A Groom for the Silent Bride (Preview)

Prologue

It was raining again. Lizzie Cameron didn’t much mind the wetness, but it meant that she couldn’t play outside with her dollies, and that made her especially sad because she needed plenty of grass for her little wooden horses to eat. They would starve if it didn’t stop raining soon!

She held up her prettiest doll, the one that Ma had made her from the scraps from Pa’s jacket. The doll had Lizzie’s own hair from the last time she’d gotten a trim and Ma had even given her green eyes, just like Lizzie’s. She wore a blue dress that was the same fabric as the quilt on her bed. It was faded and worn, but she didn’t care. Her doll was a reminder of her mother’s love, and she cherished it.

“Now, Cordelia,” Lizzie instructed her doll, turning her to look at her, “today you are to be wed! Isn’t that exciting? We must prepare the sitting room for when the guests arrive. Has mother made the pies for the reception?”

“Oh yes, Lizzie! She has been up baking all night to get ready for today! Everything is in place and not a thing will go wrong!” Lizzie made the voices for her dolls, of course. But she’d played with them so often now that she forgot the voice was hers.

As she ‘walked’ Cordelia over to the sitting room of the dollhouse, Lizzie giggled with delight at the look of it. It wasn’t a particularly handsome dollhouse. In fact, some might have called it ‘rough-hewn’. But to Lizzie, it was the most wonderful dollhouse in the world because her Pa had made it.

She could remember hearing him hammering away in the barn. He’d told her explicitly to stay out, but one night, she just couldn’t help herself. She ran across the yard to the door and pressed her ear against it.

“Pa!” she called to him. “Pa, I’m dying to know what you’re making! Please let me have a peek!”

“No ma’am!” came his friendly but authoritative voice from inside. “You can see what I’m making on your birthday. Just a few short days longer, my little rosebud!”

That always made Lizzie laugh. Her middle name was Rose, but she’d never really felt like a rosebud, because that wasn’t something a person could be! But soon she’d be eight, and maybe she’d have a better idea of things by then.

When the big day came, her parents and Abigail, her much older half-sister who had come to visit for the day, brought her to the table and made her put her hands over her eyes.

“And don’t just close them!” Abigail demanded lovingly, clamping her hands over her sister’s hands. “I know how you like to peek through!”

They’d counted down from three, and when Lizzie opened her eyes, she squealed with delight at the sight of her dollhouse.

“How did you know I wanted a dollyhouse?” There were still a few words that Lizzie struggled to properly pronounce.

“A little birdie may have told me you had your eye on the one in the general store in Bannack,” Pa said with a smile as he looked at Abigail. The young woman grinned down at her little sister. She was twelve years older than Abigail, but they were as close as if they were twins.

Now, as the dollhouse sat in her bedroom by the open window, it looked even more beautiful to Lizzie. She pranced her dolls all throughout the house, getting everything ‘prepared’ for their imaginary wedding. She was just setting up the altar when she heard her father calling to her from outside.

“Lizzie Rose, what did I say about you havin’ your windows open when it’s raining?”

Lizzie scrambled to her feet and ran to the window, putting her arms on the windowsill and leaning out slightly. She instantly felt the gentle mist of the Montana rain kissing her cheeks just like her freckles did. She looked down and out into the field nearby, where Ma and Pa were toiling away in the soil.

“But Pa,” Lizzie whined, “if I leave it closed, how will I ever hear you calling to me like that?”

A broad grin came onto Pa’s face. He wasn’t an overly handsome fellow. He was tall but his limbs seemed to stretch out every which way. He had brown hair just like Lizzie’s, but unlike her pin-straight locks, his were tight curls against his crown. He wore the clothes that Ma made him proudly, even if she wasn’t the world’s best seamstress and holes were appearing in the seams every other week. Ma, on the other hand, was a great beauty. When Pa had asked her to marry him, everyone in town told her she was off her rocker for saying yes. But Ma had seen what a gem Pa was, and they’d been inseparable ever since.

“Well, if you didn’t have your window open, I wouldn’t need to call you to tell you to close it! Now go—”

But Pa stopped talking mid-sentence and looked to his left. His grin immediately disappeared. She followed his eyes and they fell on a familiar man stumbling up the drive. The man had what looked like a bottle in one hand and… a revolver in the other.

Lizzie gasped. She’d seen drawings of guns in her adventure books, but she’d never actually seen one in real life. “Pa! Ma!” she cried out in fear.

But her father didn’t take his eyes off the intruder. Her mother, on the other hand, ran towards the house immediately. Lizzie watched the man coming closer and closer, and as he did, she was able to make him out better. He had stringy black hair that hung around his chin like icicles. His beard was patchy, and his clothes clung to him as though they hadn’t ever been washed. Lizzie couldn’t imagine how foul this man smelled.

She heard her mother running up the stairs, but Lizzie did not retreat from the window. When she heard her door open, she felt her mother’s touch within seconds.

“Come away from the window, Lizzie dear,” she told her, gently pulling her away. But Lizzie resisted.

“No, I need to make sure that Pa is all right!” she protested. But Ma was too strong, and the last thing she saw was her Pa squaring up to the stranger. Ma took Lizzie over beside the dollhouse and sat her down with her back against the wall. Then, she took a seat beside her daughter and held her close.

“Don’t make a sound, my little love,” Ma whispered as she gently rocked Lizzie. “The man outside is just a bad man who Pa is going to take care of. Then you can go back to playing and everything will be fine.”

She could tell that Ma wasn’t convinced of what she was saying because her voice was as tense as a guitar string. But Lizzie knew she should listen to her Ma, because Ma was as smart as they come. From her spot on the floor, Lizzie could hear the voices of the strange man and her father getting louder, but she couldn’t quite make out what was being said. Suddenly, her father raised his voice louder than Lizzie had ever heard, and then there was a big bang, followed by a thump. Her mother was up and screaming her father’s name as she rushed to the window.

“BENJAMIN!” she cried, half hanging out the window. Lizzie’s little heart pounded in her chest. She didn’t know what was going on, but she knew that she was very frightened. She thought that her father should come up and comfort her mother if she was crying like this. It wasn’t right for him to stay out in the field with that strange man. Ma called for him again. “BENJA—”

But in the middle of saying his name, there was another sharp crack and Ma crumpled to the floor.

“MA!” Lizzie cried, crawling over to be next to her mother. “MA!” There was a red stain growing outwards from the middle of her chest. Ma’s eyes were open, but she wasn’t saying anything or moving. Lizzie pounded her chest, crying and screaming, until she finally got to her feet to call for her father. When she reached the window and saw him lying there just as Ma was, Lizzie’s head began to spin. She couldn’t tell which way was up and which way was down. She very nearly fell out the window and only came back inside when she heard footsteps at the top of the stairs. She whirled around just in time to see the strange man enter the room. As she tried to look at him, the world twisted this way and that.

“Do you know who I am?” the man growled. Even through her dizziness, Lizzie could see the man had tears running down his cheeks. She wrapped her arms around herself and huddled against the wall, trying to look as small as possible. Then, she shook her head. The man took his bottle and brought it to his lips, taking a long sip. When he finished, he looked at Lizzie again. This time, it was he who looked terrified. “Do you forgive me?”

Lizzie felt like she was going to throw up. She didn’t know what he meant and just wanted all of this to stop. She shut her eyes as tightly as she could. She thought that maybe if she begged enough, Ma and Pa would come back, and this would all be nothing but a bad dream. This wasn’t real. This couldn’t be real. If this was happening to her family, then Abigail, who lived the next town over with her new husband, Gordon, was going to come and save her. Then she would fix Ma and Pa, and everything would be all right again.

But no one ever came. Lizzie remained balled up against the wall, weeping and whimpering with her eyes shut as she heard the man walk closer.

“I…I’m sorry, Lizzie,” she heard the man say, “I don’t want to do this. But I must. Go… go be with your Ma and Pa.”

Lizzie heard one more bang and the world went dark.

*                       *                       *                       *                       *                       *                                               *

The next thing Lizzie remembered hearing was the sound of horse hooves pounding the wet dirt. She could feel herself being jostled around gently with each movement of the horse, but she also felt very safe. Eventually, she realized someone was holding her. Ma! Pa! They were all right! They were taking her to be well again! Whatever the bad man had done to her had been awful, but she was sure that everything was okay now.

She struggled to open her eyes, and through her tiny slits, she could see a familiar man holding her. Devastatingly, it was not Pa. It took her a few moments, but eventually she realized that it was Martin Greyrain, Pa’s hired hand. It took her another few moments to notice that he was crying very, very hard. She had never seen Martin cry, and the sight was very unsettling. She moved her hand slightly to reach up and touch his face, but as soon as she moved, Martin looked down at her in alarm.

“You’re awake!” he cried, hugging her even more tightly to his chest. Then, he quickly added, “don’t try to speak. We’re taking you to the doctor. Just go back to sleep. We’ll be there soon.”

Lizzie thought it was odd of Martin to tell her not to speak, because he knew that talking was one of her favorite things to do. But then, she felt the pain in her neck that she hadn’t before. It was so sharp and awful that it made her want to cry, but she found that she couldn’t. She gently lifted one of her hands up to her neck and found there was something tied around it, and that thing was wet. When she pulled her hand away, she looked down and saw that it was covered in blood. Once again, the blackness pulled her back in, and she remembered nothing else for a little while.

Chapter One

Fourteen years later, Lizzie Cameron was sitting in front of the mirror on her dressing table. It was coated in a fine layer of dust, but she did not reach to wipe it off when she noticed it. Lizzie hadn’t cared about very much since that awful day so many years ago, and dust fell under that category. She looked at her reflection and her emerald-green eyes, once a beautiful memory of her mother, now sadly looked back at her. If she could, she would change the colour of her eyes in an instant. At least then every time she looked at herself, she wouldn’t think of how her mother looked at her as she took her last breaths. Lizzie wanted nothing more than to chop off her long, brown locks, if it meant they would grow in a different colour. At least then whenever her hair blew in the breeze, she wouldn’t think of the way her father used to run his fingers through his hair when he was thinking very hard. But she didn’t mind her freckles, those could stay. They made her think of her dear half-sister Abigail who took such excellent care of her to this day.

Lizzie sighed, but as the air passed by the spot where she had been shot in the neck, it made her characteristic whistling sound. She wished that she could rid herself of that too, but alas, all these wishes would never come true. She would carry around these reminders of her parents and the day they had been killed for the rest of her life. She just had to learn to cope with it, as she had with everything else.

There was a soft knock on her door. “Lizzie dear? Your water is about ready. Come on down the hall in a minute or two.” Then, she heard the footsteps retreating. The voice on the other side of the door was Aunt Betsy, her mother’s spinster sister, who had come to live with Lizzie after Ma and Pa died. Betsy did a wonderful job of taking care of Lizzie and made her feel so loved, but she would never be able to replace Ma. Not that she had tried to in any way, but Lizzie couldn’t help but see the similarities.

Lizzie finished her pre-bath ritual: she combed her hair quickly, got undressed and put on the robe Abigail had given her for Christmas three years ago. It was the most beautiful collection of pink and purple fabric scraps that Abigail had quilted together. Every time Lizzie wore it, she felt like nothing less than a queen. Then, she gave herself one last look in the mirror and grimaced at the sight of the moon shaped scar on her neck. She grazed her fingers over the top of it and sighed. It was going to remain the same for the rest of her life.

As she scurried down the hall, she gave a grateful wave to Aunt Betsy, who waved back. “Now you just bang the tub if it’s too hot, alright dearie? There’s no need for you to suffer!” Lizzie nodded and smiled appreciatively, then continued down the hall. As she reached for the handle on the bathroom door, she heard Betsy call, “And don’t forget about our appointment with Mr. Portsmith in an hour!”

Lizzie signed, “thank you” to Aunt Betsy, but, realizing that her aunt didn’t have eyes on the back of her head, she also gave two knocks on the wall to let Betsy know she’d heard her. Ever since Nathan Bennett—whose name she had learned shortly after the murders—had shot her in the neck, Lizzie had been mute. She’d been examined by many doctors in the intervening years, and they’d all come to the same conclusion: Lizzie was never going to be able to speak again. She’d initially been devastated, and that mixed with the grief of her parents’ death made her a terror to deal with for some time. Slowly, but surely, she got over herself with Martin and Aunt Betsy’s help, and eventually Lizzie even taught all three of them sign language. Abigail and her husband, Gordon, had learned as well. But whenever she was speaking with anyone outside her small family unit, Lizzie would write down what she wanted to say on paper.

The young woman bathed quickly and when she got out of the tub, she French braided her hair so that it would still be wet when they arrived home. This would give her the opportunity to properly style it, as she did not have time now. She dressed in her finest blue dress that Aunt Betsy had made for her and even went as far as to put a bow in her hair. Then, she grabbed the blue scarf that matched the dress and wrapped it around her neck. She was not ashamed of her scar, but she didn’t like to show it in public. People often asked too many questions about it, and she didn’t like the way their eyes lingered on her neck.

When she was ready with five minutes to spare, Lizzie ran downstairs and out of the front door. Martin and Aunt Betsy were waiting by the carriage talking with each other. She loved watching the two of them interact when they were by themselves. There was a tenderness to their conversations that wasn’t present when they were talking to anyone else. Lizzie simply adored seeing the glimmer in Aunt Betsy’s eye when she talked about Martin, even if she would never admit to her feelings for him.

“All set?” Martin asked her when he saw Lizzie approaching. She nodded and gestured proudly to her outfit. Martin chuckled. “You pulled out all the stops, Lizzie girl.”

“Did you wear that dress just for David?” Aunt Betsy asked teasingly. Lizzie clicked her tongue and rolled her eyes, fervently shaking her head. Aunt Betsy raised her eyebrows. “Don’t dismiss me out of hand, young lady. David is a fine young man with a very good job, and he obviously thinks the world of you. You’re the ruler of your own heart, but I would recommend that you keep it open to him. You never know what might happen…”

Aunt Betsy poked Lizzie and the young woman swatted her aunt away, groaning all the while. “All right, all right. You two best be going.” Then, she turned to Martin. “Are you going to remember my fabric for Mrs. Henderson’s dress this time, or do I need to come with you and lead you by the hand to the store?”

Martin pressed his lips into a thin line and placed his hands on his hips. “Five yards of flour squash blue cotton, ten eyelets and a nice tip.”

Aunt Betsy rolled up the bag she had been holding and swatted Martin playfully with it. The older gentleman winced and dramatically yowled as though he had been run over by a carriage.

“CORNFLOWER BLUE!” Aunt Betsy cried, swatting him again until Martin held up his hands in defeat. Lizzie giggled as she watched the pair of them, but then checked her watch and saw that her appointment time was quickly approaching. She made a sound and gestured to the carriage, which both Aunt Betsy and Martin understood perfectly.

“Cornflower blue, cornflower blue,” Martin muttered as he offered his hand up to assist Lizzie into the carriage. She nodded encouragingly and took the pencil and notepad out of her purse, writing Cornflower blue cotton, five yards, plus a nice tip for Josephine. She handed it to Martin, who dipped his head in gratitude, then went around to the front of the carriage to drive. Ordinarily, Lizzie would have driven herself, but Martin had insisted he would today because he “wanted to be there for moral support.” Lizzie told him she would be absolutely fine on her own, but Martin wouldn’t hear of it.

The ride into town was not short, but Martin drove exceptionally well, and their old mare was behaving herself, so it was quite pleasant. There was still a light sprinkling of snow on the ground and the air had a crisp bite to it. Lizzie was regretting her decision to keep her hair wet. As they bounced along, she smoothed her hand over the ratty orange seats and reminded herself she should come out and do some mending on them sometime this week. The seats, like nearly everything Lizzie owned, were falling apart, but she just had to do the best with what she had. Earnings had been quite slim since her parents had passed.

When they arrived in Lone Ridge, Lizzie saw the familiar sights roll past: Old McCurdy’s blacksmith shop, Lucky’s General Store, and the Lone Ridge Inn and Tavern. As they went past, Lizzie saw a young man brushing one of the many horses hitched up outside the inn. He was tall, had black wavy hair, and a ruggedly good-looking face. Their eyes met for a moment, and something stirred inside Lizzie. Whatever it was, it was the most unfamiliar feeling, so she hurriedly looked away. But when she looked back, she found that the young man was still following their carriage with his eyes. Lizzie leaned forward a little bit so that she could see him better, but by the time she did, they were already around the corner. She sat back down in her seat, feeling foolish for having felt so flustered. Finally, they reached Portsmith Savings and Loans. Lizzie took in a deep breath, held it for a moment, and thought to herself.

It’s all right. They won’t take the farm from you, yet. David is nice, he’ll let you have a little more time. You won’t have to leave the farm.

Despite her self-reassurance, Lizzie still felt the pit forming in her stomach. But she did her very best to pay no attention to it. There was no point. Worrying about the outcome of the meeting was not going to help her in any way. And so, with that in mind, Lizzie hoisted herself up and pulled on the door of the carriage, coming out into the cool afternoon air.

“I’ll be waiting right here for you, all right, Lizzie?” Martin told her, leaning against the carriage. He had parked it directly across from the Savings and Loan. Although she appreciated the sentiment, she didn’t want Martin watching her the whole time she was in there. Then, she remembered what Aunt Betsy had asked him to do. She reached into the pocket of his coat and pulled out the slip of paper she had given him earlier. Immediately, Martin’s look turned sheepish.

“I hadn’t forgotten!” he said indignantly. “I was just… waiting until you were finished so that you could go with me. I know how you like to look at all the fabrics when you go. I was just… giving you the opportunity to enjoy yourself in that way!”

Lizzie gave him a dubious look, then pointed in the direction of the dressmaker’s shop. Martin sighed and shook his head.

“Fine! I’ll leave you to your own devices. But don’t come crying to me when David won’t give you an extension and you need someone to talk with him, man-to-man!” Lizzie raised her eyebrows warningly at him and Martin turned on his heel, rushing off down the street without another word.

Now that she was on her own, Lizzie felt slightly better. She strode confidently towards the Savings and Loan, and once inside, she was greeted by Oscar Bentford who sat at the front desk.

“Good afternoon, Miss Cameron,” he greeted her warmly, standing up to give her a small bow. “David is waiting for you in his office; you can go on in.”

Oscar pointed towards the office at the back of the Savings and Loan. From where she stood, she could clearly see David sitting at his desk. He appeared to be looking out the window and brushing his hair. Lizzie had to keep a straight face as she saw him unbutton and rebutton the top of his shirt twice. He appeared to be grooming himself for their meeting, and even though Lizzie did not return David’s affections for her, she still found it endearing. She gave Oscar a little wave of thanks, then crossed the floor to David’s office. When she arrived, he was still preening himself, so she tried to clear her throat so as not to scare him. He didn’t hear her. She tried it again and he still heard nothing. Finally, she rapped on his door with her knuckles and David shot about a foot out of his chair.

“Lizzie! I—I mean Miss Cameron,” he stammered hastily, standing up and knocking over his cup of coffee in the process. The warm brown liquid quickly seeped across his desk and flooded onto a few of the documents. Lizzie jumped into action, grabbing other documents out of the line of fire while David scrambled to clean up the mess. “Oh gosh, I’m so sorry. I just wasn’t expecting you. Well, no, I mean, of course I was expecting you, I just—”

Lizzie held up her hand to let David know that it was fine and gave him a reassuring smile. But the poor fellow continued sopping up the coffee on his desk and spilling half of it on the floor.

“Please, take a seat. Is it dry? I didn’t spill any coffee on it, did I?” David asked, leaning over the desk to look. As he did so, his glass of water teetered perilously close to toppling over too, so Lizzie whisked it out of the way. David looked down and saw what she had done, his face immediately going redder than it already was. “Gosh, I’m all thumbs today. Thank you, Miss Cameron. Please, be seated.”

Lizzie nodded graciously and took her seat. She hadn’t touched it to make sure it was dry out of courtesy to David. Now she worried that when she stood up, there would be a brown coffee stain on the back of her dress. But she didn’t let that show on her face. Instead, she took out her pad and pencil and wrote:

It is so lovely to see you, David. And please, call me Lizzie. Thank you so much for agreeing to meet with me today. You’ve shown me so much kindness over the years, and I’m afraid I’ll never be able to repay you fully. In kindness, that is. In money, I hope to be able to.

She passed the note over to David, who read it and chuckled as he did. Finally, he looked up. “It has been my pleasure, Lizzie. If it were up to me, I’d forgive your family’s debt in full. I know how hard you and Martin have been working, and I know the drought was not kind to you either. But I’m afraid that I must ask you to either pay back last year’s loan, or we need to work out some kind of payment plan. Either way, I’m afraid it can’t be ignored anymore.”

Lizzie nodded solemnly. I understand that, thank you, David. I am working, as you said, as hard as I can to make sure I am able to pay back the loan you generously gave me. But I need to beg you to employ your kindness for just a little longer. We’re nearly in planting season, and I have high hopes that this year’s yield will be better than the last. Will you give me until the end of harvest season to pay you? If you do, I’ll get Aunt Betsy to make Mary Sue that bonnet she’s been begging your mother for.

David looked thoroughly amused. “Well, when you make promises to Mary Sue like that, I can’t help but agree to your terms. That is fair. I’ll give you until the end of harvest season. But I have to say this again, because if I don’t, my father will tan my hide later. If you can’t pay us back, Lizzie… I’m afraid my father may have to seize your land to settle your debts.”

Lizzie knew that this threat had been coming for a long time, but hearing David say it himself was even more worrisome. She briefly closed her eyes, willing herself not to think about what would happen to her if she lost the farm. It was there that she could feel her parents’ energy, as if they were still with her. That, and the house was filled with mementos and special items that were physical reminders of the lives her parents had lived. She couldn’t bear the thought of losing all of that. She knew she could always go live with Abigail and her husband and son. But they had a small enough house as it was and didn’t need her cramming them in anymore.

When she opened her eyes, David was looking at her and seemed very concerned. “Lizzie? Are… are you all right?”

She nodded. I understand very clearly, thank you David. You can tell your father he has nothing to worry about, and that my debts will be cleared come harvest time. Thank you for everything. After she had handed the paper to him and saw that he’d read it, she stood up and curtsied to him. David bowed in return and came around to the front of the desk.

“Lizzie, I… I know this isn’t the proper place to do this,” he said, anxiously looking down at the floor. “But I was wondering if I might… come and call on you sometime. Any time, really, it doesn’t have to be anything big or important. I just… wanted to visit you.” David seemed like he wanted to say more but stopped himself short. He finally looked up shyly at Lizzie.

The young woman was at a loss as to what to do. For one thing, she didn’t want David to see her house in the state of disrepair it was in right now. For another, she didn’t want to lead David on with any sort of expectation of what it might mean for him to come and call on her. To buy herself some time, Lizzie ‘accidentally’ dropped her pencil and paper. Both she and David immediately bent down to pick it up, and when David had the pad and pencil firmly in hand, they raised their heads and promptly bonked into each other. David straightened up fully and put his hand over his mouth.

“I’m so very sorry. Did I hurt you?”

Lizzie shook her head despite the thudding pain that was now radiating from her temple. Instead of answering David’s question, Lizzie took this opportunity to quickly sneak out of his office with an apologetic wave. She hurried past Oscar and back out into the street. When she was sure she was far enough away from David, she let out a sigh of relief. It was just then that she realized she’d left her pencil and paper with him. Lizzie hung her head in disappointment and was just about to turn back and go inside when she heard someone calling her name. She looked to the left and saw in the distance two very familiar looking figures. It was her sister Abigail and her son, Stevie.

“AUNTIE LIZZIE!” Stevie screeched, flinging his arms out and tightly squeezing her skirted legs when he came to her. “We took a train here and saw one thousand, five hundred and fifty-three cows along the way!” Stevie’s sweet voice was slightly muffled by the layers and layers of fabric beneath Lizzie’s skirt that he had his face pressed into. Lizzie laughed in surprise, then gently pulled Stevie off her so that she could reply to him.

You really saw that many cows? Wow! I didn’t know there were that many cows in the whole state! she signed. Stevie watched her hands very carefully, but he looked slightly confused. He turned back to his mother, who was coming up a few steps behind him and was smiling at Lizzie.

“Mama, I got ‘really saw cows? Many cows, state.’ Is that what Auntie Lizzie said?” the little boy asked his mother.

“Not exactly, but you’re close!” Abigail said encouragingly. She then repeated what Lizzie had said in sign language and Stevie turned excitedly back to his aunt.

“I KNOW, ME NEITHER! Where’s Martin? I have to go tell him. MARTIN! GUESS HOW MANY COWS I SAW ON THE TRAIN!” With that, the little boy took off in the direction of the Cameron’s carriage, where Lizzie saw Martin was already. She turned back to her sister.

What are you doing here? I thought you were in Ogalla!

Abigail crossed her arms in front of her. Even when she looked stern, Abigail Edwards was still nothing short of stunning. She had the same green eyes as her sister, but her hair was as red as a midsummer’s bonfire. The girls shared the same father but had different mothers. Abigail’s mother had died in childbirth with her. Their father had remarried Victoria, Lizzie’s mother, when Abigail was three years old. The only reason Abigail had left Lone Ridge was because her husband, Gordon, had inherited some family land in Ogalla. It was difficult for the two sisters to be so far apart, but they made it work.

“I would still be in Ogalla if you’d just answered my letters! I was so worried something had happened to you! Why didn’t you write?” Abigail gently scolded her.

Lizzie gave her a meek smile. I’m sorry. I really meant to, it’s just with everything that has been going on with the Savings and Loan and the farm, I haven’t had a moment to myself until this morning. I promise you I was going to write to you this afternoon!

Abigail rolled her eyes. “A likely story.”

I promise! I’m sorry I made you come all this way. But I am very happy to see you, so I’m not too disappointed.

The beautiful young woman laughed. “I’m very glad that our arrival wasn’t a disappointment to you. But… there’s another reason why we came here.”

Lizzie cocked her head to the side and furrowed her brows. Is that right? What else has brought you here?

Abigail, who Lizzie rarely ever saw get flustered or embarrassed, suddenly looked like the perfect combination of both. “Well… why don’t we go and grab some lunch together? We can send the boys off to the house and we can get some time alone, just you and me!”

Lizzie looked at her sister even more skeptically. Alone time. Just you and me. Abigail, what is going on?

But before Abigail could reply, Lizzie saw a familiar figure coming down the street. She turned her head to get a better look and saw Gordon, Abigail’s husband. She smiled and gave him a warm wave, which he returned gladly. Gordon was a very, very tall man with large muscles and an intimidating face, but he was about as harmful as a butterfly. He had blonde hair, blue eyes, and constantly looked as though he was unsure of what to do with his copious limbs.

It was then that Lizzie noticed the man standing beside Gordon. It took her a moment to realize how she knew him, but it finally hit her: he was the man who had been standing with the horses! Now that she could see him much better, she realized how shockingly good-looking he really was. His dark, wavy hair was just long enough that it fluttered very gently as the wind went past. His eyes looked to be a greenish brown, and he had olive skin that seemed to soak up the sun beating down on it. He was tall. Not as tall as Gordon, of course, but still at least a foot taller than Lizzie. As they approached, the man seemed to study her, and then a very strange look came across his face. Finally, he seemed to realize that she was watching him, and he gave her a rather dazzling smile. Although she was warmed by it, she was very distracted by the face he’d made just before that. She couldn’t place the emotion that the man had been feeling and it bugged her.

Lizzie turned to her sister and squinted her eyes at her. Who is that? Did Gordon’s sister finally get married? Is that her husband?

Abigail shook her head and signed back to her sister, presumably so that the new stranger wouldn’t understand what they were saying. No, I’ll explain who he is soon enough. For now, just relax. Be yourself. Say hello!

These were strange instructions to come from Abigail, and Lizzie couldn’t understand why she was being so specific. Lizzie may not have had many friends, but she knew how to comport herself in public and did not need her sister telling her how to interact with this new fellow. How odd it was.

The two women turned back to the men and to Lizzie’s surprise, the stranger was still looking at her. She turned her attention to Gordon.

Gordon! How wonderful to see you! So sorry to make you come all this way! She gave him a hug, which he happily accepted. He was so big that it felt rather like hugging a tree. When she pulled away, Gordon did his very best to sign to her. Lizzie had told him on several occasions that he could just talk to her, but he had insisted, saying that signing helped him to understand the language better.

So nice see you! Sorry surprise, last minute. Happy! Gordon wasn’t particularly skilled with making full sentences with sign language yet, but he certainly had the spirit and Lizzie appreciated it, nonetheless. She turned her attention once again to the stranger, who was now looking at their hands as though they had just performed a magic trick. Finally, he looked up.

“What was that you just did?” the man asked in an interested tone. He looked to Lizzie for an answer and she, in turn, looked to Gordon.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” he apologized with a flurry of arm movements. “I didn’t even introduce you yet. This is Abigail’s sister, Lizzie. Lizzie had and accident when she was a child that left her unable to speak, so she uses a language that she performs with her hands called ‘sign language’. That’s what we were doing.”

Lizzie watched the stranger carefully to see how he’d respond. She hadn’t used sign language in public many times, but when she had, she’d gotten used to the strange looks and laughter that came from those around her. To her surprise, however, the man looked very impressed.

“That’s quite clever,” he mused. Then, he looked Lizzie dead in the eye. “Could you teach me how to do a bit of that, do you think?”

Lizzie didn’t know what to say. She had never been asked that by anyone outside the family, let alone a complete stranger. She was so baffled that she stood stock still for a moment, until she heard Gordon say, “Lizzie?” and she snapped back to reality. She nodded at the stranger, then motioned to Gordon to introduce this man.

“Oh, my goodness,” he said, smacking his forehead. “I forgot to tell you this is Sam. Sam Thornton. He’s… well, I should really let Abigail tell you this, but… we’ve hired him to come and help you on the farm.”

Lizzie looked from Gordon to Abigail to Sam and back again. She couldn’t believe her ears.

Chapter Two

As Sam Thornton stood there looking at the stunningly gorgeous, freckled brunette in front of him, he couldn’t help but think back to how he had gotten here in the first place. He was originally from Arizona; his mother and father owned a small farm on the edge of the middle of nowhere. But he was a middle child and that meant there was little for him to inherit. So, Sam had decided that he was going to go off and forge his own way in the world. How exactly he was going to do that, he didn’t have much of an idea. But he knew he couldn’t do it by staying in Arizona. He’d never really felt at home in the state, so he decided to travel around for a little while in the hopes that he’d be able to find where he belonged.

For a short while, he’d travelled around with a patent medicine man, selling bad things to good people. But he’d soon given it up when he saw all the harm it did to the fine folks who had taken them in. Well, that, and he had grown to despise the man he worked with, so he knew it was time to change professions.

He’d thought for a little while about possibly becoming a blacksmith. Sam had always liked working with his hands, so when he came to a town where a man said he’d take him on as his apprentice, he was thrilled. However, he soon discovered that the work didn’t come naturally to him. It didn’t even come to him with lots of time and practice. After he had been there for a couple of months, the blacksmith sat him down and gently told him he should seek employment in another field.

And so, Sam had turned to the one thing he was certain he knew how to do: farm. He’d worked as a farm hand in a few different communities before he’d begun working for Courtland Farms, the biggest produce provider in Nebraska. It was there that he discovered he had a bit of a way with the crops. It seemed Sam could help almost any plant that wasn’t growing. He’d done very well for himself at Courtland Farms, but after he’d been there for three years, he knew it was time for him to move on. He’d ended up in Ogalla and had only just arrived when he’d walked into the bank in town. While he was waiting in line looking up at the ceiling as he always did in new buildings, he’d felt someone gently tap his arm. When he’d looked down, he saw Abigail standing next to him.

“Did you find the lizard yet?” she asked him. He’d blinked at her, uncertain if he’d heard her correctly.

“Did I… what?”

“The lizard. Did you find it yet?” She pointed up at the ceiling. “When they were painting the ceiling, a poor little lizard got stuck under the paint up there. You can just barely see his little outline if you look very carefully at that corner.”

Sam followed Abigail’s finger to a point on the ceiling where he did indeed see a very small lizard was painted over. He cocked his head to the side and squinted at it to get a better look.

“He must have quite the view from up there,” Sam said jokingly. When he looked back down at Abigail, however, she seemed to have missed the joke.

“You know he’s dead, right?” Abigail asked him, as though he must not have known that.

“Y…yes, thank you,” Sam replied, doing his very best to keep the smirk off his face. Abigail had stuck out her hand.

“I’m Mrs. Abigail Edwards,” she said firmly as she shook his hand. “And you are?”

“Samuel Thornton, but you can call me Sam,” he introduced himself. “I just moved here from out of town and I’m looking for work.”

Abigail’s thick eyebrows had shot up. “Are you now? What kind of work do you do?”

Sam found himself telling her all about Courtland farms. He wasn’t sure exactly what it was, but something about Abigail made him want to open up immediately, which was rare for Sam. He liked to keep himself to himself and ordinarily didn’t like to make too many connections when he was in a new town. He never knew how long he was going to be staying, so he figured there was little point in getting tied down to anyone. But Abigail was different. She had the kind of air about her that made people want to spill their stories to her, it seemed. And, judging by the way she was listening to him so intently, it seemed she was quite used to it.

“Well, if this isn’t a funny coincidence, I don’t know what is,” Abigail told him, putting her hands on her ample hips. “I just so happen to be looking for a farm hand to help out my sister on our family’s farm. The only problem is the farm isn’t in Ogalla… and I can’t pay you very well. But… we may be able to strike up some other sort of deal.”

Sam’s interest was piqued. “Is that right? What sort of deal did you have in mind?”

Abigail looked him up and down. “I hope you don’t mind my boldness, but are you married, Sam?”

“I am not,” he said frankly. On a few occasions over the years, people had tried to marry Sam off to their daughters, sisters, friends and cousins. Sam, however, had always turned them down. He felt like he’d always been a bit of a lone wolf at heart, and he didn’t much like the idea of settling down in one spot for the rest of his life. But as he got older, he liked the idea of staying in one place more and more and being a ‘kept man’ became more appealing to him. He’d moved around for long enough and he was looking to find a good woman to take care of him. Which, judging by his experiences so far, hopefully wouldn’t be too hard to find. Which is why he followed up his answer with, “But I’m looking to settle down.”

That seemed to please Abigail greatly. “Wonderful. If you come with me to Lone Ridge, that’s the town I’m from, I can introduce you to my sister. She’s very pretty, she’s about your age, and she’d make a wonderful wife. You’d live with her on our family farm and make a life for yourself. Is that something you’d be interested in?”

Sam had to stop to think for a moment. He’d only just met this woman and now she was offering to employ him and give him her sister’s hand in marriage? This was all developing very quickly.

“I suppose it wouldn’t hurt to go to Lone Ridge,” he’d said in a non-committal way. “But what happens if your sister and I don’t get along? Will you still expect me to marry her and tend the farm?”

“Of course not,” Abigail had replied. “If you and Lizzie aren’t the right fit for each other, you can say so at any time and I won’t hold anything against you. But if it turns out you’re well-suited to each other, then I’d be delighted to give you my blessing to marry her.”

“That sounds like you’ve got yourself a deal,” Sam replied. “Is there anything I should know about your sister before I meet her?”

Abigail paused and pondered the question. “Uhm… no, nothing I can think of now. Anything you’d like me to share with her?”

Sam shook his head. “I’m a pretty simple man, I don’t need anything fancy. Is she older or younger than you?”

Abigail raised an eyebrow at him. “You’ll have to get better at listening if you want to be with my sister, Sam. I’ve already said she’s around your age.”

“Well, certainly you did, and I heard you,” Sam agreed, “but who am I to assume your age? How should I come to know if you are older or younger than I am.”

Abigail put her hands up in surrender. “That is a fine point and I apologize for my scolding. She is twelve years younger than I am.”

Sam nodded. He hadn’t expected that this woman was that much older than he was but looks could be deceiving. “That should do just fine.”

“And you’re all right with this kind of quick decision making with a stranger you met not but moments ago?”

He couldn’t help but chuckle. “That’s how the best things in my life have come to be. Let’s do it.”

From there, Sam had met up with Abigail and her family about a week later and they’d all taken the train together to Lone Ridge. When he’d arrived, Abigail had introduced him to her giant of a husband who immediately warmed to Sam. They also had a son, Stevie, who looked Sam up and down with a critical gaze.

“So,” the little boy had said, “you’re going to go live with my Auntie Lizzie, are you?”

Sam had looked at the boy very seriously. “I certainly am. Am I acceptable for that purpose, do you think?” He crouched down to the young boy’s height so that he could look at him more closely. He could see Abigail out of the corner of his eye, and she looked very amused by this development. Stevie, however, looked as though he had expected this kind of behavior and was thoroughly impressed by it.

“Why yes, I think you should do very nicely,” the young man said approvingly. Then, he looked at his mother. “But does he know—”

Abigail had glared at her son, and he’d stopped talking. Sam looked quizzically at both of them, but neither of them met his eye. They seemed to be hiding something from him, but what it was, he wasn’t sure. Many people would have gotten anxious or worried, but Sam had learned long ago that worrying didn’t get him anywhere. And so, he’d just hopped on the train with the family and figured that whatever they were hiding would almost certainly come out eventually.

The train ride had passed without incident. Sam had gotten a seat by himself, but he could still see the family from where he sat. Stevie ended up spending most of the time staring out the window and watching cows. He’d never met a child who could pay such concentrated attention on one task, but Stevie stayed engaged on his task for the whole trip. The ride gave Sam a chance to read a bit of the one book he’d brought and think about the life that could be waiting for him on the other end of the line.

When the train had pulled into the station at Lone Ridge, Sam began to feel a little nervous. What if the secret was that Lizzie was really a terrible person? Or that her farm was in ruin? Those were two things that Sam wasn’t sure he’d be able to reconcile. But he couldn’t think about that now, as he was already getting whisked off the train to meet Lizzie.

“Now, when you meet her,” Abigail informed him, “she might be resistant to having someone help out on the farm. Lizzie can be a bit set in her ways, but she really opens up once she has a bit of time to adjust.”

Sam looked at Abigail skeptically. “She… she does know I’m coming, doesn’t she?”

Abigail suddenly looked very distracted by her son. “Come along, Stevie! We need to stop by the inn and say hello before we go to meet Auntie Lizzie.”

Sam let out a long sigh. Perhaps he should have thought a bit more before he agreed to this arrangement.

As they walked through town, Sam looked around to get a feel for the land, the buildings, and the people. As they passed, just about everyone stopped to say hello, which Sam took as a good sign. He had spent far too long in towns where no one seemed to care at all about their fellow man. Now that he was looking for community, he certainly didn’t want to feel distant from those around him. There wasn’t anything particularly special about Lone Ridge, but the buildings looked solid and there seemed to be just about everything he needed. As they pulled around the corner to the inn, Sam was happy to see that it seemed to be right next to the church, the true centre of the community. As Abigail and her family mounted the steps inside, Sam hung back.

“I’ll just wait out here,” Sam told them, “I’d like to look around a little more.”

“Certainly. We’ll return shortly.” With that, Abigail took her son’s hand and led him into the inn alongside her husband.

Once they were gone, Sam continued watching the goings on in Lone Ridge. While he was standing outside, he saw a little girl fall and scrape her knee. She was immediately scooped up by her father and with a little kiss and a hug, she stopped crying and went back to playing. Next, he saw two friends walking arm-in-arm, talking about something in hushed tones and giggling. But then, a carriage rolling past caught his eye. It was not in good shape, the leather on the driver’s seat seemed to have all but disintegrated, the wood looked like it had seen better days, and the horses pulling it just seemed plain tired.

But now as he looked more closely, it wasn’t the carriage that caught his eye, but rather the young woman sitting in it. Through the window, he could see that she had long brown hair pulled away from her face in a braid. Her face looked sun-kissed and happy because it was dotted with freckles. He couldn’t see what colour her eyes were from this far away, but when they fell on him, it was as though the world had stopped spinning. Nothing around him moved or made any noise as he looked at her, but all too soon the carriage had rolled past and was gone. He looked after it, but it turned up and parked across from the Savings and Loan building. When he saw the young woman get out of the carriage, he felt compelled to go over and talk to her, but then thought better of it. Who was he to suddenly go up and talk to a strange woman? That wouldn’t be proper of him, and if there was one thing his mother had taught him, it was how to handle himself in the presence of women.

When the woman had gone inside the Savings and Loan building, Sam looked off into the distance. He hoped that woman might end up being Abigail’s sister, but that would be far too lucky. She was likely to be some plain young thing who looked just like anyone else, and he would never see carriage girl again. That was probably a good thing, because if he did see her again, Sam knew he would be tempted to make conversation with her.

Abigail, Stevie, and Gordon didn’t take very long inside the inn and soon returned to the boardwalk. “Shall we take a stroll down main street before we go to Lizzie’s house? I think it would be a good idea to get you acquainted with a few people and things here.”

Sam agreed, and the four of them set off down the street. Stevie was still holding his mother’s hand, so they walked together, leaving Sam and Gordon to make conversation between themselves.

“So, what made you want to work at the bank?” Sam asked him. He couldn’t understand how any man in his right mind would be happy working at a boring place like that, but everyone was different.

Gordon put his hands in his pockets and slowed down to keep pace beside Sam. “Well, I was supposed to be a farmer, but I’ve never been particularly good at manual labor.”

Sam had to stop himself from scoffing. This enormous man wasn’t good at working with his hands?

Gordon must have sensed Sam’s doubt, because he continued, “I may be big, but I’m about as well-coordinated as two intoxicated horses trying to drive the same carriage. I find that I’m better when I’m behind a desk as opposed to working in a field.”

“That I can understand,” Sam commiserated with him. “Doing manual labor requires a lot of coordination. I’ve done it for most of my life and I still find myself struggling with certain things.”

Sam was about to go on when he looked down the boardwalk to where Abigail and Stevie had stopped to talk to someone. When he realized that the person was the woman he’d seen in the carriage, his heart stopped. Could it be? Could the woman who he intended to marry have been the woman who’d caught his eye?

Sam and Gordon walked to catch up with Abigail and Stevie, and when they arrived, he learned the reason why the family had been so secretive about who Lizzie was. He immediately felt quite badly for Lizzie. Did her family always hide her accident away from people in fear that they wouldn’t accept her? How did that make her feel? Was she ashamed of this big part of who she was because of that? Or did she feel pride in her difference and not care what others thought? When he watched her use sign language to communicate with her sister and Gordon, Sam was mystified. He’d never seen anyone use anything other than speech to communicate. He’d always wanted to learn other languages, so why wouldn’t he want to learn that one? But when Gordon introduced Sam to Lizzie, she looked at him as though he was the devil himself. What had Abigail said in response to him asking if Lizzie knew he was coming? That’s right, she hadn’t answered him.

Sam held his breath for a moment before he said anything. Lizzie looked as though she was either going to slap him, run away, or both. When she did neither, Sam said, “You didn’t know I was coming, did you?” Lizzie shook her head and crossed her arms in front of her chest as Sam looked to Abigail, unimpressed. But the older sister was looking at her younger sister with pleading eyes.

“Lizzie,” she began, clinging to one of her arms, “You’ve needed help for an awfully long time, and the situation with the Savings and Loan isn’t getting any better. Sam is going to lend a hand for just a little while to help you get back on your feet.” Lizzie glared at her sister and signed something to her. Sam couldn’t understand what she had said, but he could tell it had something to do with Sam because she kept pointing at him. When Abigail let go of her sister’s arm and looked away sheepishly, Sam knew it must have been about the possibility of their marriage. He was unsurprised when the beautiful young woman turned on her heel and fled in the direction of her carriage. Abigail followed close behind her.

“Lizzie, wait, please!” Then, she turned around to address the men. “Why don’t you all head back to the house? Aunt Betsy should have lunch ready by now. I’ll go have lunch with Lizzie at the inn and see if we can reach an agreement. I’ll see you soon.” With that, Abigail dashed after her sister and caught her just before she went inside the carriage. She hooked her arm around Lizzie’s and steered her sister in the direction of the inn. As Sam watched the two women walk away, he couldn’t help but say a little prayer that Abigail would be able to work some magic and get Lizzie to give him a chance. That was all he needed.

Chapter Three

“Are you really not going to talk to me for this whole meal?” Abigail asked her sister as they sat together at the table at the inn. Lizzie had tried to run away from Abigail entirely. She had nothing to say to her and wanted nothing to do with her right now. She couldn’t believe she had betrayed her like that. Lizzie had said that she was going to take care of the ranch and get it all sorted out so that they no longer owed any money to the Savings and Loan. The fact that Abigail had gone over her head and had hired not just anyone but a man to come and help her was so disappointing. Lizzie had thought for years that Abigail might not have trusted her being on her ‘own’, and now she felt like she had confirmation.

Not only that, but she’d gone and just picked up a man off the street! Certainly, he was attractive, and under ordinary circumstances Lizzie would have been happy to have a good-looking man like him around. But the fact of the matter was that she didn’t need any help, she wasn’t going to accept her sister’s attempt at assistance, and she was going to save the ranch by herself!

Lizzie continued looking away from her sister. She hadn’t even made eye contact with her since they’d entered the dining room at the inn. However, because she knew that Abigail was going to pay for lunch, she had finally relented and said yes to eating. Mrs. Channing made the finest lamb pie in the whole state, and who was she to pass up on an opportunity to have it for free?

But the more Lizzie looked away from her sister, the more she came to realize something else. This Sam fellow was a good-looking man, he appeared to be single… Lizzie gasped and finally turned to look at her sister.

You brought him to marry me, too, didn’t you? she signed furiously at her sister. I can’t believe you! I told you that I would find the right man to marry in time, and you couldn’t even trust me to do that! Why do you hate me so?

“Well, at least you’re talking to me again,” Abigail said in a resigned voice as she played with the tablecloth. They were sitting at Lizzie’s favorite table off in the corner. From there, she could see the rest of the dining room and watch all the goings on of everyone who came for lunch. When she didn’t have anything else to do, it was her favorite past time. Abigail leaned forward and put her hands on her sister’s.

“Lizzie, I didn’t do this because I hate you. I did this because I love you more than anything in the world and I just want you to be happy. You’ve been stuck on Ma and Pa’s ranch your whole life with just Martin and Aunt Betsy for company, and that’s no way to live. I knew you would work yourself to the bone this season with the planting, but if you didn’t have an immense amount of luck, you were never going to make enough to pay back the loan. You won’t accept any money from Gordon and me, so the only way I could think to help you was to hire someone who is very good with plants to come and assist. And that’s what Sam is! He used to work for Courtland Farms, and he’s talked about how when he works with things that grow, it’s just like magic. And I thought you could use a little of that magic in your life, because you, more than anyone, deserve it. So please, before you send Sam back to Ogalla, just give him a chance. I’m begging you. Please, just do it for me.”

And should I marry him for you too? Lizzie spat back at her sister.

Abigail sighed defeatedly. “No, no you shouldn’t. Lizzie, I’m sorry. I didn’t bring him here with the intention that you HAD to marry him. I just wanted to give you a better option than, say, old Clark over there.”

Abigail pointed to the older man sitting a few tables away. He was missing most of his teeth, his hair was just a few whisps on the top of his head and he was about as kind as a slap in the face. Despite her foul mood, Lizzie couldn’t help but laugh, and soon both the sisters were laughing together. When it had naturally died down, Lizzie signed to her sister once more.

Well, I suppose I appreciate that. I’m sorry I reacted the way that I did, Abi. It’s just… I don’t know if you know this, but I’m rather stubborn.

Abigail gasped dramatically and put her hand to her chest. “What? You? Stubborn? Never!”

Lizzie gave her a dirty look, but then they both began laughing again. I thought I could take care of the ranch myself, but now I see that I likely won’t. I mean, I did do my very best and look where it landed us last year.

“Yes, but last year was a very dry season,” Abigail reminded her. Just then, their lamb pies arrived, and the two girls tucked into them. Through mouthfuls of food, Abigail continued. “This year looks as though it is going to be a good one, and I wanted you to have an extra pair of hands to help out.”

What about Martin? Lizzie asked petulantly. She may have been beginning to forgive her sister, but she wasn’t entirely there yet.

Abigail scoffed. “Martin is a wonderful man, Lizzie, but he’s getting older and having a lot more difficulty doing what needs to get done. There will come a time when Martin won’t be around anymore, and you’ll have to figure out how to get on without him.”

Lizzie rolled her eyes. I know that! I’m not a child. But if I can hire someone at that point, why should I do it now?

“Because, if you don’t save the ranch this season, there won’t be any ranch to live on, Liz,” Abigail told her realistically. “This is your crucial year. You need someone around to help you get through it, so why not have it be Sam? And then if he doesn’t work out, you can fire him at the end of the season, okay?”

And what about the marriage situation? Lizzie continued, taking another mouthful of lamb pie. Mrs. Channing had done a simply masterful job today, even with lamb that was a week old at least. Does Sam know that part of the reason why he is here is as a potential suitor for me?

Abigail nodded. “Yes. I wasn’t going to keep that from him because it didn’t feel fair.”

Lizzie arched her eyebrow. But you thought it would be okay to keep it from your sister?

“Yesss…” Abigail said, drawing out the word. “Because you’re my sister and I knew that even if I messed up by, say, not asking you before I brought a stranger into your house, you’d have to forgive me.”

Lizzie put her fork in her now empty pie tin and dabbed at her mouth. She wished that she could ask for another slice of pie, but she knew that would be far too gluttonous. Oh, would I now? Who says I have to forgive you?

“I do!” Abigail whined, stamping her foot on the ground underneath the table. “Come on, Lizzie, please? Do you need me to beg, is that what it is going to take?”

Maybe. You can try it and I’ll tell you if it is working, Lizzie joked. Abigail leaned across the table and poked her in the arm playfully.

“All right then. So, will you do it? Just for me?” Abigail asked, clasping her hands together and looking at her pleadingly.

Lizzie looked off out the window while she thought about Abigail’s proposition. It was true, she did need the help on the ranch, and Sam certainly seemed like the fellow to do it, if anyone could. But she didn’t like the idea of having to share her house with a stranger, and what would Martin and Aunt Betsy say? Well, actually, Lizzie knew exactly what Aunt Betsy would say, because she would be absolutely thrilled to have a guest in the house. And Martin would probably appreciate having another man around, so he’d be happy. Maybe this wouldn’t be such a bad thing after all.

But then she remembered the option for marriage and her stomach filled with dread. Yes, Sam was a good-looking fellow, and yes, if it ended up that the two of them got along well, that would be wonderful. But what if it didn’t work? What if it ended up being incredibly uncomfortable for both of them? Lizzie liked her life the way it was, without complications. She still wasn’t convinced that even trying for a relationship with Sam was a good idea.

Lizzie looked at her sister at long last. Abigail had done so much for her in her life; she had become like a second mother to Lizzie after her mother’s death, and she sent most of her salary that she earned as a teacher to pay Martin’s salary. She tried so hard to convince Lizzie to come live with her and Martin, and she was her sister’s dearest friend and confidante. If this was something that Abigail desperately wanted her to try, then Lizzie supposed she could go for it, just for a little while.

Fine, fine, Lizzie signed with an exasperated look on her face. Abigail squealed, clapped her hands, and rose from her seat to come and embrace her sister. Well, ‘embrace’ put it lightly, Abigail hugged Lizzie so fiercely that she nearly fell out of her chair. When she was finally able to push her sister off her, Abigail returned to her seat.

“Thank you, thank you Lizzie,” she said gratefully, placing her palms on the table and bowing her head as though in prayer. “I promise you, you won’t regret this! If for no other reason than you’ll have a very attractive man roaming around the house!” Abigail had to cover her mouth to stop herself from bursting out laughing. Lizzie positively glared at her, but eventually she fell victim to the giggles too, and the two girls laughed uproariously. That was, until the stares from the townspeople at the other tables got to be too much, then they reined in their joy. When they were finally able to compose themselves, Abigail looked at her sister seriously. “In all of this, I forgot to ask you how your meeting went at the bank. Were you able to ask Mr. Portsmith to give you until the end of harvesting season to pay them back?”

Yes, thankfully. And although I am admitting this begrudgingly, it will be helpful to have Sam around. Martin and I make a great team, but I know how much it will assist us to have another set of hands. Lizzie caught the eye of Mrs. Channing, and when the older, portly woman came over, Lizzie signed to Abigail. Can you ask her for two pieces of lemon meringue pie?

“No, I cannot,” Abigail told her, crossing her arms and looking to Mrs. Channing. “Lizzie is asking for two pieces of lemon meringue pie. You have to tell her you’re out of it, otherwise we’re never going to leave this dining room.”

Mrs. Channing put her hand on her hip and gave Abigail a dubious look. “No, I do not. Lizzie, I’ll get you each a nice big slice of pie. I’ll be back momentarily.”

Lizzie signed Thank you! to Mrs. Channing, which was one of the few signs the older woman understood. Then, she turned to her sister with mischief in her eyes.

See? You got what you wanted from me, and I got what I wanted from you!


“A Groom for the Silent Bride” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Silenced by tragedy, Lizzie Cameron has not spoken a word since the day she witnessed the brutal murder of her parents. Living under the protective care of her aunt on a desolate ranch, she communicates only through the delicate gestures of sign language, her voice a long-lost echo of her past. Despite the loving care she receives, Lizzie’s world is a solitary landscape of unspoken words and unfulfilled dreams. Longing for a connection, she feels a flicker of hope when she first sees Sam Thornton, a man marked by his own shadows. Could he be someone who can hear the voice of her heart?

Can she find the courage to claim the love she yearns for?

Sam Thornton, scarred by a youth filled with loneliness and misunderstandings, escaped an unhappy family life seeking redemption far from his past errors. Offered a chance to rebuild the failing Cameron ranch—and possibly mend a broken heart—he embraces the challenge. His arrival is met with suspicion, but it’s Lizzie’s silent world he wishes to change, hoping to break through the barriers of her isolation.

Can he protect her from his own bitter past?

As their lives intertwine amidst the backdrop of the rugged prairie, the return of a sinister figure from Lizzie’s past threatens the fragile bond they are beginning to forge. With danger lurking close and secrets threatening to break them apart, can Lizzie and Sam’s growing connection survive, or will the challenges they face stop their heartbeats forever?

“A Groom for the Silent Bride” is a historical romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

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