Authors: Merry Farmer
Copyright ©2016 by Merry Farmer
his ebook is licensed
for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each recipient. If you’re reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then please return to your digital retailer and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the hard work of this author.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Cover design by Erin Dameron-Hill (the miracle-worker)
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For L.M. Montgomery
Yep, I’m dedicating a book to one of my all-time favorite authors.
Mostly because I borrowed something from her for the plot of this book. ;)
onoria Bonneville was about
to go mad. The clock on the mantel of Dr. Abernathy’s office ticked with such deep foreboding that it pulled every nerve in her body taut. She wrung her white handkerchief in her hands as she sat hunched in a spindly chair on the other side of the waiting room from the clock. Her lungs burned, but she fought the urge to cough—fought it and fought it and fought it until she couldn’t hold out anymore.
She burst into a spell of coughing that wracked her from head to toe and made the pale, middle-aged woman sitting across from her start. That woman quickly fell into coughing too, as if Honoria’s outburst were contagious. A third patient—an older man—frowned and hugged himself tightly, as if summoning the willpower to not be made sick by the women. Honoria squeezed her eyes shut, praying for her lungs to be still.
Heaven knew she had enough practice holding her breath and keeping the things that were inside of her from coming out. She’d been biting her tongue and swallowing all of the things she had wanted to say for the past twenty-five years of incessant bullying by her sisters, Vivian and Melinda. She’d even endured snide comments and a turned-up nose from her younger sister, Bebe.
Once upon a time, she’d tried to speak out, to fight back against the unfairness that was heaped on her. It had been easier when she was a small girl and her mother was still alive. Ariana Bonneville had been the one light of hope in young Honoria’s life. She had been the single stabilizing influence in Rex Bonneville’s life—though he’d never appreciated her for it. She’d been the center of Honoria’s world, and when she’d died in childbirth—along with Rex Bonneville’s only son—when Honoria was seven, the light had gone out of her world. And the sense had gone out of the Bonneville family.
Grief that had never healed spilled through Honoria, and she dissolved into another round of wracking coughs that brought tears to her eyes. It was the coughing that made her cry, she insisted to herself, not grief, not pity for her lot in life. As her mother lay dying, her final words to Honoria had been, “Always remember who you are, Honoria. Your honor is your shining light. Hold your head up high, face your trials bravely, and be honest in all things.” There had been words of love and sorrow too, but in every day that passed since then, Honoria had obeyed her mother, behaved with quiet honor, and born the brutality of her sisters and the neglect of her father with as much courage and strength as she could muster…for Mother’s sake.
Now that strength was failing her. She coughed again, in unison with the other woman waiting to see Dr. Abernathy. She’d been strong as long as she could, but for months now Honoria had felt the unmistakable sensation of the Universe holding its breath. Something was about to change.
The door to Dr. Abernathy’s examination room swung open, and Dr. Abernathy himself popped his head into the waiting room. He held a small stack of files that he looked at several times between staring at Honoria, the old man, and the other woman. He shuffled through the papers in the file, cleared his throat, then focused on Honoria.
“With a cough like that, I’d better see you first.”
An unexpected tremor of fear passed through Honoria as she stood and slipped across the waiting room to the examination room. Dr. Abernathy stood back so she could go before him. Once she was inside, hovering anxiously beside a short table, Dr. Abernathy shut the door.
“Let’s see now.” Dr. Abernathy shuffled through the files, mumbling to himself. He set one down on the table, then scowled as he thumbed through the other two. “What an utter nuisance.”
“I’m sorry?” Honoria asked in a small voice.
Dr. Abernathy made a disapproving noise. “Why does Dr. Meyers keep insisting on seeing patients when he is constantly being called out to that blasted Indian reservation?”
Honoria blinked, unsure if she was supposed to answer the question. “I saw Dr. Meyers about my cough this morning.” She opted to explain.
“Yes, and I’m sure your father will have something to say about that,” Dr. Abernathy grumbled. “I’ve been your family doctor for years.”
There was no point in explaining that that was the exact reason she’d seen someone else about her concerns. “Dr. Meyers had just finished examining me—listening to my lungs, testing my sputum with some chemicals he has—when the army officer came to take him to the Cheyenne camp. I…I understand it was an emergency.”
Dr. Abernathy continued to mutter, “Damned inconvenient, if you ask me. Causing me extra work. Those savages don’t deserve it.”
A sudden snap of dislike caught Honoria off-guard, sending her into another coughing fit.
At last, Dr. Abernathy set one of the two files he held aside and his expression lightened. “Ah! Here we are. Just as I suspected.” His countenance turned grave. He stared at her over the top of his glasses. Honoria began to shake, too afraid to ask what he suspected. She didn’t have to ask. “It’s obvious, really,” he went on. “Consumption.”
Honoria’s breath caught in her throat, and the room went dark for a moment. Her legs turned to jelly, and if she hadn’t reached out to grab the examination table, she was certain she would have fallen over. She’d known it. In her heart, she’d known all along. And she knew what consumption was.
It was a death sentence.
“Looks like it’s fairly advanced, going by Dr. Meyers’s notes,” Dr. Abernathy went on, as if describing how a garden wall was built. “The coughing will continue, as will instances of coughing up blood. Yes, yes.” He scanned the rest of the file. “I wouldn’t plan on lasting more than six months to a year.”
“That’s it?” Honoria squeaked, clutching her handkerchief to her chest.
Dr. Abernathy shrugged. “Could be less, could be more.” He cleared his throat and closed the file, tossing it on the table with the others. “If I were you, young woman, I would get my affairs in order.”
The tears that had stung Honoria’s eyes earlier burned hotter. That was it? Twenty-five years and her life was over? She shook her head, her shoulders sinking. Twenty-five years of life and what did she have to show for it? A battered spirit and an empty heart.
What a waste. What a terrible, terrible waste.
Dr. Abernathy cleared his throat. “I have other patients to see. More than usual, thanks to Dr. Meyers.”
Honoria blinked up at him through her shock and grief. That was all he had to say? Censure for Dr. Meyers? After giving her a death sentence? The urge to run filled her.
“Thank you for your time, sir.” She managed to push out the words with a hoarse breath.
Dr. Abernathy grunted, then pivoted to hold the door open for her. Clutching her handkerchief to her chest, Honoria hurried out the door. She tried to hold her head high—like she always did—as she made her way through the waiting room, but as soon as she was out in the hot, July sun of Haskell, she burst into bitter, wrenching tears.
Consumption. Death. Emptiness. Her heart tried to soar up to wherever her mother was, longing to be with her now instead of after months of bitter, painful decline. Because what did she have to look forward to in the few, short months remaining to her? She certainly wouldn’t get any sympathy from her father. He barely noticed her as it was. Papa didn’t like illness. He would shunt her off to some back room in the house and pretend she wasn’t there.
Blindly, Honoria walked away from Dr. Abernathy’s office, up Prairie Avenue. Being ignored by her father was the least of her worries. Her sisters would be furious. Yes, furious. They would resent every last moment of Honoria’s life. They were losing their chief servant, after all. Honoria wasn’t fool enough to think they would show her a moment’s sympathy. Oh no, they would likely try to pry as much work out of her for as long as they could, making her sew through her coughing. Vivian was marrying Cousin Rance in less than a week, and already Honoria was being worked until she dropped on the wedding gown and Vivian’s trousseau. How much more work would be demanded of her before she dropped?
The horrible thought propelled her forward. She picked up her pace, shivering as she ran past the houses of so many people who could have been her friends if she’d only had the strength to break away from her family. Why hadn’t she shown some backbone and befriended them all while she had the chance? Had she misinterpreted her mother’s dying wish that she be strong and have honor? It was too late now. Her life was over. Her pitiful, wasted life.
“Honoria, what’s wrong?”
The question came from Elspeth Strong, whose house Honoria was running past. Some sort of garden party was going on at the Strong house. Seeing so many happy people was like an arrow in Honoria’s heart. But before Honoria could rush on, Elspeth caught up to her and laid a hand on her arm.
Honoria stumbled, then spun toward Elspeth. The pain of her wasted life was too much in the face of such a friendly gesture. Honoria had risked her family’s wrath to help Elspeth and Athos and their children several weeks ago. Maybe she could turn to Elspeth for comfort now.
Trembling, she launched herself into Elspeth’s arms, hugging her like the friend she could have had if she’d been braver. It was too late now.
“What’s wrong?” Elspeth asked, deep concern in her voice.
Sense hit Honoria, and she pulled away. She couldn’t lay her troubles at Elspeth’s doorstep. It wasn’t right. Instead, she turned this way and that, looking up and down the street for answers. There were none anywhere. She started to leave, then hung back, no idea what to do.
Her illness spoke for her, and before she could stop it, a bout of wracking coughs nearly doubled her over. She started crying all over again, sick at heart and ashamed of her weakness.
“Oh dear.” Elspeth rushed to hug her. The gesture was far more welcome than Elspeth would ever know, as was her plea of, “Please, please tell me what’s wrong, Honoria.”
“I…I…” Honoria hid her face against Elspeth’s shoulder. It would have been so wonderful to have a friend. It may have been too late for much of a friendship, but perhaps she could risk one confidence. Head still resting against Elspeth’s shoulder, she whispered, “I’m dying.”
Elspeth tensed. “What? No, there must be some mistake.”
When Elspeth twisted to answer her husband Athos’s questioning call, Honoria broke out of her arms. She couldn’t lay this burden on anyone else’s shoulders. No one else should bear this but her. There was no time left to find consolation in friendship, no time left for—
She gasped as she glanced past Elspeth’s shoulder to Athos. He wasn’t the only one approaching. Following hard on his heels was Solomon Templesmith.
Honoria’s heart lurched in her chest, twisting with longing and grief. Solomon Templesmith, Haskell’s banker, one of the wealthiest men in town. He was tall and strode toward her with purpose. His expensive, tailored suit fit his broad shoulders perfectly. His chocolate skin stood out against his white collar and cuffs. His dark, dreamy eyes held deep concern for her. They always did, every time he’d been there to catch her when she tripped or to smile at her when everyone else was frowning. Her father despised Solomon with every fiber of his being, despised that a man who had been born a slave could have as much money and as high of a standing in Haskell society as he did.
Honoria had loved him since the moment she first laid eyes on his kind, world-weary face and heard his rich sonorous voice.
Solomon Templesmith would have to watch her die now.
No, worse than that, she would have to die locked far, far away from him, where she would never see his kind eyes or feel his strong arms around her again.
She couldn’t bear the thought. Before he could reach her, she turned and ran away down Prairie Avenue.
She made it almost all the way to the intersection with Elizabeth Street before hearing Solomon’s concerned call of, “Honoria, stop!”
She could only manage a few more, tripping steps before lurching to a halt. Rough coughing stopped her. She shouldn’t be running, as sick as she was. She held her handkerchief to her mouth, helpless to do anything but wait until Solomon caught up with her.
“Honoria, my God.” He skipped straight past politeness and gripped her arms as he reached her.
Honoria’s coughing subsided, and she let her hand fall from her mouth. “I…” She couldn’t meet his eyes, could only stare down at the contrast between her white handkerchief and the dark brown skin of his hands. “I…” She couldn’t. She couldn’t burden him.
Only, before she could summon up the strength to break free from his supporting hands, Solomon said, “Elspeth told me what you said to her.”
Honoria snapped her eyes up to meet his, full of fear. Would he reject her now? The one person she admired above all else?
No, there was so much tenderness, so much regret in his eyes that all she could do was break down into sobs and nod.
“No,” he whispered.
And right there, in broad daylight, directly across from the hotel, near one of the busiest intersections in Haskell, Solomon Templesmith pulled her into a tight embrace, resting her head against his shoulder. No one, not even her own father, would ever show her so much sympathy. Solomon was little more than a stranger, forbidden in so many ways, but the comfort he was offering turned her inside out and made her feel as though she was floating in the midst of her misery. She wept freely against him, leaning heavily into the firm muscles of his chest, closing her arms around his back. She’d dreamed of this moment with him for years, only to have it come at the end.
They might have stood there for hours or it might have only been seconds when Solomon said, “Tell me all about it.”
Sense returned to her slowly. She gulped a few breaths, working to have the power to stand on her own. As soon as she could, she pushed back, wiping away her tears and straightening her back. It still took several deep, deliberate breaths before she could raise her gaze to meet his.
“Dr. Abernathy says I have consumption,” she admitted, her voice shaking like tall grass in a storm. “He says I have months left.”