A governess ad brings her on his dusty doorstep. Little did she know that he has his own nightmares to soothe. Can their newfound love give their hearts the hope they looked for?
Nina never expected to witness betrayal by her promised husband. In haste, she gathers her few things and flees out West to become a governess. Being on an isolated ranch though and having to deal with a baby, daily chores and a grumpy man who doesn’t talk is just too much. Yet, he slowly wins her heart. How can she show this silent man that all she wants is his love and dedication?
After witnessing the tragic death of his family, Sam lost his ability to speak. He now prefers loneliness to company, and his only desire is to save his ranch from ruin. But the baby he finds abandoned on his doorstep changes his life forever. Fate brings Nina to his path and for the first time in years, he craves love and compassion. How can express his feelings to her when his words are swallowed by guilt?
Nina and Sam must face their own fears to protect their new family. All it takes is for their hearts to say yes to each other. How can they do so when there’s an external threat that’s going to destroy everything?
Carson City, Nevada
A rooster crowed in the darkness as Sam Colt lay in bed. His body felt weary as he rolled off the mattress, though his mind wasn’t much better. He did not sleep well; his racing thoughts had made him toss and turn for hours..
There was always too much on his mind.
Sam put his bare feet on the rough, wooden floorboards, taking a minute to run his hand through his wavy blond hair. The cold floor helped him to wake up. As his eyes adjusted to the darkness, could make out the lone dresser across the room and the nightstand and lamp to his right. Otherwise, the room was bare. Heaving a long sigh, Sam finally stood up and dressed for the day. No use putting off the inevitable.
As soon as he was dressed, he found his worn, brown leather boots where he left them by the doorway. Sam could see the sun starting to rise through the window, the dark sky slowly coming to life with shades of orange, purple, and pink. Though he always felt tired, he still tried to take in the beauty. Each day of life was a gift.
The ranch hands would seek him out shortly, as Sam kept to a schedule, doing the same thing every day. Each morning after he dressed, he made the trek down the stairs and along the long hallway toward the kitchen. There, he started making a fried egg with a piece of crusty bread before he started his work. The smell of the egg cooking and the taste of the butter were a comfort to him. Sam felt like he was making an effort, even though he was alone.
Sam lived in a house that was far too much for one person. It wasn’t that he didn’t try to keep a nice home, it was just that the horses and ranch upkeep were more important. He had animals to feed and let in and out of pastures, mares to be bred, and other horses to train for ranch work. Things beyond the horses were in far worse shape. Fences and buildings were crumbling, and some of the pens were currently unusable. If those weren’t fixed, he wouldn’t be able to buy more livestock or plant any crops.
Sam was so preoccupied by the never-ending list of things to do, that he nearly burned his eggs. The acrid smell as they began to crust onto the bottom of the pan snapped him out of his reverie. Sam tried to tell himself that it would all be worth it someday; the ranch was the deal of a lifetime. It possessed potential, and if he worked hard enough, it would shine. Sam hoped that people would come for miles to buy their horses from him..
The house wasn’t completely bare. He inherited some things from his parents when they passed away—the frying pan that he coated with grease, just like his mother had shown him, had been his theirs, as well as the chairs adorning his living room. They sat between an old table one of his ranch hands gifted him, with an oil lamp he bought after one too many evenings of squinting at his ledgers in the dying light.
Sam didn’t consider himself a great cook, but his life had been about survival for so long it was hard to remember anything different. As he cracked an additional egg into the pan and heard the familiar sizzle, he tried to recall the last time he had eaten something different for breakfast and struggled. The routine had once been survival, but now he wondered if he should try something new. Something more exciting.
The idea of changing now seemed absurd. His monotonous routine was lonely, but it was soothing. He knew exactly where to find his plate and fork as he set his lone spot at the table and cut himself off a hunk of bread before sliding the eggs carefully onto his plate. There was already so much to take care of, he simply did not have time to try new things.
When Sam sat down, he didn’t say grace, but he did reflect on the same thought each morning; a day on the earth is better than a day underneath it. There was a time that he didn’t feel that way, a time when he wished he had died on a fated night many years ago. Yet it seemed that destiny had other plans.
Sam supposed that was progress.
He proceeded to eat his breakfast without tasting it, listening for his foreman Jack or the other ranch hands out in the yard. They behaved like clockwork, congregating outside the animal sheds each morning. Yet a feeling of disquiet gave him pause. He could have sworn he heard a noise. He put down his fork and listened carefully. The sound seemed far away, like the distant cry of a bobcat in the night. Perhaps he was so sleep deprived that he was starting to lose his mind.
Sam attempted to ignore whatever it was. He stood up and took a minute to wash the dish in a basin of water he kept on his counter, letting it dry so that he could use it again when he came in for dinner. He typically took his lunch with Jack and the others out on his porch. It was the little bit of interaction he had with other people each day, yet he enjoyed listening to his ranch hands as they told outlandish tales.
There were horses to let into pastures and stalls that needed mucking before he attempted to work on any of the ranch’s much-needed repairs. Sam walked down the bare hallway, making his way to the sitting room that he seldom spent any time in. There were the two sad looking chairs, wooden and weathered, on either side of an oil lamp that were anything but inviting. He did not even hang any curtains by the windows.
The same noise he heard earlier returned, and it sounded even louder than before. As he stopped to listen, Sam could swear it sounded like a cry. Had an animal gotten injured and was wailing in pain somewhere on the property? Sam threw open the door, panicking that something was dying or in need of help when the volume of the cries grew even louder. He took a step, and his boot touched the edge of something soft. His porch had a few rotten planks, but this wasn’t normal. Sam’s eyes widened as he looked down.
A child, less than a year old if Sam had to guess, lay on the porch, writhing and squalling in an old gray blanket. Its little eyes wrenched shut and its tiny hands balled into fists as miniature tears streamed down the baby’s face.
Sam’s heart pounded as he took in the sad sight. He couldn’t help but feel pity for the defenseless thing. The poor baby seemed dirty and unnaturally small, in addition to looking so scared and upset. How long had it been there, and who had left it? He scanned his property for any clues, but all he could see were the dry gasses and shrubs. Further off in the distance he could see craggy mountains pointing skyward in the early morning light. The mountains would never reveal the secret.
The babe continued to cry, its sobs scratching its tiny throat. Not wanting to hear or see it suffer any more than it probably already had, Sam carefully picked up the child up and examined it. Sam felt disorientated as he held the baby out in front of him. Somehow, he was expecting it to weigh more.
How do you get a baby to stop crying?
Sam had no children of his own, and he struggled to recall any child-rearing techniques from his own childhood so long ago. He pushed the thoughts away as he looked at the child and its sad blue eyes. He brought the child closer to his body, holding it tight. It no longer sobbed, but still whined and whimpered.
A child left on his doorstep. Sam’s stomach knotted with anxiety, and he felt his body shake with nerves as he tried to comfort the baby.. He had so much to do, the sheer weight of his insurmountable tasks part of the reason he couldn’t sleep at night. Sam worried that he wouldn’t be able to run the ranch and look after a baby until someone came to claim it. Sam’s stomach flipped again when a new thought entered his head, sending a chill coursing through him.
What if no one came to claim the baby?
Glancing down at the child in his arms, its watery blue eyes and angelic face, Sam knew there was no way he could just call someone and have it taken away. That baby’s sad little face would haunt him for the rest of his life.
Someone leaving it on his doorstep was confusing and terrible, but Sam vowed that he wouldn’t make it worse.
San Antonio, Texas
“I can’t believe I’m going to be a married woman!”
Nina beamed proudly at her reflection, so pretty and poised. She stood in front of the mirror that sat atop her chest of drawers trying to imagine what her hair would look like when she wore it up and away from her face every day like married women often did. The brown braid and ankle length frock she wore seemed youthful in comparison.
Nina’s heart fluttered like a fledging bird preparing for its first flight as she thought of her intended, her childhood best friend, Nathaniel Harper. Even though she was a girl, they bonded during their time in the school yard. Nina wasn’t afraid to get dirty and liked to race the other children during recess. She’d beat Nathaniel plenty of times. It was one of her proudest accomplishments beyond finishing her studies.
When they weren’t at school and they finished their chores, they explored the banks of the river that cut through the town. They talked about their families and their dreams during their time together. There were no secrets between them. Nina lived for the freshness of the water and the lilt of Nathaniel’s youthful laugh.
Now that Nina and Nathaniel were grown, things changed. Gone were the days of wading barefoot in the San Antonio River, the water cold and refreshing. Instead, they spent time together with a chaperone at church functions and other social events. Now, as they stood together, the din of music replaced the tinkling water and birdsong. Their conversations became less candid and more proper, but Nina couldn’t complain. She didn’t think it was possible to be happier, but every day was a blessing knowing that Nathaniel loved her.
Nina let her long, mahogany brown locks fall down her shoulders and smoothed them back into place. Excitement coursed through her at the prospect of planning a wedding, and she could barely focus on anything else. Her thoughts danced from what she would wear to who she would invite from town, and of course, how she would decorate the farmhouse once it was ready for her.
Sweeping the house and cleaning the kitchen took far longer than they should, and she struggled to find motivation to cook come mealtime. The notion was just too mundane when she spent the day dreaming about moving into a house and starting a family with Nathaniel. That fantasy world was full of happiness and children, something that she’d longed for longer than she wanted to admit.
Today, she completed her chores by lunchtime, and there was plenty of time before her stepparents would return home for supper, so Nina decided she would wander outside for a time. In the woods outside of town stood a hidden spot that Nina adored, filled with soft green grasses protected by a band of trees. It allowed her to feel happy and content without anyone disturbing the peace.
Taking one last look at her reflection and the rose-colored dress she wore, she ventured out of the room, down the stairwell, and out into the open air. As she walked toward the hidden meadow filled with wildflowers and the woods that kept it a secret, she reflected on her fate. Despite the promise of rebirth lingering amidst the spring air, this time of year always felt bittersweet as the anniversary of her parents’ death quickly approached. A wildfire destroyed their home when Nina was two years old. She didn’t remember much, just how the heat blazed and tried to blister her skin. The Lord took her parents to heaven, but somehow, she survived. The town doctor once told her that her father was able to get her out; soot covered, but without injury. Her father died of his painful and gruesome burns. Nina wished she could thank him for saving her, but she also wished that no harm had come to them at all. Life would have been much easier. It was difficult to explain to others that her birth parents were gone. She felt like a piece of her was missing, but because she didn’t remember them, it was hard to say why.
Nina was lucky enough to be taken in by a couple who had a daughter close to her age. They favored their biological daughter, but at least she had a home and someone to claim her. On the days they were kinder to her stepsister, Jane, or told Nina she was a nuisance, she tried to be grateful she had a home at all.
Yet she did have Nathaniel, and his love for her would be enough for the rest of her life.
Nina held the hem of her dress up so it wouldn’t tear as she navigated through the thicket of trees. As a girl, Nina discovered the meadow and claimed it as her secret hideaway. Any passersby on the road could not see the meadow. Nina found it by accident, on a day that her Jane teased her for not actually being part of the family. That particular day, Nina took a walk so she wouldn’t say or do something regrettable. Whenever she spoke her mind about how Jane treated her, Nina was always the one that ended up in trouble. Her stepparents always spun a tale that Nina should know better, as if she were the older child, though the girls were the same age. In her anger and despair, she found herself in the woods. Once she pushed through to the other side, she stumbled into the meadow, the knee-high grass dotted with blue and yellow flowers warm and inviting.
Nina relaxed as she entered the patch of paradise. The grass was so soft, and birds calling to one another created a strange sort of music. She sat down among the flowers before she gently threw herself back onto the grass. The moment was nearly perfect, and only one thing could improve it.
“I wish Nathaniel was here,” Nina murmured to herself.
She shut her eyes, trying to imagine what it would be like to have him beside her. Nina often wondered what it would be like to finally kiss him and couldn’t wait for their wedding to find out. The event was most likely set to happen in the winter or spring as Nathaniel was in the process of getting his own land and building a farm on it. She’d only seen it from a distance, but it was far larger than the property her stepparents owned. There were acres of fields to fill with crops and animals. Nina couldn’t wait to help him run the house and hopefully fill it with children as soon as they could. She hoped her parents would look down and be proud of her for having a family of her own when the time came.
“I was hoping you’d show up,”
Nina’s eyes snapped open when she heard Nathaniel’s voice in the distance. How did he know about this place? She’d often thought about taking him here, but by the time she discovered it, it would have been improper, even if they were just friends. Nina wondered if he’d saw her walking on the road and followed her. She sat up and her heart skipped a beat as she sought him amongst the trees around the meadow, but he was nowhere to be found. Perhaps she’d imagined in his voice since she’d been thinking about him. It was easy to get distracted when she daydreamed about his hazel eyes and broad shoulders.
“I’d never miss a meeting with you,”
Nina’s stomach flipped when she recognized Jane’s voice too. This spot was supposed to be a sanctuary away from her. It was more likely that Jane saw her walking to the meadow and followed her than Nathaniel. Nina looked around again, but couldn’t see her either, though she could hear her stepsister’s laughter as it bounced and echoed off the trees around the meadow. Feeling like it was taunting her, Nina rose to her feet and started to move in the direction of the voices.
What on earth was Nathaniel doing here with Jane? Did they meet accidentally?
She lingered at the edge of the black hawthorn trees when she saw a flash of a pale blue skirt out of the corner of her eye. It flit like a will-o-wisp, taunting, teasing, and leading Nina astray. She wasn’t sure if she wanted her stepsister to know where she was. The girl often had a way of taking Nina’s things and claiming them as her own. Growing up, when Nina would go to her stepparents about it, they often shrugged it off, saying that Nina needed to take better care of her belongings. The whole thing had seemed unfair.
Nina didn’t want Jane using her special hiding place, it was her haven away from the girl. She hid behind a tree, still trying to figure out what was going on. Nina didn’t want to assume the worst, but she found herself confused and upset that they were together without a chaperone. They weren’t promised to each other, but it still seemed in poor taste.
“Why do we have to meet like this?” A whine punctuated Jane’s voice like she was pouting. “It’s dirty and uncivilized.”
“I know,” Nathaniel replied, and Nina peeked out from behind her hiding spot to see him in a crisp white shirt and gray slacks. Nina wanted to take comfort in seeing him near her hideaway, but she couldn’t get rid of the sense of dread that churned in the pit of her stomach. “But talking to you like this, in secret, is more than we could ever do. I have to settle for looking at you from across a room, and while you are more beautiful than a summer sunset, it’s just not the same.”
Nina gasped as she processed the words. Not sure if she was believing what she was hearing, Nina crept a bit closer to their voices. Her stomach flipped and her blood went cold when she saw Jane with her back against one of the oak trees several yards away. Nathaniel stood close to her, so close that his shirt was brushing against the white buttoned-down blouse. He leaned in closer than he’d ever stood by Nina, the look on his face was one of adoration. One he often wore for Nina before they parted ways at social functions. Nina choked down a sob so that she didn’t give away where she was hiding.
“Do you really love my silly stepsister?” Jane asked, her shrill, nasal voice lilting with petulance. Nina wondered if she somehow knew that she was there listening. It was just the sort of thing she would say to hurt her feelings. “She’s so simple and plain.”
“I do love Nina, she’s a breath of fresh air, not many girls are like her.” Nina couldn’t believe when he smirked down at Jane and brushed a lock of her blonde hair out of her face. “But I see now that you are the far prettier sister. Every time you smile at me, I fall deeper in love.”
“Kiss me, Nate,”
Nate? Nina felt like someone had knocked the wind out of her at Jane’s request. That was the name that Nina called him and now Jane was stealing that too. Nina realized that Jane wasn’t trying to take what wasn’t hers. Nathaniel betrayed her. Somehow, in all her joy about being engaged, she failed to see that he had eyes for Jane all along. She thought of all the times she went out with him while they courted. She had to get away before they discovered her watching them. She didn’t want to see Jane’s triumphant face when she got what she wanted yet again. Nina knew the longer she waited, the tears that blurred her vision would escape. She wasn’t sure if she could control herself once she started crying.
Nina turned and winced when a branch popped under her boot. She all but gave away that she’d been eavesdropping.
“Is someone there?” Nathaniel shouted.
Nina burst into tears, no longer able to hold back. She sprinted through woods to get away before they discovered her.
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