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KEEPING FAITH

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christina Cole

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sensual Romance

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Secret Cravings Publishing

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A
Secret Cravings Publishing Book

Sensual Romance

 

Keeping Faith

Copyright © 2014
 
Christina Cole

E-book ISBN: 8978-1-63105-238-5

 

First E-book Publication:
 
July 2014
  

 

Cover design by
Dawné
Dominique

Edited by Julie Reilly

Proofread by Shannon Ellis

All cover art and logo copyright ©
2014 by Secret Cravings Publishing

 

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All characters and events in this
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strictly coincidental.

 

PUBLISHER

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Dedication

With love, to my husband, Ken, and to my wonderful
mother-in-law, Arlene, and with gratitude to Bill and Sandi Bartlett for the
research they provided for this story.

 

 

 

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KEEPING FAITH

Christina Cole

Copyright ©
2014

 

Chapter One

 

 

Sunset, Colorado

July 1876

 

Awful thing when a man
didn’t want to see his own mother.

Tom Henderson figured he
ought to be glad—damned glad—she was coming to Sunset, but all he really felt
was a lot of guilt. Or maybe it was shame. Most likely, a good dose of both.

But how else was he supposed
to feel? No point mincing words. Some truths couldn’t be avoided. His mother
was a drunk, a whore, and she’d killed a man. Now, she’d arrived on the
afternoon stage.
 
She’d be living
right there in Sunset, and it would be Tom’s responsibility to look after her.
Little wonder he wasn’t exactly thrilled by the prospect.

“You’re late, damn it.”
Charlotte Henderson stood at the stage depot, hands fisted on broad hips. “I
swear, you’ve never been on time once in your life.” As her son drew near, her
eyes narrowed. “Probably out screwing around to all hours last night, weren’t
you?” The summer breeze ruffled her dirty blonde hair. She threw back her head
and laughed. “That’s my boy, all right. At least you know how to have a good
time, I’ll give you that. Never mind your poor old mother waiting on you.”
Before he could stop her, she rushed forward and clasped her arms around his
neck. “So, was she a pretty one, Tommy? Or just cheap and easy?”

“Ma, stop it,” he said,
reaching up to disentangle himself from her smothering embrace. “I wasn’t out
fooling around.”

“Why the hell not?” Stepping
back, the woman eyed the tall cowboy who stood before her. Her son. Her pride
and joy. That’s what she’d called him from the day he’d been born. “Something
wrong with you?”

He ignored the jibe and
walked to the platform to retrieve the dusty, battered valise she’d brought
with her. “I was up late last night getting things ready for you. I’ve found
you a nice little place to stay, right outside of town. I think you’ll like
it.”

“I thought I’d be staying
with you.”

“I sleep in a bunkhouse, Ma.
It’s no place for a lady.” What in hell was he saying? His mother was anything
but a
lady
, and she’d probably feel
right at home in a bunkhouse filled with rowdy ranch hands, but Tom pushed that
thought aside. That part of his mother’s life was over and done with. He’d take
care of her now, she’d have no need to go around selling herself, and somehow,
between the two of them, they’d figure out how to get along, how to be some
sort of family.

“What about my place, Tommy?
I want to go home.”

He shook his head. “Better
for you to stay here in town.” The old property where he’d been born and raised
was several hours away. If she lived there, he wouldn’t be able to keep an eye
on her. Besides, for all he knew, nothing was even left of the place.

“You’ll come see me, won’t
you?”

Tom heard the doubts in his
mother’s voice, and he nodded. “Of course I will.” Although taller than Ma, he
had the same light blond hair, the same blue eyes. He bent and kissed her
cheek. “Welcome to Sunset.”

Welcome home
is what he’d meant to say, but the words stuck in his
throat.

Charlotte Henderson snorted.
“It’s not much of a town.”

“I think it’s just right.
Small. Quiet. The folks around here are decent, respectable people, so keep
that in mind.” When looking for a place for his mother to live, he’d
deliberately chosen one on the outskirts of town, hoping no one would be
disturbed by her presence. “Come on, I’ve got a wagon waiting.”

The woman didn’t budge.
Shielding her eyes from the harsh afternoon sun, she squinted toward the west.
She stiffened, then jerked her head at the neat, wood-framed building with its
little bell tower and the wooden cross that adorned it.

“How many damned churches
this place got?”

“Just that one.” Quickly he
reached out. Placing a strong hand on her shoulder, he gently, but firmly,
turned her to face him again.

“I don’t care to hear any
preaching, you know. I won’t have religion shoved down my throat.”

“Yeah, I know.” Tom took her
by the hand and steered her toward the wagon and away from the church. Although
he didn’t know everything about his mother’s life growing up, he was well aware
that religion was a sore topic. Her parents had died for their faith, for their
convictions and for their determined efforts to spread the gospel back in
Kansas during the 1830s. Religion didn’t bring comfort or solace to Charlotte
Henderson, only bad memories.

“What about saloons?” His
mother jerked her hand from his. She stopped and glanced around again. “Got to
be both good and evil in a town, you know. There ought to be at least one
saloon for every house of God. Who’s to say which is the real evil?”

Tom pushed his hat back on
his head and stared down at this woman who’d given him life. The familiar shame
knotted in his guts. “Don’t start it, Ma. You’ve done without whiskey for the
last three years. No need to start drinking again.”

If he’d been a praying man,
he might have offered up a few words of supplication, but he hadn’t been raised
a believer. He’d been taught that a man couldn’t count on divine intervention
or heavenly help. Maybe that knowledge made him stronger in some ways. He’d learned
to rely on himself, to shoulder his own responsibilities and solve his own
problems.

But damned if he knew what
he would do with his mother now. Looking after her wasn’t going to be easy.

“Mr. Henderson, good
afternoon.”

Tom froze at the sound of
the voice. Slowly, he turned. Out of obligation, he tipped his hat as the
town’s new minister, Reverend James Gilman, approached with outstretched hand.

Damn the luck! The last
person he wanted coming to greet his mother was a man of the cloth. She’d
likely grab the fellow by his stiffly starched clerical collar and shove him
face first into the nearest horse trough—which happened to be only a scant few
yards away.

“Come on, Ma,” he said,
nudging her in the opposite direction.

But the minister caught up
with them. He placed his hand on Tom’s shoulder. Rumor had it that James Gilman
had once been a prize-winning pugilist before he found God and got saved. Maybe
so. The man had a grip like a vice.

“Mr. Henderson, spare me a
moment. I’d like to get acquainted with your mother and—”

Charlotte spun around. Her
mouth worked, and out flew a wad of spittle, landing on Gilman’s polished
shoes. “Got no use for your kind.” She wiped her chin with the back of her
hand.

“Sir, I’m sorry,” Tom guided
his mother away. “I’ll explain. Another time,” he called over his shoulder.

“Well, yes, you do that.” To
his credit, Gilman’s voice remained kind, gentle, and filled with a compassion
that Charlotte Henderson didn’t deserve. “My wife and I wanted to invite your
mother for dinner one evening, but we can discuss it later. Perhaps we’ll see
you and your mother at services on Sunday. If there’s anything we can do to
help…”

“Be a cold day in hell
before I set foot in any damned church.” The woman yanked her arm free from her
son and climbed up into the wagon. “I don’t need any help from you,” she called
out. “I can manage just fine on my own.”

Tom clenched and unclenched
his fists, unsure whether he should go back and offer another apology to
Gilman, or if maybe it would be best to just move on and get his mother away
before she tried stoning the well-meaning minister.

Physically, James Gilman
reminded Tom of a bulldog. Short, solid, and powerful. But he doubted the man
would be any match for his mother’s fury. Best to move on, he decided, swinging
up onto the driver’s seat.

He kept his mouth shut and
flicked the reins over the mule’s back, only speaking again after they’d turned
the corner and left Gilman and his church in the dust.

“No call to be rude to the
man, Ma. He doesn’t know your story. He was only trying to be sociable.”

“Sociable?” She let out that
familiar bark of a laugh that had haunted Tom’s memory for years. “I’ll be
plenty sociable as soon as you find us a good saloon. We’ll have a drink or two
to celebrate the occasion.”

Tom didn’t even turn to look
at her. He kept his eyes focused on the long road ahead. “You don’t need a
drink. You’ve been sober for three years. No reason to change that now.”
Finally he turned and smiled as he reached for her hand. He gave it a
reassuring squeeze. “It’s good to see you, Ma. You’re looking more beautiful
than ever.”

Some truth, some untruth.

It
was
good to see his mother, good to see her free. In the case of
Charlotte Louise Henderson, justice had been served. Convicted of manslaughter,
she’d been sent away to the penitentiary. She’d done her time.

But damn! Why did she have
to come to Sunset?

The answer was simple. She
had nowhere else to go.

Unless he could find Sally.

As the image of his sweet
little sister flickered through his mind, the old ache in his heart began
again. If he had it to do over, he damned sure would have taken little Sally
with him when he left home.

She’d run off too, a few
weeks later. Probably looking for him, Tom guessed. But she’d never found him,
and nobody ever heard from her again. He liked to imagine that Sally had made a
good life for herself. She’d be twenty-one now. A grown woman. The thought
brought a wistful smile.

Had she found a good man?
Was she married now? Maybe have little ones of her own?

It would sure do his heart a
world of good if he could find little Sally. He’d give a lot to see her again.

Tom jerked back on the
reins, stopped, and looked at Ma. He knew what he had to do.

This was their chance. A
chance to put the past far behind them. A chance to start over. A chance to be
a real family.

He would find Sally and
bring her home.

Tom’s features tightened. He
gripped the leather reins and set the wagon in motion again. “I got you a nice
little house,” he said as they rolled on down the quiet street. “It’s not big,
but that means you won’t have to work too hard to keep it clean.” Memories of
the filthy, disgusting cabin where he’d been raised choked off his breath. He
could practically taste the thick dust and smell the sour air again. “Now, I
know you’re not used to having a lot of folks around, so you can take a day or
two to get yourself situated.” He hesitated, unsure how his mother would react
to what he was about to say. “Once you’re settled, well, I’ve found work for
you. A good job.”

“A job? Doing what?” Another
bark of laughter rang out. “Only one thing I’ve ever known how to do. Only one
thing I’ve ever been good at.”

“Don’t talk like that.” Tom
refused to listen to any more talk about the past. Yes, he knew how his mother
had supported herself, how she’d supported him and Sally, too. But those days
were over and gone. He cast a glance at his mother, remembering how beautiful
she’d once been. The years had not been kind. Whoring had wrecked her body, and
whiskey had taken its toll. Still, his mother had so much to offer, if only
she’d see it. “You’re not ignorant, Ma. You can read, you can write.” Damned
shame she’d never seen fit to share that knowledge with Tom and his sister.
Neither of them had ever gotten any real education. He fought back the bitterness
that crept into his voice. “You’ve got a head for figures, too.”

“Quite jawing around and
spit it out, Tommy.” She lifted her chin, squared her shoulders, and drew in a
breath. “Just what sort of work do you think I can do?”

“It won’t be hard, Ma.
You’ll be helping out at Miss Lucille’s.”

“A parlor house?” Her brows
quirked. “That sounds like it might be a good place—”

“No, Ma, it’s not a parlor
house.” His face heated. “Lucille McIntyre is a decent young woman. She’s a
dressmaker. I told her I’d bring you by this afternoon. I know she’s looking
forward to meeting you.” He knew no such thing, but it seemed like the right
thing to say.

For the first time since
he’d hatched this little plan, Tom had serious doubts about sending his mother
to Miss McIntyre’s new business establishment. If things went wrong—which
suddenly seemed a likely possibility—the pretty, dark-haired girl with the
luscious dark chocolate eyes would not only hate his mother, she’d hate him,
too.

But, then again, Lucille had
never shown too much interest in him anyway. More than once, he’d tried to
catch her eye, but whenever he tried to talk to her, she always turned away,
always had better things to do.

Not that he blamed her.

Like everybody else in
Sunset, she looked down on him, and why the hell not?

All the same, he’d held on
to some crazy hope that maybe, with Ma working at the dressmaking shop, they
could all get better acquainted. Maybe Lucille would look beyond the coarse
exterior and come to see what was inside of him.

Just one more foolish dream,
that’s all.

His mother grabbed the reins
and pulled back.

“Ma? What the—”

“There’s one, right there.”
She pointed to the two-story building on the corner. The one with the swinging
doors. The Red Mule saloon.

“We’re not stopping.”

She reached out and placed a
hand on her son’s arm. “Tommy, listen to me, please. You think I don’t know
what’s in your head?”

The softness of her voice
touched him. Never had he heard his mother speak with such sincerity.

“You’re thinking I’m nothing
more than an old
sot
who can’t handle her liquor, but
you’re wrong, son.” She lifted her gaze, studying him with clear, blue eyes.
“I’m not asking you to take me out and let me go off on a spree.”

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