Authors: Jacelyn Rye
Copyright © 2013 Jacelyn Rye
The moral right of the author has been asserted.
All rights reserved.
No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of the publisher, nor be otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that in which it is published and without a similar condition including this condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
The author recognizes the copyrighted or trademarked status and trademarked owners of the following wordmarks mentioned in this book of fiction: Allis-Chalmers Model B
Published by Jacelyn Rye
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Love one another and help others to rise to the higher levels, simply by pouring out love. Love is the greatest healing energy. ~Unknown
The love that I have felt from those around me during this journey has been so completely overwhelming and wonderful, that I am beyond gratitude for this life experience. I never could've risen to a higher level without the pouring out of love from so many souls, near and far. I only hope that in some way, you all know the impact of your extraordinary presence in my life has altered and blessed the path of my life, forever.
My family. I would be nothing without you. For my husband and two boys, the loves of my life, thank you for sharing me with a laptop and letting me sneak away every now and again to a quiet corner. The love and support, encouragement and excitement from my Colorado family and my California family, thank you for believing in me no matter what. Carlie, your friendship is a precious gift, and I wouldn't trade sharing this experience together for anything! Raine, you are an inspiration, and your advice is invaluable as I embark on this adventure.
Christina Yeager and Marion Archer, your discerning eyes and loving guidance in polishing my story is appreciated more than you'll ever know. You are both amazingly talented editors, thank you for pushing me to be the best I can be.
Words are never just words. Just one of the many lessons I've learned from Carl Rachel. Thank you for teaching me that writing is courage and commitment, and nothing can change that a part of me is forever in the universe because of this book.
And to you, dear reader. May you somehow know the sublime joy you have given me for letting my story into your life, and the privilege that my book is in your corner of the world right now. The depth of my gratitude is immeasurable. Thank you, so very much.
Love to you all,
To My Husband
My inspiration for all love stories
Who brought us together
She wouldn't think about it. Not anymore. All she would do now is feel. She had forced herself to be numb for so long. She craved what she knew he could make her feel. Time for agonizing over the decision would come. But not tonight. Tonight, she was done with worry, done with right or wrong. Anything that came tonight would be right. It had to be. It's simply a state of mind. There would be consequences to be sure, but she was taking control, for once, instead of leaving it to fate.
He gently guided her head down to rest on the blanket. She watched his eyes float over her body as if she were a treasure long awaiting his discovery. She should've been nervous, but she wasn't. She had waited for this for a long time. Her heart galloped as she met his gaze, and her breath came in shallow, quiet gasps. She lay completely naked before him, but cloaked in his love, she never felt safer than she did right now.
He moved himself directly over her. She drank in the delicious heat from his body as every nerve awakened at the mere touch of his skin on hers. One strong arm braced his weight as he lowered himself down to whisper in her ear, "Are you sure you want this?"
She stared into his piercing eyes and nodded. She could swear that at one time, she had every fleck in them memorized. But now all she saw was her own reflection, and that was all that mattered. Tonight, they were the only two people in the entire world.
"Are you sure you want this...with me?" he asked again, and she knew what he meant. Others would be affected by their choices tonight, and nothing would ever be the same for any of them.
"I've never been more sure of anything. I want you." Her voice shook, but not from uncertainty.
"I've always wanted you. Tonight, I want to show you just how much. Tonight, you will finally be mine."
"I've waited for this moment, to know what was meant to be. I know that tonight, I was meant to give myself completely for the first time, to you." She searched his eyes again and watched them instantly change, and grow even hungrier for her.
He closed his eyes, as if to let her words slowly melt over him, and lightly moaned, "You don't know what that means to me. I promise you, I'll be gentle. But this will be a night you'll never forget." He paused and whispered, "And neither will I."
As he descended onto her mouth, she forced her mind away from the questions that still lingered. The path that led to this moment was still clouded with an uncertainty that may never be resolved. She knew her future depended on the details of her past, a past that she must scrutinize from the very beginning. She would have to go back, all the way back to her childhood, if she had any hope of navigating the twists of fate's path. But not tonight.
~ 3 Years Earlier~
Sarah’s eyes flew open as she awoke to the sound of thunderous pounding. She gasped to catch her breath until she realized she was in her bed, in her home, and it was the sound of her own heart thudding against her chest. Slowly, the familiar sounds of her mother cooking breakfast and the muffled voices of her parents discussing the day’s events filtered into her thoughts. Sarah blinked as she forced herself to slow her breathing. She swallowed the hard lump in her throat while the memory of the nightmare flashed through her mind. These dreams had been coming to her for as long as she could remember. Always leaving her with the same pit in her stomach. As bad as it was now, it was worse as a child. Many times she would wake in a cold sweat with tears falling down the side of her face. The emotions of the dream were raw, yet the details always seemed to be just under the surface of her subconscious and out of reach. Even now as she was older, she still couldn’t shake the uneasiness that it left in her. She closed her eyes and once again focused on what was real: the smell of coffee, clanking dishes, and her brother outside just below the bedroom window yelling to his dog to fetch a stick.
Sarah quickly climbed out of bed, ran a brush through her long sun-kissed brown hair, and tied it in two loose pigtails that cascaded down the front of her shoulders. Pulling on her denim jeans and a plain white blouse, she tried once again to banish the unpleasant nightmare, but at the same time struggled to recall the details. Just once, she wished she could pinpoint what the dream was about. She closed her eyes, still unable to, but shivered at its last impression.
“Hi, Mama,” Sarah said, smiling at her mother as she reached the bottom of the stairs from the loft. “Smells good down here.”
“Sarah sweetie, good morning. Did you sleep well?”
Sarah paused imperceptibly. The answer was decidedly no, but she couldn’t bear the thought of changing the expression on her mother’s face.
Anne Ellis was a beautiful, matter-of-fact, strong-willed woman. She adored her children, and it showed. From as early as Sarah could remember, Anne made sure her children knew they were the most special gifts she had ever been given. She wore her long brown hair in a loose bun at the base of her neck except when she brushed it out every evening. Sarah would often brush it for her as they would talk about the happenings in their days. And her hands, the most beautiful part of her mother, Sarah thought. Long, slender fingers and smooth, milky skin that never seemed to callous despite the daily chores that were forever being demanded of her. They were “magic hands,” as Sarah called them, which could soothe every ache and wipe away tears with a loving caress. Anne was busy woman, taking care of two children, one a fifteen-year-old boy, and a free-spirited seventeen-year-old daughter who would rather wade in the creek than dress in fancy clothes, even if she had them.
“Uh, yes, Mama. Just fine.” She kissed her mother’s cheek before gliding to her father, who was sitting at the kitchen table, his hands hugging a mug of coffee. “Good morning, Dad.” She planted another kiss on her father’s cheek, relishing the way his stubbly whiskers tickled her lips. If he hadn’t shaved yet this morning, it was going to be a relaxing day with no need to rush around and ruin the perfect morning.
She almost felt guilty for interrupting the scene in the kitchen. Her father gazed admiringly at Anne as she skillfully flipped his eggs, over easy, each one perfect and unbroken. Worry had etched lines in his tanned features and weariness tugged at his cheeks, but he watched his wife with adoring eyes as she swayed in front of the cast-iron stove. Sarah loved the way her parents still acted like newlyweds. Many times she had caught them dancing in the kitchen to her father’s out-of-tune humming, her mother giggling to get away from his kisses as she pretended to worry about her meal bubbling over.
As Anne approached with the platter of steaming food, Sarah caught the soft gleam in her eyes that she fastened on her husband. Her long, slender fingers brushed Edward’s neck briefly as she settled the platter before him. Sarah noticed the contrast of her mother’s milky white skin against her father’s weather-hardened complexion. Theirs was not an easy life farming the inhospitable terrain of the high country, yet Anne managed to preserve a delicateness about her that belied her strength.
And her father was home, rough whiskers and all. Edward was the hardest working, most honest man Sarah had ever known. He would often spend his days from sun up to sun down working on their farm. There was always work to be done: building fences, mending fences, feeding the horses, branding the cattle, and tending to the small crops of corn, potatoes, and the few other vegetables that could be grown in the short summer season in Colorado. When he wasn’t home, he was away doing any number of odd jobs or various types of temporary employment. Sometimes he was hired on at a large ranch for haying season or to clear brush for farmland or cut lumber in the high forests. Once he even went as far as Iowa to pick corn. Times were tough, and if there was a way to earn an honest dollar, Edward wouldn’t shy away from it. And their house, although modest and plain, was always well maintained. Sarah and Matthew shared the upstairs loft, and her parents’ room, kitchen, and a small living room were on the main floor. It was small but cozy.
Soon a delicious breakfast of eggs, biscuits, and gravy was placed in front of Sarah. She hated to eat so hastily and not fully enjoy her mother’s cooking, but she had no desire to waste any more time at home. “Mama, thank you for breakfast,” Sarah called as she left her parents sitting at the rough-hewn plank table.
She scooted outside before they could detain her in conversation and flitted to the henhouse to collect eggs. She marched back to the porch with a heavy load in the wire basket, trading it for a wicker hamper full of wet laundry. She hung the garments on the ropes strung between two tall sapling posts in the yard behind the cabin, rushed back to the house, and descended on her and Matty’s room up in the loft, folding, straightening, and flicking away dust. Matty. A slow smile spread across her face as she tucked the edges of her little brother’s fraying quilt under the corners of the ticking mattress. He would always be her little brother, even though he already stood several inches taller than her. Though they were growing up, they had managed not to grow apart. He was her best friend. She supposed their early bond stemmed from the loss of their baby sister, Samantha. She was only nine months old when pneumonia took her from them. Matty and Sarah weren’t but five and seven when they faced the cruel hand of death. A fear had been born in them both the day Samantha died. The fear of losing each other was a consuming force that forged an unspoken bond. With just a look she could read how he was feeling from across the room. No matter what he did, she couldn’t stay mad at Matty for too long, and at any opportunity, together they would bolt down the fence line to the pine trees for another day of escaping reality, if only for a few hours.
Today was one of those days. Anne called to them to be back home in time for supper as Sarah and Matty headed for the pines with a sack of biscuits and a canteen of water slung over their shoulders. They spent every spare moment in the enchanted pines. Under the umbrella of heavy boughs, they created a different world, a world away from chores and parental oversight. The forest floor was cool and soft, and almost completely shaded from the sun. Rust-colored pine needles crunched underfoot and perfumed the air with their essence. The pines were put on Earth just for them, Sarah was certain of that. A crop of towering pines surrounded by a forest of aspens provided ample entertainment for Sarah and Matthew, and dusk would come uninvited.
Today, Sarah was especially anxious to get to the pines. Will would be there. Her heartbeat quickened when she pictured him. He had grown into his body in a way that made Sarah’s mind wander. He had always been tall for his age, and now he had muscles filling out a physique molded by arduous farm work. Whereas he used to be tall and thin, now he was tall and stacked as strong as an oak.
William and Thomas Harston lived a mile away from the Ellises, and Sarah had known Will since she could even remember. Though they were not blood related, Sarah’s and Will’s families were as close as they could be, together several evenings for family dinners, regular Sunday picnics, and holiday celebrations. Will’s parents, Henry and Catherine, were good, honest people that believed in hard work and would give what they had if they thought someone else needed it more. The two families shared so much time together that anyone who didn’t know would have thought they were family. They were there for each other, through the good times and the bad. When the rain wouldn’t come and the summer drought was wreaking havoc on the crops, Catherine and Anne divided up their canned goods so that each family had enough. Edward and Henry hunted together, and whatever luck they had, whether it was a rabbit or a buck, they divided it down the middle. The many times they had to leave home to help make ends meet, they tried to get hired on at the same ranch at the same time. That’s just how it was. What one had, the other had too. Something was changing between Sarah and Will, though. They had been friends since they were little and saw each other nearly every day. But recently, Sarah felt tangible electricity whenever she was around him. She was certain he felt it too. Not only was he even more protective of her than usual, but he seemed to find every excuse to spend more time with just her. He asked about the books she was reading and what she thought about when she watched the sun set. Most of her thoughts centered around him. What was he doing when they weren’t together? Did he think of her? Warmth spread through her when she imagined his face. As she and Matty charged through the meadow grass, she counted the minutes until she could once again gaze into his calm blue eyes. She was comfortable with Will. She could be herself and knew that Will wouldn’t let anything happen to her if he could help it.
As they reached the edge of the evergreen grove, a familiar call broke the peacefulness. “Caaawww, caaawww!” rang Thomas’s small voice impersonating a crow the best way a thirteen-year-old could conjure. Tommy had a wild streak a mile wide. Everyone he came across could tell that he was full of vip and venom. He was obstinate, and ornery, and thought he could do whatever his nineteen-year-old brother could do, and do it better.
At the announcement of their arrival, Sarah caught her breath. Was Will feeling the same fluttering in his stomach as she was?
“Down here!” Matty returned the call. As Sarah turned her gaze to the path, Tommy bounded down the hill, jumping over roots and sliding sideways in the soft dirt. Soon after Tommy reached them, she saw Will picking his way down the hill. Their eyes met at once, and immediately a smile spread across Will’s face. She let out the breath she had been holding, relieved at how obvious it was that Will felt it too. He held her gaze until he was standing only feet away from her.
“Sarah,” he said, trying to regain his breath. “I’m… I’m happy to see you here.”
“Of course I’m here,” she smiled. “Why wouldn’t I be?” What she wanted to tell him was that wherever he was, that’s where she wanted to be, but she couldn’t make herself say it out loud.
“I don’t know. I guess I always wonder if you’ll get bored spending your days with us boys and go do girl stuff with Margaret.”
Margaret! She wanted to laugh out loud at Will’s suggestion. As if she would choose to be with Margaret when she could instead be with him. Margaret was the only child of Vernon and Esther Thornton, a neighboring family. They owned and ran the lumberyard and had such an air of superiority about them. Especially Esther. Esther, a woman who seemed to grow more plump with every passing season. She curled her short brown hair so that it looked like she had placed a puffed-up old hen on her head. In the company of Anne and Catherine, she exploited every opportunity to mention her new dress or new bauble that her husband had surprised her with. She loved focusing attention on how different their lives were, how much better off her own family was. Her husband Vernon was a tall, lanky man with beady eyes too close together and a pointy nose that looked like a steak knife. His skin was pale no matter what time of year and he attempted to cover his balding scalp by combing his sparse black strands over the top. He habitually ran his hand over his head, and the ever-present beads of sweat from his brow plastered his wispy hair in place.
And then there was Margaret. Margaret was as superior as her mother. She often braided her long fiery red hair and then pinned the braids to her head. Her blazing hair was nothing compared to her scorching personality, which she seemed deliberately to direct to Sarah. Although Sarah was too polite to cause a scene with her, she did cut a wide swath around Margaret if there was even a chance of having to spend a minute with that girl. Sarah absolutely detested very few things on Earth. Margaret Thornton was first on the list. She couldn’t believe Will would even suggest she wanted to spend time with Margaret, even in jest.