Forget Me Not (The Heart's Spring)

BOOK: Forget Me Not (The Heart's Spring)
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Forget Me Not

By Amber Stokes

Copyright Page

Kindle Edition | Copyright © 2014 Amber Christine Stokes

All Rights Reserved.

Scripture quotations taken from the King James Version of the Bible.

This novel is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and events are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.

Cover design:
Lena Goldfinch at Stone Lily Book Designs

Cover images:
mimagephotography
(model photo),
Sb Sullivan
(Nevada landscape),
Elenathewise
(forget-me-not photo)

Praise for “The Heart’s Spring” Series


Forget Me Not
is a beautiful and intriguing tale of love and forgiveness. Refreshingly real with characters whose flaws and struggles are both believable and easy to relate to. A solid foundation for what’s sure to be an excellent series.”

~ Molly Evangeline, Author of the “Pirates & Faith” series

“From first word to last, the characters, the story, the premise of Amber Stokes’s debut novel captivated and intrigued me. This was no simple romance.
Bleeding Heart
speaks to anyone who has ever loved and lost.”

~ Elizabeth Ludwig, Author of
No Safe Harbor

“A tender, heartfelt story with a maturity and emotional intensity well beyond that of a debut novel, sure to please readers and reviewers alike!”

~ Laura Frantz, Author of
Love’s Reckoning
, regarding
Bleeding Heart


Bleeding Heart
has a whole lot of broken hearts all over the place, except for the reader’s—a solid debut novel for Amber Stokes.”

~ Michelle
Griep, Author of
A Heart Deceived


Bleeding Heart
is a moving tale of open wounds, desperately broken hearts, obsessions that derail multiple lives, and the love that heals all.”

~ Serena Chase, Author of
The Ryn
and Contributor to
USA Today
’s “Happy Ever After” blog

Dedication

To my Heavenly Father, for remembering me always.

And to my grandma, my kindred spirit—you are not forgotten. Love you forever.

Psalm 25:6-7

“Remember, O Lord, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindnesses; for they have been ever of old. Remember not the sins of my youth, nor my transgressions: according to thy mercy remember thou me for thy goodness’ sake, O Lord.”

Part I: Tender Mercies

“Remember, O Lord, thy tender mercies and thy lovingkindnesses; for they have been ever of old.”

Chapter 1

Clear Creek Canyon, Colorado

Summer 1885

Forgotten.
The word echoed on the wind through the ponderosa pines, brushing across David’s shoulders and thoughts in cold sweeps. He tugged his hat lower over his forehead and sank into his coat, letting Liberty lead the way home. His quarter horse weaved between the trees, her white and black splotches ducking in and out of dusk’s shadows. David stroked the horse’s neck, more for his own sake than hers. Her warmth and the creak of the shifting saddle took away some of the sting of the wind’s whispers.

Forgotten.
The word seemed more potent at this time of day, when the moon and stars desperately absorbed the light of the sun before the rays completely disappeared from the sky.

Forgotten.
The word came on bursts of air like the pulsing smoke of a departing train. The feeling of being left behind was never assuaged. It didn’t matter that he had forgotten once. They had forgotten him first and forever after.

Forgotten.
If only it all was. But memories tugged at his collar and slipped cold deep beneath his skin.

Dear God, help me.
The familiar prayer had barely risen in his chest before another plea caught his ear. He pulled on the reins and turned the horse’s head, glancing to his left. Into the canyon. A scream rose again, and he thought of the freezing water that came off the mountain and formed Clear Creek, winding its rocky way below.

His heart seized as he directed Liberty toward the cliff edge, glancing down only to see how far the woman was before heading down the incline. Pebbles tumbled ahead of him, but he kept his gaze trained on her, trusting Liberty to get him to the canyon floor safely.

“Come on, girl—quickly now.” He tried to speak with calm urgency, but he could hear the panic breaking his voice. When something scurried into the rocks ahead of him, he startled, and Liberty slid forward a little with a whinny of fright. “It was probably just a pika. We’re all right.” But not so for that woman in the river if he didn’t get to her in time.

When they finally reached level ground, he sent Liberty into a near-gallop, his heartbeat slamming through his chest like the echoes of Liberty’s
hoofbeats through the canyon. The trail he’d taken had brought him out not too far behind the woman, and he quickly closed the gap.

“Hold on!” He slowed slightly as he dug his hand back into his saddlebag, rummaging around for the rope he kept there. He finally grasped it and tied one end securely to the saddle horn, trying to complete the task quickly for fear he would lose the woman if he looked away too long.

Gathering up the rest of the rope, he pushed Liberty harder. His eyes scanned the rapids, fear drowning out all sound until he saw the woman’s head reemerge closer to his side of the river, dark hair plastered to her face. As a breath filled his lungs again, he glanced ahead. The terrain would turn rocky soon, which would make it harder to follow the woman.

As soon as Liberty had surged forward far enough, he sent the loose end of the rope flying across the river. “Grab the rope!” he yelled as loud as he could. Could she hear him? “Listen to me. You’ve got to grab the end of the rope!”

She turned toward him—right before she slammed into a rock.

He jumped off of Liberty and stumbled forward, barely catching his balance before tossing Liberty’s reins over the nearest sturdy branch and tying them with shaking hands. Then he took hold of the rope still tied to the saddle and splashed into the river. The white water roared, dulling the clamor of long-ago memories. As soon as he caught sight of the woman again, he dove, trying not to think about anything but saving her.

The rocks had slowed the woman’s progress, but they had also taken any remaining fight out of her. She wasn’t trying to get to the surface.

The frigid, frothy water pushed him toward her. He closed his eyes against the rush, but they flew open when he felt her hand, a mere second before the water plunged him under. Lunging forward, he caught hold of her arm and pulled her up with him. They both gasped as they broke the surface.

Digging his fingers into her arm with his one hand, he clung to the rope with his other. She went under again, and he panicked. How could he use the rope to climb out to safety with only one hand? He yanked her up until he heard her gasp, then pulled her as close as he could while yelling, “Hold onto me!”

She met his gaze and nodded before throwing her arms around his shoulders, clinging desperately as he brought his other arm around to grab onto the rope.

His body jolted as the rope stretched to its full length. He imagined Liberty bobbing her head in agitation and only hoped he had tied the rope and reins tight enough. Slowly, hand over hand, he fought against the current. The mountain runoff ran right through his skin as if he were nothing but a ghost.

Long, frozen moments passed before he threw himself face-first onto the rocky shore, the woman still clinging to him. He lay there, breathing in and out, feeling her breathe with him as she lay on his back. Despite the chill that had buried itself deep within, a warmth went deeper still, knowing that she was all right, that they were breathing together.

Finally, he rolled to his side, causing her to slip down next to him. He glanced over her.
She’s hardly a woman.
She appeared so young, thin and trembling next to him. But a second thought flowed right after the first.
She looks familiar.
A few freckles crowned the bridge of her nose. Her spring-green eyes regarded him with awe, or was that just shock?

She suddenly pushed herself up with her hands and coughed up water, spasms shaking her slight frame. He sat up and touched her back, waiting. When the coughs died down and her body continued to shake, he stood. Coiling the rope as he went, he untied it from the saddle horn and stuffed it into his saddlebag, exchanging it for a blanket. Liberty whinnied, and he touched his forehead to her neck. “Thank you, girl.”

After a minute he lifted his head and looked at the girl. She stared at the creek as she trembled, and he thought that perhaps it was from more than the cold. Perhaps it was the way her fists were clenched instead of rubbing her arms, or the way her head was lifted at an almost defiant angle. He found himself hesitant to approach her—until she glanced back at him. Her eyes held fear, and when he walked toward her, she melted. Her shoulders drooped, her head fell into her hands, and she began to cry.

“Hey now.” His voice was as gravelly as the creek bottom. He tried again. “It’s all right.” Kneeling beside her, he touched a hand to her back again. The sobs traveled up his arm and made his heart ache. “You’re all right now. Everything will be fine.”

Water spattered over his nose just as he uttered the words. Tilting his head back, he saw dark clouds had gathered. A summer storm was brewing.

Rain poured faster and harder. Covering the girl with the blanket, he then held his hand out to her. She looked up at the sky and back at his hand, her face wet from the creek, the rain, and her tears. As soon as she grasped his hand, he tugged her over to Liberty. “My cabin’s not far from here.”

He swung into the saddle and pulled her up behind him. But when he noticed that she was fumbling with the blanket, he quickly slid down. “Scoot forward. You can sit in front of me.” She nodded and did as he asked while pulling the now-damp blanket firmly around her, for what little good it would do. Best to get to the cabin as soon as possible.

He climbed back on and wrapped his arms around her to grab the reins. She leaned into him, and a fierce and familiar protectiveness welled up. He would bring this girl home safely.

***

A rumble of thunder seemed to originate inside her, rolling through Elizabeth until her head snapped up and her eyes sprang open. She must have dozed off. Shivers attacked her as she glanced around at the ponderosa forest they were passing through. A stand of aspens surrounded a cabin up ahead, but she found her gaze drawn instead to the hands gripping the reins in front of her. She studied the scrapes on his knuckles. The hair on the backs. The faint lifelines of blue flowing down them. Those hands had helped her out of the river, and up onto her feet. They weren’t overly large—just big enough to fit around her own. Strong enough to do the job. Gentle enough to comfort her. Just…enough.

Another round of thunder boomed, and she jumped.

“It’s all right. We’re almost there.” His voice rumbled through her just like the thunder, and she felt heat rise to her cheeks.

As soon as the man reined in his horse in front of the porch, he jumped down to the ground and held those hands out to help her. With a face that felt as red as the anger that had driven her out of town, she attempted to slide down off the creature on her own, still clutching the corners of the blanket at her throat. But her legs were ready to fold like paper, and when her feet touched the dirt they sent her sprawling into the man.

“Whoa.” He caught her by her arms, speaking to her as kindly as he did his horse.

She didn’t want kindness tonight. She wanted an excuse to let lose all of the emotions raging inside of her. But as she opened her mouth to tell him she didn’t need his help, she met his gaze. The calm, understanding brown reminded her of how home used to be, and in the remembrance’s wake the anger broke away and the weariness washed in. Her shoulder hurt from where she had hit the rock. Her head ached, and her legs were sore. Without really meaning to, she let her head drop to his shoulder.

“Come on, then. Let’s get you inside.”

He bent down and swung her up into his arms. Her head remained on his shoulder, and she sighed in gratitude as he carried her over the threshold and into the shelter of the cabin. When he set her on the bed at the back of the only room, she whispered, “Thank you.”

He lingered with his face close to hers for a moment before taking the wet blanket from her and stepping back with a faint smile. “So you do talk. That’s good, because I have a lot of questions.”

She cringed. Just what she didn’t need.

Apparently noticing her reaction, he added quietly, “But not tonight.”

With a grateful nod, she slowly peeled off her boots, pulled back the quilt covering the bed, and climbed beneath it. Thunder rolled over the cabin and took her exhausted mind beneath the waves of sleep.

***

David lay awake in his bedroll, stretched out in front of the stone fireplace that graced the wall at the end of his bed, where the girl now slept. It had been so long since anyone else had been in this cabin. Not since the man who had practically raised him, Frank, had passed away six years ago.

He picked at the dirt on the floor, wondering how the girl had fallen into the creek, why she had been out this way, and who she was. The rain continued to pelt the roof with as much force as it had assaulted him and Liberty when he’d brought the horse around to the large lean-to on the side of the cabin hours before. He hoped he had patched up the leak well enough and she had enough hay.

Rolling onto his back, he groaned. His body ached, and he could only imagine how much more the girl was hurting. Something about her presence made him restless. The cabin had always been suitable for his needs—large enough to live in comfortably, quiet enough to suit his desire for solitude. He considered himself a simple man who needed nothing more than God, Liberty, his gun and traps, and a town nearby for anything he couldn’t hunt or make himself. It was the way Frank had taught him, and Frank had seemed content. Of course, Frank had always said his life was more interesting with David as his “son.” And now, David discovered a craving he never knew he had for something interesting, for someone else to be a part of his life again.

He sat up and looked at the bed. The girl’s face was turned toward the center of the room, and in the dim light from the fire he could see her hair had dried to a reddish-brown color, wisps falling across her face like strips of bark. She looked so small in his bed, lying there like a misplaced piece from his childhood.

“Where did you come from?” Lifting his head to the ceiling, he continued, “Why is she here, God? What do You want me to do?” The restless feeling only grew at the harsh sound of his own voice amid the
pops
of the fire. Deciding he wouldn’t get any sleep tonight, he stood and walked to the stove at the front of the cabin. He would make flapjacks.

He cringed as the cupboard door creaked when he reached for the flour, and as the pan knocked against the stove. How quiet was quiet enough not to wake a person? He didn’t remember.

When the first flapjacks were cooking in the pan and he had cracked some eggs for scrambling, he turned and found the girl watching him from where she was still lying in the bed. “I’m sorry I woke you.”

She gave a small, lazy smile in response, and his heart stopped.

“It’s all right.” She pulled the quilt closer and added, “May I…may I have some?”

Glancing back down at the food on the stove, he grinned. “I was planning on giving it all to the horse…”

He waited a beat before glancing back over his shoulder. Her brows were lowered in confusion. But when she met his gaze, her eyes brightened and she shook her head with a chuckle.

The laughter was an echo from happier, louder times. He pondered what else he might say to get the same reaction from her, but nothing witty came to mind. He should have spent more time in town, visiting with people, learning jokes, hearing stories. But the solitude of the mountains always called him back. As soon as he talked to someone, he longed to come home. Until now. Maybe it was because this girl, for some strange reason, made his home feel—well—even homier.

BOOK: Forget Me Not (The Heart's Spring)
13.86Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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