward. It would simply not be profitable to drive the herd west.”

His snooty tone grated on her nerves. When she opened her mouth to speak, Reuben interrupted. “Perhaps, dear sister, you should leave the business matters to men. I’m sure you would be much more interested in knowing how Mrs. Withers’ new baby is faring.”

Mrs. Withers quickly picked up the conversation, monopolizing both Julia and Mary’s time. While Julia was surprised Reuben even knew the woman had a child, she was thankful for the opportunity to ignore Mr. Norton.

As the conversation continued, she felt something brush against her knee then move away. She kept her focus on Mrs. Withers’ overlong description of her young son and on eating the meal, until she felt the unmistakable presence of a man’s hand move above her knee. She stole a glance and confirmed Mr. Norton’s hand rested most inappropriately on her thigh. Angling her legs further away from him as discreetly as possible, Julia’s stomach churned. When Mr. Norton pressed closer, she thought she might lose her dinner. The man appeared to have no limits.

Standing abruptly, she said, “If you’ll excuse me. I’m not feeling quite myself.” Without waiting for a reply she hurried to her room.

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Reuben scowled after his sister. Her behavior had been completely unacceptable, despite his attempt earlier in the day to reason with her. This silly idea of marrying for love must have worked its way into her thinking from the stories their father told of their mother. No one married for love.

He certainly hadn’t. While Mary was pleasant looking enough and easy to control, he did not love his wife. He had married her to increase his social standing among the area ranchers—something his father never seemed to care about. Her father had been one of the wealthier men in the area and he was easy to win over. In fact, Reuben thought, most everyone he met was easy to manipulate—except Will and Julia.

It didn’t matter. Will was gone and out of the picture. He was no longer a nuisance, even though it was Will’s fault that he was in such a financial mess. The timing of Will leaving with half the herd and half the financial holdings was disastrous, leaving him unable to pay debts to some very powerful men—a situation he was desperately trying to resolve.

The last bite of his pork chop churned in his stomach as fear gained a foothold. He needed Hiram’s money from the marriage arrangement to Julia. It was his only hope of turning things around.

As his guests finished the meal, Reuben stood. “Gentlemen, shall we retire to the front porch for some refreshments and cigars?”

The men eagerly nodded, obviously wanting to be away from the women as quickly as he did. As Hiram stood, Reuben pulled him aside. Speaking loud enough for the others to hear, he said, “We’ll join you in a moment. Hiram and I have a few business matters to discuss.”

Leading Hiram back towards his office, Reuben hoped Hiram would still be amiable to the agreement they discussed several days ago at the saloon, despite Julia’s less than enthusiastic attitude this evening.

Before he offered a seat, Hiram took one, starting the conversation on his terms. “Julia is quite lovely, Reuben. You’ve been holding out on me. When you asked for such a large sum, I assumed she must be dreadful to look at.”

“So you are pleased?”

“To a point,” Hiram admitted. “While she’ll keep me entertained well, she needs to learn to control her tongue, especially in front of guests. I’m surprised you haven’t dealt with this already.”

Reuben frowned. If only Hiram knew what he was up against. With any luck, he wouldn’t find out until after his wedding day. “Well, father has only been gone a short time. He doted on her, so it will take some time to get her to properly respect a man.”

“Ah, there’s the catch. I’ll have to train her myself then.” Hiram laughed. “It will be a fun challenge—breaking her. Too bad you didn’t have more time to do the job yourself. You could get a much higher price for her, as beautiful as she is.”

The price he was asking was enough. Normally prone to greediness, when it came to selling his sister’s hand in marriage, he felt it prudent not to get too greedy. He was running out of time and needed to pay his debts soon. Once that pressure slackened, he could focus his energy on rebuilding his wealth.

A brief hint of remorse came over Reuben. Had he stooped so low that he was selling his sister for money? But, it was not as if he were selling her to a brothel. No, he was just selling her to a wealthy rancher. She would live in luxury. What could be bad about that?

He knew living with Hiram Norton would not be pleasant. The man had a reputation for being ruthless to his business associates, to his women, and even to his mother. He had no limits. He made Reuben look like a saint. Julia would undoubtedly be miserable married to him until she learned her place.

Chiding himself, he refocused his attention back to what Hiram was saying. He needed this man’s money, not a sudden case of conscience.

“After we have our cigars,” Hiram was saying, “then, I will take Julia for a walk. See if I still fancy her. When I return, we will announce our engagement. It will be short. No longer than a month.”

Reuben held back a gasp. He hadn’t expected Norton to want a short engagement. “You know what the townsfolk will say with such a hurried wedding. They will think my sister has been compromised.”

Pulling a large stack of bills from his coat pocket, Hiram slammed it down on the desk. “I don’t think you will care too much what is said about your sister’s reputation. Who knows, what they say may end up being true anyway.”

The dark look on Hiram’s face sent shivers down Reuben’s spine. Ruthless seemed rather inadequate of a word to describe the man before him. He had to make sure Julia did not ruin this deal, for he did not want the added pressure of Norton’s anger.

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Mary knocked on Julia’s door not more than ten minutes after she left the meal. Her voice was timid when she spoke, “The men have retired to the front porch for cigars. Reuben requested that you return to the parlor with the women.”

Sighing, Julia did as instructed. She listened to the gossip of the rancher’s wives and wished her friend Caroline Larson was in attendance, so she might actually be able to enjoy the evening. The Larsons owned a ranch to the east of the Star C and they had been long-time family friends. Up until last year, before father passed away, the Larsons were always invited for every social gathering—sometimes they were the only guests. Since then, Reuben saw little use for Mr. Larson’s moral ways and only included them on rare occasions to pacify her or his wife.

Not paying attention to the boring conversation, Julia missed seeing the men return from the outdoors. Mr. Norton’s hand on her forearm jolted her from her thoughts. “Miss Colter, I was hoping you might take a walk with me.”

“And who will be acting as chaperone?” she replied curtly, not wanting to be alone in his presence.

Mr. Norton laughed, a sound she was beginning to detest. “Silly girl, I am much too old for a chaperone. I assure you, your reputation will be safe with me. I simply want to stroll for a few moments with a beautiful woman on my arm.”

Julia thought a stroll might be too much for the man. He was sweating profusely and seemed to have difficulty walking the distance to the door, as his breath came in short, heavy bursts. She looked to Mary for support. She smiled and nodded her approval, oblivious to Mr. Norton’s reprehensible behavior. As Reuben stood next to Mary, his eyes narrowed with a silent warning. Heeding the unspoken message, she stood and accepted Mr. Norton’s arm.

Outside, the air barely cooled in the waning sunlight, causing Julia to grow warm in a matter of seconds. She wished she thought to grab her fan when a sour odor wafted from the man at her side. Averting her face, she tried to catch an untainted breath of air. Unsuccessful, she decided parting her lips to breathe through her mouth might be preferable.

Nearing the stables, Mr. Norton stopped abruptly, turning towards Julia. The quick motion—seemingly impossible coming from the man who seemed to struggle walking much of a distance—frightened her. Sucking in air quickly through her mouth, a slight tickle lingered in the back of her throat, almost bringing on a cough.

When he spoke, his voice took on a sinister edge. Even in the dimming light she could see the contempt in his eyes. “Miss Colter, while I admire your feisty spirit,” he said as he grabbed her wrists, “It would serve you not to embarrass me again, especially by questioning my business practices in a room full of my peers. I can make your life most unbearable if you cross me.” Without warning he pulled her close and crushed his mouth down on hers as his hands took great liberty in exploring her body.

The shock of his action took a moment to register. Once it did, Julia brought her booted heel down hard on the top center of his foot, just as Will showed her. He dropped his hold instantly, crying out in pain. As he limped toward her, she ran for the front of the house to put some distance between them. Tripping over something, she stumbled, giving Mr. Norton time to catch up. He grabbed her bruised upper arms with surprising strength.

“Do not ever do that again,” he said in a hostile tone. “Do you not know that Reuben has promised you to me? Make no mistake, Miss Colter, I am a powerful man. If you want to live a decent, peaceful life under my roof, you best lose some of your haughtiness… Or, I will take whatever measures necessary to force it out of you.”

Julia blinked, trying to absorb all that he said. Was he saying that Reuben already agreed to her marrying this loathsome man? An ominous chill swept over her as he continued his intense stare. Her heart beat rapidly within her chest as her panic rose. She could not—would not—marry this dreadful man.

Dropping his hold on her, Mr. Norton extended his arm and placed her hand in the crook. “Smile,” he commanded as he limped to open the front door.

While her smile came insincerely, his seemed quite pleased. He crossed the room slowly, still favoring his injured foot, before stopping in front of Reuben and Mary. “Reuben, it gives me great pleasure to announce that Julia has eagerly agreed to accept my offer of marriage,” he said smugly. “She was so delighted that she agreed to a short engagement. We will be married in a month.” His fingernails dug into her arm daring her to speak otherwise.

The smirk on Reuben’s face told her this had been their plan all along. Such a public announcement, even though it was completely false, would be difficult to break. Lord, help me. I cannot marry that man.

FIRST Wild Card Tour Karen Baney….A Dream Unfolding (Prescott Pioneers 1)

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:
Karen Baney

and the book:

A Dream Unfolding
(Prescott Pioneers 1)

CreateSpace (December 19, 2010)

***Special thanks to Karen Baney for sending me a review copy.***


Karen Baney, in addition to writing Christian historical fiction and contemporary novels, works as a Software Engineer. Her faith plays an important role both in her life and in her writing. Karen and her husband make their home in Gilbert, Arizona, with their two dogs. She also holds a Masters of Business Administration from Arizona State University.

Visit the author’s website.


The promise of a new life and a chance to start over…
Hannah Anderson had the life she always wanted, married to the man of her dreams. When her husband’s brother gets in trouble with the law, the town turns against them, shattering her perfect life. Now they are left with only one choice—to head west to the Arizona Territory in the hopes of creating a new life. Will the journey be worth the cost?

Will Colter, after burying his father, is forced to leave the ranch he has called home for nearly thirty years. The journey is dangerous, challenging him and his men. Will he find the new life he was hoping for?

Or, is there a new dream quietly unfolding before their eyes?


My Thoughts
Ok I’m running a little late on my reviews…so when I finish this book I will write a review…..give me a few days…..thanks much!


Product Details:

List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 352 pages
Publisher: CreateSpace (December 19, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1456512315
ISBN-13: 978-1456512316


Cincinnati, Ohio

July 15, 1863

“Gunshot wound!”

Hannah sighed at the tense sound of her husband’s voice filtering down the hall from the parlor to the kitchen. Though she clearly heard the urgency in Drew’s tone, she took a moment to remove the half-baked biscuits from the heavy iron stove, lest they burn before she returned. This would be the third batch of baked goods she would toss this week so she could assist Drew in his surgery with one medical emergency or another.

Biting back a second frustrated sigh, she removed her cooking apron to don a fresh one. Tying the apron strings around her back, she entered the chaos of Drew’s surgery room. The heavy shuffling of feet echoed in the small room as four men grunted under the weight of the injured man. The acrid smell of blood hit Hannah full force. She recalled the days when the odor and sight of blood caused her stomach to roil. Nearly two years working by Drew’s side cured her of some of that sensitivity. Heart pounding rapidly, she prepared the ether cone, anticipating the forthcoming request.

“Get him on the table.” Drew instructed the men carrying the wounded bank manager, Mr. Davis, in a calm voice. As he turned to face her, his tone remained steady, “Hannah, I need the ether now.”

Hannah’s breath caught in her throat as she looked into Mr. Davis’s panicked eyes—her earlier frustration vanished. Whispering words of comfort, she placed the cone over his nose and mouth, silently counting out the seconds. Around the third second, his thrashing stopped and his body relaxed into an unconscious state. She let out a shaky breath, relieved by the sight.

Drew’s lanky form bent over Mr. Davis’s left leg as he intently studied the blood soaked trousers. Hannah offered Drew scissors and he cut the pant leg to better see the wound. The bullet was lodged in Mr. Davis’s thigh. He placed a tourniquet above the gaping hole to stop the flow of blood. Hannah mopped up what she could with rags silently praying for their patient and for her husband’s skill. As he requested the small forceps, she handed them over. Watching, she could not help but admire his steady hand and careful movements as he grasped the bullet with the forceps. Gently he removed the bullet.

As she administered another dose of ether, Drew threaded a needle with his long slender fingers, seemingly unaffected by the gravity of his task. He doused the wound to clean it before starting slow deliberate strokes with the needle to stitch the hole shut. When sweat beaded on his forehead, he barely noticed her swift action to dab it dry, his concentration so intense. Once he finished with the stitches, he wrapped the leg in bandages before checking for other signs of injury.

“I don’t see any other wounds,” Drew said meeting her gaze as he washed the blood from his hands. His expression remained unreadable. “Please sit with him for a minute while I speak with the men who brought him in.”

As Hannah pulled up a chair next to Mr. Davis’s still form, she caught most of the conversation playing out in the parlor, though slightly muffled from the distance.

“Bank robbery,” one of the men replied in response to Drew’s query.

Gasps echoed in the small parlor that served as a waiting area for patients, followed by the hiss of rapid whispering. Hannah, knowing who was scheduled for appointments, imagined their shocked faces at the unexpected announcement.

“Will you let Mr. Davis’s wife know he is here and resting comfortably?” Drew requested.

The men replied affirmatively before the sound of their feet faded behind the closed front door.

“Bank robbery,” Hannah muttered, surprised someone attempted such in the middle of the day in their peaceful town. She chided herself for thinking of Cincinnati as a town. With the large number of German immigrants arriving daily to work in the meat packing factories, her childhood home was quickly becoming a large city.

She checked Mr. Davis’s pulse again which returned to normal. The faint smell of ether hung in the air, intermingled with blood, causing her to take shallow breaths. Drew returned to the room with a deep frown on his face, obviously concerned with the news. As he listened to Mr. Davis’s breathing, Hannah went about cleaning and sanitizing the room and instruments, trying to hold her emotions at bay just a little longer.

As soon as she finished mopping up the trail of blood from the parlor to the surgery room, she jumped at the sound of the front door bursting open again.

“Phillip!” called out Mrs. Davis as she ran into the room. “Oh, Phillip!”

The frail woman gasped at the sight of her pale husband sleeping. Hannah breathed a sigh of relief that she completed the cleaning before Mrs. Davis arrived, fearful for the woman’s constitution. Glancing down at her blood splattered apron, she hoped to go unnoticed, certain the sight would send Mrs. Davis into a fit of apoplexy.

“Mrs. Davis,” Drew said, speaking in calm soft tones as he clapped his hand over the older woman’s, “he will be just fine. He is resting now, but should be awake later this evening. I would like to keep him here for a few days to make sure he is doing well, and then I’ll send him home to your capable care.”

“Thank you, Dr. Anderson,” Mrs. Davis replied, blotting her tears with a handkerchief before taking a seat next to her husband.

Quietly exiting the room, Hannah paused inside the doorway of the kitchen. The intensity of the preceding hours drained her energy as the emotions rushed forward. Leaning her head back against the wall, she let the tears roll down her face. Please let the image of Mr. Davis’s fear-stricken face fade from my mind quickly. The look had been so intense that she felt his fear as if it were her own—not in the moment she looked at him, but now as she returned to the calmness of her kitchen.

Wiping the tears from her face with the back of her hand, she removed the stained apron and threw it into a bucket to soak. Picking up a clean apron, she returned to the now half crunchy half soggy biscuits next to the oven trying to push the morning from her mind. Knowing there was no way to salvage the biscuits; she threw them into the waste and started on a fresh batch.

Carefully, she measured out the flour and buttermilk. The familiar actions of baking soothed her edgy nerves. Using the technique her aunt taught her, Hannah rolled out the biscuit dough and cut round forms, repeating the steps until all the dough formed raw biscuits. Numbly she continued through the motions until lovely golden brown biscuits emerged from the oven.

As Drew saw his last scheduled patient for the day, Hannah started her afternoon routine of tidying the clinic. Starting in the parlor at the front of the house, she straightened chairs and dusted the furniture. From the parlor, she turned left into Drew’s office since both surgery rooms on the right were occupied, one by Mr. Davis and the other by Drew and his patient. Hannah dusted her husband’s desk and stowed the patient charts in the largest drawer at the bottom of the oak desk. Taking a seat, Hannah flipped through the stack of bills. There never seemed to be enough time to see to everything. She needed to spend some time updating the ledgers soon.

Hannah stood listening as Drew escorted the last patient to the parlor. She entered the now vacant surgery room, wiping down all the surfaces. Once the room was cleaned, Hannah checked on Mr. Davis again. He was still resting peacefully, his wife clutching his hand as she sat in the chair, her chin resting against her chest either in prayer or in sleep.

Walking down the hall to the kitchen at the back of the house, Hannah began supper preparations. She felt most at peace in her kitchen—her domain. Perhaps it was from the few years she spent by her loving aunt’s side learning how to bake and cook, those domestic skills her mother had not instilled before her passing.

Shaking off the mounting melancholy, she shifted her thoughts back to Mr. Davis’s care. Following the meal, she would send Drew upstairs to their bedroom to get some rest. She would take the first shift watching Mr. Davis and then, sometime in the middle of the night she would wake Drew to take over.

At times like these, she wished Drew would hire a nurse. Hannah barely kept up with the laundry, cleaning, and meal preparations without overnight patients. Whenever a patient required round the clock care, she fell woefully behind in other chores. What would she do when she had children to care for?

“Barnes,” Drew greeted, with some hesitation, as one of the city’s policemen entered the clinic alone. Being one of two doctors in town, Drew often patched up robbers or drunken brawlers before Barnes hauled them off to jail. Occasionally he even visited the jail when Barnes deemed it too dangerous to bring the criminal to the clinic.

“What brings you here?” Drew asked, still unable to shake his concern that Barnes accompanied no one.

Barnes, his voice low and serious, asked, “May I have a word with you and Mrs. Anderson?”

Drew showed him to his office where their conversation could remain private. Once the bulky man took a seat, Drew quickly fetched Hannah. The lack of sleep from the night before did not help his increasing nervousness about the policeman’s unusual behavior.

As Hannah took a seat, Barnes started, “We have your brother, Thomas, in custody down at the jailhouse. He was identified as one of the men in yesterday’s failed attempt to rob the bank.”

Drew felt his throat constrict and his heart started beating rapidly, distressed over his brother’s increasingly wild behavior.

Sinking into the remaining chair, he asked tensely, “What happened?”

“From what we pieced together,” Barnes’ deep voice added to his air of authority, “it looks like Thomas, along with Sam Rogers and Ed Rogers, stormed the bank yesterday afternoon as one of the patrons was leaving. They pulled their guns on Mr. Davis and forced him to open the safe in the back room. Mr. Davis kept a loaded revolver in the safe, so once he opened it, he turned the gun on Sam and shot him in the foot. Then Ed fired on Mr. Davis.”

Still stunned, Drew merely nodded. He did not want to believe his brother was party to this crazy affair, crossing the line from rebellion to crime.

“After Mr. Davis was shot,” Barnes continued, “all three men took off, leaving the money behind. A few pedestrians noted the direction. We followed the trail and it led us to the Rogers’ house. We arrested all three men. Like I said, they are in jail and will remain there until a judge decides what is to be done.”

Drew looked over at Hannah. Her eyes widened with concern. Thomas rebelled for years, though never so boldly. Disappointment washed over Drew, quickly follow by guilt. If only he had been able to get through to Thomas. Maybe this would not have happened.

Ever since their father died, Drew’s brother could not contain his restless spirit. Thomas started hanging out with the Rogers brothers and things went downhill from there. The Rogers brothers bullied classmates during their school days and as they aged, they got worse: petty theft from the mercantile, vandalizing businesses, and picking fights with anyone who would pay them mind. When Thomas started staying out late and carousing with Sam and Ed Rogers, Drew did not hesitate to warn Thomas of the dangers of his actions. Closing his eyes, Drew clearly remembered the day he confronted his brother.

Drew woke to a thudding sound on the stairs. Sitting upright, he remained completely still, trying to determine if what he heard was real or imagined as his heart pounded against his chest. Thud. There is it was again.

Slipping from the bed, Drew carefully crept to the closed bedroom door. Slowly he cracked it open, just as a muffled curse reached his ears. Thomas!

Stepping from the room, Drew pulled the bedroom door closed behind him, so as not to wake Hannah. At the top of the stairs he made out Thomas’s limp form lying prostrate across several of the stairs. The stale cigar smoke and sickening sweet smell of whiskey clung to his brother’s clothing. As Drew approached, Thomas looked up and cursed again.

At first, Drew thought Thomas was merely drunk again—a frequent occurrence. But when he tried to help him up, Thomas recoiled and moaned in pain. Drew led him down the stairs and into the surgery room for a quick examination. Lighting the oil lamp, Drew saw the extent of his brother’s injuries. Besides the swollen black eye, his face and knuckles were covered with numerous cuts and scrapes. His ribs were also bruised. This must have been his worst fight to date.

“You must stop this Thomas,” he warned his brother, keeping his voice low. “The drinking, the gambling—it is only going to lead to trouble.”

“What do you care?” Thomas roared.

He grew weary of the familiar accusation. Thomas always thought Drew did not care—Drew always tried to show his concern. He was letting him live here. Wasn’t that proof enough that he cared? As his anger rose, so did his voice. “Look at yourself. Night after night you come home drunk or—”

“You have no right to lecture me! I’m old enough to take care of myself and do as I please. Mind your own business!”

“It is my business, as long as you are living in this house!” Drew volleyed back. Taking his brother in had been a mistake. He thought providing a home and some structure would help Thomas give up his wild ways. Instead, no matter what Drew did, Thomas threw it in his face.

“Don’t act like you are doing me a favor, Drew,” the hatred poured from his brother’s lips. “I know what you are doing. You just don’t want to feel guilty for leaving me here while you went to medical school. But you should! Living with Uncle Peter was awful!”

“Uncle Peter did his best to help you grow up with some discipline,” Drew countered.

“Don’t defend that selfish old man!”

The argument escalated until Hannah appeared in the doorway. When she looked from Drew to Thomas and back again, Drew shut his mouth mid-sentence. Thomas frowned, cursed, then turned and stormed out into the night.

He never saw his brother again, except once in passing on the street.

Hannah’s dainty cough brought Drew’s attention back to the discussion with Barnes.

“Dr. Anderson,” Barnes continued as he stood and walked to the front door, “I suggest you consider getting legal representation for your brother.”

Closing the door behind Barnes, Drew snorted. He refused to bail Thomas out of trouble again. Aware of the waiting patients, Drew ushered Hannah back to his office and closed the door, wondering just how much they overheard.

“What are you going to do?” Hannah asked, her anxiety evident.

“What can I do?” Drew replied, acknowledging his own helplessness in this situation. “He is a grown man and he is not my responsibility any longer.”

“Will you get an attorney as Mr. Barnes suggested?” she asked, her voice full of compassion.

“No,” he answered angrily. Seeing the shock on Hannah’s face, he quickly explained, “At some point Thomas must choose his own way. Well…he already has. He made that clear more than a year ago. There is nothing I can do or say that will change anything.”

Drew ran his fingers through his hair in frustration. His heart broke again as he thought of how disappointed his father would be. Perhaps his father passing on was a good thing. At least he would not witness his youngest son’s destructive behavior.

Sunday morning, Hannah put the finishing touches on the roast and slid it into the oven. Bounding up the stairs she quickly untied the apron from her waist. Standing before the mirror she brushed out her long strawberry blonde hair then twisted it into a chignon at the base of her neck inside the decorative black netted hair piece. She smiled, pleased with her appearance.

“You look lovely,” Drew commented as his pale blue eyes surveyed the light blue calico dress before resting on her eyes. Color flushed her face with the intensity of his appraisal.

“Come here,” he added, pulling her close. “Your eyes look bluer than the sky in that dress.” He brushed lips lightly across hers in a brief kiss.

Releasing her, he asked, “Looking forward to Emily’s visit?”

“I can hardly wait,” Hannah answered giddily.

As Hannah preceded Drew down the stairs, she could not contain her excitement over the planned Sunday dinner guests—Levi and Emily Werner. It had been two months since Hannah had seen Emily. Earlier this week, Levi stopped by the clinic to let Hannah know Emily would be back to church this week, having sufficiently recovered from her morning sickness. Hannah quickly extended an invitation for dinner, missing her best friend dearly.

Emily and Hannah grew up on adjoining farms several miles outside of Cincinnati. Hannah could not remember a time when she and Emily weren’t friends, despite being such opposites in looks and personality. With her dark curls and flashing nutmeg brown eyes, Emily charmed everyone, from the most reserved students to the toughest bullies in their school. As she grew older and began filling out her dress, boys noticed her long before noticing Hannah—not that any had noticed Hannah in school. Walking to and from school together, Hannah often found herself in the role of quiet listener to Emily’s constant chattering about what Amanda Taylor wore that day, or how the pigs on the farm gave birth to a large litter, or who danced with who at the last barn dance. Perhaps if Emily had set her mind on memorizing her lessons at school and not on such things, she would have made higher marks and Hannah would have spent less time trying to help her catch up.

Besides helping Emily with her school work, Hannah found in her a friend with whom she could confide her deepest sorrows, especially following her mother’s death. Even when her father sent her away to live with her aunt, she wrote letters to Emily almost weekly. When Hannah moved back to the farm with her father, years later, she easily picked up her friendship with Emily. Sadly, she was the only constant person in her life.

As Drew pulled the phaeton carriage to a stop down the street from the large whitewashed church building, Hannah scanned the crowd for her tall friend. Spotting her, she threw her arm up for a quick wave after Drew helped her to the ground. Emily turned without acknowledging Hannah and entered through the large dark wood doors. Perhaps she just didn’t see me.

Placing her hand in the crook of Drew’s arm, Hannah smiled, confident nothing could ruin her good mood in anticipation of a wonderful afternoon.

Once inside the church, Hannah watched as Emily and Levi took their seats in their normal pew. Drew led Hannah to the same pew. As soon as Drew and Hannah sat, she leaned forward to greet Emily, who immediately, without word, stood and followed her husband out of the pew.

“Emily, wait—”

“We’ll talk later,” Emily hissed, glancing back over her shoulder with a frown.

When Levi and Emily took a seat on the other side of the sanctuary, Hannah couldn’t help but feel hurt by her friend’s angry response. Had she unknowingly done something to offend Emily?

Feeling Drew’s body stiffen, Hannah peeked his direction. The couple on the other side of Drew stood and moved elsewhere. Soon, the pew in front of them emptied, as long time friends scattered to the edges of the room like marbles spilled on the floor.

Looking up at Drew she saw the stoic expression etched on his face.

“What’s going on?” she whispered, still trying to determine in what way she or Drew might have offended so many people.

Drew shook his head curtly.

When the music started, she shifted her gaze to the words in the hymnal, not needing to read them, but needing to hide her growing sadness over the rejection of her friends. Her voice sounded forced as she tried to sing praises to her God. Inside, she felt anything but gratitude.

Hannah shifted in her seat as the service dragged on. Her attention waned, not really hearing the words of the pastor.

As the last strains of the final hymn echoed in the wooden room, the pastor stood and gave a blessing. The sound of booted feet heightened as the crowd exited the church. Not waiting for Drew, Hannah hurried to catch up with Emily outside.

“Emily, we’ve been sitting together for years. Why did you move this morning?” Hannah asked as her friend tried to dodge her for a second time. “Aren’t you coming to dinner?”

“No, we are not,” Emily replied emphasizing each word, not looking Hannah in the eye.

“Are you not feeling well?”

“I am feeling fine,” Emily said, glaring at Drew as he came to stand next to his wife.

Hannah held her breath, hoping Emily might elaborate on her strange behavior.

“If you’ll excuse us,” Emily snapped as Levi started leading her around Hannah again.

Confused and hurt by Emily’s behavior, she reached out, placing her hand on Emily’s arm. “Please tell me, what have I done that offends you?”

Emily’s dark eyes flashed with anger as she turned to face Hannah. Brushing Hannah’s hand from her arm, she said, “It was our money, Hannah. We sacrificed and saved for years for that money. Levi took on that second shift at the meat factory so we would have enough for a home of our own to get out of that horrible squalor.”

“I don’t understand—”

“No, you don’t understand. And neither did Thomas. He just thought he could walk right into that bank and take what we worked so hard for,” Emily wagged her finger in Hannah’s face, causing Hannah to involuntarily take a step backwards. “And him, a worthless, gambling scoundrel! Never worked an honest day’s labor in his life. But, he thought he could just take what wasn’t his.”

“I understand your anger with Thomas, but—”

Levi, who stood with arms folded across his barrel chest, finally spoke, directing his comments to Drew, “A doctor is nothing without his reputation and yours is tainted by your brother’s wild ways. Tell me, Drew, did he try to hide out at your clinic when his plan failed?” Anger shrouded his words.

Drew dropped his arms to his side, stepping closer to Levi. “How could you think such a thing?”

Hannah bit her lower lip, hoping Drew and Levi would not come to blows. She was certain Drew would not win against the much larger man.

“Everyone knows you’ve been bailing him out of trouble for years. Well, this time the people of this city are not going to stand for it,” Levi responded through clenched teeth.

By now, several other couples gathered around listening to the heated conversation. Friends, who greeted her with a hug and warm smile last week, looked on with hatred carved on their faces. Tears threatened at the corners of Hannah’s eyes as the pain of betrayal heightened.

“There is nothing to get upset about,” Drew pleaded, looking around the crowd. “I have not seen Thomas in over a year.”

“That’s not what Mrs. Pierce said!” one woman from the crowd shouted. “She said she saw a man who looked like your brother going into the clinic late that night.”

Hannah frowned, balling her fist at her side. How can they believe that busybody over my husband?

“If anyone did enter the clinic that night,” Drew’s voice boomed, “it was without an invitation.”

“So you don’t deny what Mrs. Pierce said?” Levi pulled Drew’s attention his way.

Running his hand through his short sandy hair, Drew said, “I’m saying that it is possible someone could have entered uninvited without our knowledge.”

Emily raised her voice above the growing murmurs, “It doesn’t matter to me if Thomas entered your house with your blessing or not. I for one,” she said, resting her hand on her protruding belly, “will not be birthing my child at your clinic or with your assistance.”

Hannah’s tears streamed down her heated face as Emily’s words pierced her heart. How could Emily say such a thing? She talked for months about how wonderful it would be to have her best friend by her side as she labored to bring her first child into this world. Now, the friend who stood by her in a school yard full of bullies was acting the part of instigator. Did their friendship mean so little?

“And I won’t be stopping at your clinic for Franklin’s medications!” another older married woman shouted.

“When my niece has her child, I’m telling her to go to Doc Henderson!” A typically quiet man shouted.

As others added in vehement voices their promise to no longer visit Drew’s clinic, Hannah watched his face harden. Closing his eyes, he bowed his head.

Don’t give up, Drew! Her heart shouted.

When he lifted his head again, he held out his elbow for Hannah wordlessly. With a firm nod to her, she read the silent message: it was time to go. In the midst of angry murmurs circling about them, Hannah followed her husband to their carriage. As he took the seat next to her, his eyes faced forward. His jaw set in a hard line. His shoulders slumped in defeat.

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