A woman who will lead you to God again is certainly worth fighting for.
Serena Elison is the daughter of a white father and a Mexican mother. She fears that she will never belong anywhere. She only finds comfort in her loving family and her trust in God that someday someone will accept her for who she is. Will she let the bearer of terrible news that entered their home get to know her?
Stephen Colwell is a hardworking man that focuses solely on his work. He thinks that if he never lets anyone near him, no one can get hurt. Having only a few friends, he is heartbroken when he loses one. What will he do now that he is getting close to his late friend’s family and is rediscovering his lost Faith?
When trouble comes knocking on the Elisons door, Stephen will have to decide whether he will fight for his newly found family or he will make the ultimate sacrifice in order to keep them safe. Serena will have to trust God one more time. Will they resume their strength before it’s too late?
“I didn’t peg you as squeamish about a little water,” Ramon called to Stephen from the middle of the river.
Grinning, Stephen looked at the man who had become a close friend in the past two years. Ramon was ruggedly handsome, with dark hair and deeply tanned skin which showed his mixed heritage. He shook his head at Stephen.
“I wasn’t born in the woods to be afraid of an owl,” Stephen yelled back at Ramon, whose horse was struggling to keep its footing in the river, battling the current.
“Then shoot, Luke, or give up the gun,” Ramon called, gesturing with his hand for Stephen to come forward.
Stephen sighed. It wasn’t that he was afraid of the rushing water. He was only concerned for the cattle that they intended to take through it.
As part of Fred Ramsey’s team of twelve men on a cattle drive herding twenty-five hundred head of cattle to the cow town railhead in Kansas, he had to be worried about the cattle. The animals tended to be skittish and resistant whenever they had to cross a river, particularly one as turbulent as this. Undeterred by the quick flow of the water around him, Ramon had taken position in the middle of the river to await the animals.
Stephen’s gaze fell to the rushing water as it made its journey across the plains. He reckoned it would be alright if the animals were driven slowly in, so as to avoid a stampede.
With that conclusion, and grinning at the man who was staring at him as if he couldn’t believe that he was lily-livered about the water, he rode his horse into the river.
“See, I’m not afraid.”
“Took you long enough,” Ramon returned, and laughed heartily. His friend laughed along with him.
Suddenly, two gunshots rang out. Stephen turned in his saddle just in time to glimpse the foreman, Ian Ramsey, sliding his rifle back into the holster hanging from his saddle. Stephen didn’t have time to see more; his horse, unsettled by the shots, the press of cattle, and the surge of river water, was plunging beneath him.
Stephen pulled on the reins and moved the horse in a tight circle to get it under control. In a matter of seconds, he registered that his startled horse wasn’t his only source of concern. The cattle, spooked by the shots, shoved and bellowed, then surged pell-mell into the water.
“Whoa!” Stephen tried steadying his plunging horse as the cattle rushed past them from every direction.
Finally succeeding in bringing the horse under control, Stephen lifted his head and all the color drained from his face.
The cattle were charging straight at Ramon!
“Ramon! Get out of there!” he yelled as he struggled to urge his horse forward to go and assist the man. But the cows still stampeding into the water, preventing his movement.
In what seemed like a bad dream happening within seconds but giving the impression of hours, Stephen watched as Ramon desperately tried to rein his horse around to avoid the steers heading his way. But his horse floundered, stumbling on stones on the riverbed, its eyes rolling white. The lead cattle, pushed forward by those following them, rammed into Ramon’s horse, which lurched forward, legs straining, and muzzle held high to avoid the current.
Right before Stephen’s eyes, Ramon was thrown out of the saddle and straight into the turbulent river. He struggled to swim to the surface, but the current was too strong. Within the twinkling of an eye, Ramon was gone. It appeared he had been carried away by the turbulence.
“Git! Git!” Stephen shouted at his horse and kicked it into movement. “Ramon! Ramon!” he shouted when he finally got the horse moving again alongside the swimming herd.
With frantic eyes, he searched the spot where Ramon had gone under the water. Regardless of his own safety, the distraught man dismounted and jumped into the water. He dragged his horse alongside him, using it as a buffer between himself and the cattle. It was a dangerous maneuver, and his horse knocked his feet out from under him more than once as it was pushed against by cattle. Once, Stephen felt a cow’s horn scrape across his shoulder blade, and another time he had to lash a steer across the nose with his reins to keep the beast from plowing him under the water. He broke free of the torrent of cattle downstream, hoping his friend has been borne safely to a riverbank by the current.
“Ramon! Ramon!” he kept calling as he searched the water for his lost friend.
Soaking wet and freezing, having lost his straw hat in the search, Stephen went deeper and deeper into the water. Fear snaked up his spine when he couldn’t find Ramon.
“Stephen! Don’t be a fool! Get out of there or you will be washed away, too.”
The voice of his boss, Fred Ramsey, who was standing on the riverbanks, penetrated through the desperate man’s consciousness.
“He’s a goner! Let it go!”
Those words caused him to halt his frantic movements as it at last registered in his brain that the rushing water had indeed consumed his friend.
Ramon Elison was gone.
“No! Ramon!” Stephen shouted with horror and disbelief lacing his voice.
“Papa! Mama and I are ready to go into town,” Serena Elison called as she rode her horse to the range where her father was tending to the cattle.
Their small ranch boasted a herd of 350 cattle, which her brother, Ramon, and her father, Marlin, had been growing these past few years. Her father had been in talks with the army to secure a contract to supply beef to the forts in West Texas. Should that fail to materialize, he’d speak to his former boss, Fred Ramsey, about adding two hundred head of their own cattle to Fred’s cattle drive north to Kansas in the spring of next year.
Serena hoped that the talks with the army would be successful so that they wouldn’t have anything to do with Fred Ramsey. She didn’t have a problem with the man, but with his son, Ian.
Marlin, limping badly from the accident he’d had when working for Fred Ramsey years ago, nodded at his daughter. He patted the body of the cow he’d just checked for any sign of illness and the animal walked away. Her father, a tall, broad-shouldered man with dark, curly hair and a cleft in his chin, came to stand beside her. He tipped back his black Stetson, his blue eyes creasing at the edges.
“I’d be mighty glad if you would get me some Arbuckle’s from Wilkins’,” he said, giving her a knowing smile.
That was the only brand of coffee he favored, and he never failed to ask for some whenever anyone was going into town for supplies.
She giggled. “Oh, Papa, is that all you want?”
Laughing, he said, “You know it is.”
Shrugging, she replied, “Mighty fine by me, Papa. We’ll be back soon.”
“Alright. Oh, and Serena,” he said as she turned away. “Try to ignore whatever is said in town.”
Reddening at her father’s words, Serena offered him a curt nod and swung her horse away. She nudged her horse into a run, away from the range and back to the ranch house basking in the beauty of the wide plains, the blooming flowers, and a grove of willows with a backdrop of mountains hanging like huge clouds.
The cool spring weather sent a wave of wind blowing her way as she crossed the courtyard to their red brick house in the middle of the ranch. An uncompleted bunkhouse stood at its side, as well as a small stable and a barn. It was their prayer that someday, things would look up for them and their ranch would become, like Fred Ramsey’s, one of the biggest and most successful in all of Texas. The cattle baron had set her father up with twenty cows as compensation for the accident when he broke his leg. Her father had gratefully taken them and started his own ranch, which was thriving.
Her mother was waiting with the wagon in front of the house that stood in the middle of the ranch. It consisted of four bedrooms, a sitting room, a kitchen, and a pantry. Serena rode her horse to the stable, dismounted, gave it a quick rubdown, and then strode out into the mild glow of the sun that bathed the land.
She tried to push away the thought of what her father said. It was one of the reasons she hated going into town. But alas, due to her father’s limp, he found it hard to ride for long, and as their ranch was situated at the outskirts of Willowton, they always had to go into town for supplies. Ever since the accident, she and her mother ran errands and bought supplies for the house; that was, if Ramon wasn’t around.
She wished her brother would return home soon. Although it was just a few weeks since he’d departed with Ramsey’s team, she missed him dearly. His presence at the ranch always made it seem as if everything would be fine no matter what they faced. And with him around, she didn’t have to go into town and face all that drama.
Her mother smiled at her as she swung her curvy body onto the wagon seat in her brown homespun riding skirt. Her mother was attired the same way, but instead of her long black hair being tied in a ponytail like her daughter’s, it was bound in a scarf.
Serena looked at her petite mother, with her beautiful, oval-shaped face, black eyes, and hair as dark as the night, and wondered for the umpteenth time why she hadn’t married her kind. Why had her mother chosen to marry her father, a Caucasian, and not a fellow Mexican?
“God works in mysterious ways, Serena,” her mother quietly told her when Serena had dared to ask one day. “It is said that love is found in the strangest of places. And your father was who God chose for me, and I thank Him every day because I would never have found a better man to love among my people.”
Serena thanked God for His mercies and kindness every day, but still couldn’t understand why He hadn’t chosen a Mexican for her mother. Why would He have created a mix of heritages that made her unhappy?
Perhaps if her mother had married a Mexican, she would have…
“Serena, are you alright?”
Her mother’s words jolted her from her reverie. Flushing, she nodded and flicked the horse’s reins. The animals began moving out of the courtyard into the dusty trail road.
The scent of flowers and sage assailed her nostrils as they passed along the sandy track surrounded by bushes. Mother and daughter talked about the supplies they were going to get and laughed at her father’s love for Arbuckle’s.
At the edge of the town, Serena suggested that it would be best if they picked up a few supplies first from the mercantile shop, which they would come upon before taking their horses to the livery stable. Her mother agreed.
Serena had just jumped down from the seat of the wagon when she heard catcalls from some men in front of the Wishing Well saloon.
“Well, what d’you know, it’s the half-breed and her dirty Mexican mother!”
“Have ye both come inta town ta show us what ye have unda those skirts of yours?”
“I reckon that’s what the dirty Mexican woman did ta poor Marlin that got him marryin’ the soiled thing!”
“Come now, I’ll show ye what a betta man I is than Marlin.”
One of the men spat. “I’d rather die than touch those soiled doves. Why, they’re no better than Injuns, even worse!”
Having had enough of the insults, Serena reached for the whip at her hip to teach the men some manners. She didn’t care how big they were. Perhaps if she showed them that she could handle them, all the insults would stop whenever she and her mother came into town.
“Serena.” Her mother’s voice came out smoothing and placating as she placed a hand on her arm.
Reluctantly, Serena whirled in her mother’s direction. Her wordless shake of her head made Serena grit her teeth. So, these men were just going to get away with insulting them whenever they came into town? It was all so unfair.
With angry tears stinging her eyes, she dropped her hand and followed her silent mother into the mercantile. It took the grace of God for her not to reach for the whip again when the men still continued whistling and catcalling while one of them threw insults.
“Lord, I can’t do this anymore,” she muttered as her mother swung open the door of the mercantile. How long am I going to endure this? Why is this happening to me?
Her mother walked quietly to the counter to speak to the merchant while Serena stared at her reflection through the glass door. She saw her raven black hair tied at her nape, her small forehead, her thick, soft brows, her wide set, jade green eyes, her button nose and full lips, and found herself wanting. Her tanned skin was the part of her features she disliked most, and for the umpteenth time, she wished she was either one or the other. It didn’t make sense being caught in the middle. She turned away with angry tears still smarting in her eyes. How she wished she had the power to change things.
Serena, be content with what you have and who you are.
She knew that she ought to, but it was mighty difficult when she had been mocked and called a half-breed all her life. Well, she was having none of that again.
With her hand on the whip, she reached for the doorknob.
Stephen Colwell sat alone, a few paces from the camp. He didn’t build a fire neither did he partake of the supper that was offered to him. His honey brown eyes, as they looked up to the setting sun, were as dull as dishwater.
A man had died that day. A good man. And it galled him that he hadn’t been able to do anything about it.
Over and over again, he kept seeing Ramon’s smiling face as he teased him about being afraid of the water. He saw the man’s frightened expression when the herd charged at him and he fell into the river.
Stephen wished for the umpteenth time that he had gone into the river when Ramon asked him to. Mayhap if he had been close enough to his friend, he would have been able to reach the poor man before he drowned.
It was all his fault!
He never seemed able to protect those who mattered most to him. Although he was a loner and had only been on the trail with Fred Ramsey’s team twice, Ramon had gone out of his way to make friends with him. And now, when the man had needed him the most, he had let him down big time.
Along the cattle drive, they had become close friends. Ramon had told him all about his family back in Texas. He had even coerced Stephen into returning to his family ranch with him when the drive was over.
Stephen’s heart went to Ramon’s parents and sister. They would be waiting for him to return, not knowing that they would never see him again.
You ought to go and tell them.
Stephen shook his head. It wasn’t his place to do that. Mayhap when the drive was over, Fred Ramsey, who used to be Ramon’s father’s employer, would tell them the tragic news as soon as they returned to Texas.
You owe it to Ramon to inform his family of his tragic demise. The drive to Kansas and back will take weeks.
The distressed man gritted his teeth as he ran his hand through his dark brown hair. He had sworn to mind his business and not put his nose where it didn’t belong, ever since what happened to him years ago. Leaving the drive to go and inform people he had never met that their son was dead seemed pretty much like sticking his nose in someone else’s business. Moreover, he would forfeit his income if he were to leave now.
A second later, shame washed through him at such selfish thoughts. Ramon was a man who had opened his heart and had been in the process of opening his home to him. He had proved over time that he was a man to ride the river with.
I have to go to Texas. It’s the least I can do for him. Maybe it’ll help me sleep better at night. Possibly help me forget about my past.
With that decision made, he pushed himself to his feet and went to where Fred Ramsey was eating by the fire.
“Em … boss, can I have a word with you, please?” His gaze was focused on the man, ignoring the other men who were looking at him keenly, particularly the man’s son, Ian.
“Sure, son,” the stout man said, put his plate of beef stew aside, and rose.
Stephen led the man out of earshot of the other cowpunchers and ran his fingers through his hair. He eyed the tall and stocky man with graying blonde hair and sad blue eyes.
“Son, what’s on your mind?” Fred asked quietly in the silence that surrounded them.
Stephen cleared his throat and said, “I want to go to Texas to inform Ramon’s family about his death.”
Fred’s bushy brows rose. Then he raised a finger to his chin and scratched his beard.
“I don’t think that’s necessary, Stephen. We can always do that when we go back to Texas.”
Stephen shook his head. “No, sir. I prefer to go and tell them now. It will be weeks before we get back to Texas. Ramon deserves better than that.”
After a moment’s hesitation, Fred nodded. “Indeed, he does. He was a good man, a man one could tie to, and we’re all going to miss him. It’s a mighty shame what happened to him, but the good Lord knows best.”
Stephen reckoned that not everyone would miss him, but he didn’t say anything.
“You have my permission to leave, Stephen. But don’t take on so.”
A silent breath whooshed out of him. Fred Ramsey’s word was law around there. The powerful baron who was ace-high owned one of the largest ranches in Texas. If he had refused to let him go, there would have been nothing Stephen could do about it.
“Thank you, boss.” Stephen nodded at him. “I’ll leave first thing in the morning.”
Fred nodded back. “I’ll pay my condolence visit to his family when I return to Texas.”
Stephen was Texas bound. The weight of his mission bore so heavily in his mind that he didn’t sleep a wink that night.
Before the sky turned pink the following morning and the others stirred, Stephen was already on his way. It was going to be a long ride, but he was determined to get there. His only worry now was how Ramon’s family would take the news of his demise; they wouldn’t even have his body to take to the bone orchard. Ramon’s sister would be devastated by her brother’s death. Stephen felt a new heaviness settle on him at this thought. He was a messenger with terrible tidings.
The sun was forming an orange glow in the sky when Serena and her mother made their way back to the Amazing Grace Ranch. In the past, Serena would have told her mother to give her a few minutes to bask in the beauty of the setting sun, but not today. She was still miffed at the shabby treatment meted out to them in town.
Her mother had stopped her just in time from leaving the mercantile when she ached to go over to the bawdy men making fun of them. She would have joyfully taken her whip to them.
“Please, Mama, just this one time,” she had begged her mother who had silently pleaded with her to reconsider her stance.
“But it’s going to continue,” Serena had protested vehemently when her mother refused to relinquish the firm hold, she had on her arm.
“You’re no better than them if you stoop to their level,” Rosa had quietly told her daughter. “We’re here for supplies, not to get even with people who don’t know better.”
Serena had stewed all through the day. When they stepped out of the mercantile and the men continued throwing barbed words at them, frustrated tears had stung her eyes because she couldn’t do anything about it.
Her mouth was set in a mutinous line as they went from one shop to the other, getting supplies for the house and the ranch. Even when they had lunch at the Tasty Grub restaurant, Serena hadn’t paid attention to the meal her mother ordered because two men wouldn’t stop staring at them disdainfully. They had even made a few caustic remarks.
With awe, she had watched how her mother finished her crusty garlic bread and tasty beef stew, even going so far as to lick her fingers.
“That was a delicious meal,” Rosa had said after gulping down a glass of water. Her eyes had twinkled with excitement then paled when she saw that her daughter barely touched her food.
“Aren’t you hungry?” she had asked.
Flushing because it appeared childish that she had stewed to the point that she was unable to eat; Serena had looked away while shaking her head.
Understanding why her daughter hadn’t devoured her food like she did, Rosa had gently said, “The men you are so concerned about have not only finished their food but are now partaking of some liquor.”
Twin red spots had stained her cheeks. Embarrassed that she had behaved like a spoilt child, she had begged for them to leave the place because she didn’t think she would be able to stomach the food. They had gone to the livery to get the wagon and headed for home.
Serena gritted her teeth as her mother hummed a Christian hymn under her breath. For the umpteenth time, she wondered if nothing ever fazed her. Rosa always acted so unruffled and serene even when faced with the most trying and difficult of situations; not even when things went catawampus did she panic. The townsfolk had started insulting her mother when Serena was a little girl, before they included her when she was grown. Yet she had never seen her mother reply to them or even seem remotely bothered about whatever they said. It gnawed on her nerves because she figured that if her mother had for once told the men off, then the taunting would have stopped a long time ago.
Unable to stop herself, she asked, “Mama, how can you be so calm?”
Rosa offered her a faint smile as she steered the horses down a path surrounded by thick bushes.
When her mother didn’t say a word but continued to stare straight ahead with a shadowy smile on her face, Serena continued with her tirade.
“Mama, I can’t help the burning anger I feel inside my chest that I struggle to control every time we’re slighted in town.”
Gesticulating with her hand, she went on, “It’s all so unfair the way we’re treated differently by the townsfolk just because of our Mexican heritage.” Anguish coursed through her as she recalled all the words that were thrown at them. Her hands balled into fists as she stared unseeingly at the lush vegetation around them, inhaling the smell of wet soil.
Sighing sorrowfully, she added, “Maybe it would be best if I just avoided coming into town at all.” A sob caught in her throat at her last words and she hastily blinked her tears away, angry with herself for crying over those worthless lots.
Rosa let out a deep sigh before drawing the horses to a stop. Serena refused to look at her mother even though she knew Rosa had curved her body in her direction.
“Serena,” Rosa said softly, “running away isn’t the answer. And neither is reacting angrily to the provocation.”
Rounding angrily on her mother who was staring at her with tender eyes, Serena snapped, “Then what is the answer, Mama? Always turning the other cheek when slighted?” She raised pleading hands.
Cupping her daughter’s cheeks in the gentlest of ways that brought tears to Serena’s eyes, Rosa said, “Serena, darling, we’re not the first people to be treated as outcasts. Jesus was treated as an outcast, and worse … by his own people. They went as far as killing him. We must always react to such people the way Jesus did—with love.”
A lone tear rolled from Serena’s eyes, and she quickly blinked the rest away. Rosa caught it with the tip of her finger and smiled at her.
“And yes, we must continue turning the other cheek when slighted just as the good book teaches us.”
Before Serena could interject, she quickly added, “We do that not so we can pat ourselves on the back as martyrs being persecuted, but rather so that we can be free from the control of this world and people will try to exact over us.”
Serena shook her head. Her mother dropped her hand. “But for how long, Mama? How long? Will it ever stop? I can’t help the way I feel knowing that I will never be good enough for them no matter what I do.”
“I understand the way you feel, my dear. But don’t worry, the right man will come along, who will love you and respect you for who you are.”
Serena couldn’t help snorting. “Certainly not here in Willowton.”
Beaming as if she had a secret she didn’t want to share with her daughter, Rosa replied, “The Lord works in mysterious ways, my dear. If only you’d trust in Him and accept His will for you, I guarantee that you’ll come to understand that He never makes mistakes. He knew what He was doing when He created you to be of mixed race. Please learn to accept that and love who you are.”
Serena wanted to deny that she didn’t like the fact that she was half Caucasian and half Mexican, but she couldn’t. Her mother spoke the truth. If she had a way, she would have preferred to be one or the other.
She bit her bottom lip and looked far into the distance where she could indistinctly see her father’s ranch. She knew the plans God had for her and her family were good; that she couldn’t deny. However, she couldn’t help worrying. Her prayer was that their efforts would never be in vain. Every day they toiled on the ranch but if they never made even, then it wasn’t worth it.
But what has that got to do with what your mother is saying?
Blushing, Serena realized that she was thinking that way because she believed that if their ranch became highly successful, perhaps they would be accepted by the townsfolk. And then perhaps she could find a loving husband.
She shook her head. Nothing they did would be accepted by the lot of them. As far as the color of their skins remained tanned, they would continue to be outcasts.
Just as she was thinking about either avoiding the town like a plague or giving them equal measure of what they were dishing out, she heard her mother tenderly say,
“We can’t control how other people choose to behave, but we can choose how we will react.”
Those words brought tears to Serena’s eyes and made her ashamed of what she had been planning. Mayhap if she took a leaf from her mother’s book by ignoring the blatherskites whenever they tried to goad her into doing something, she could overcome the urge to retaliate. So far, it seemed to have worked really well for her mother.
Rosa never worried or had wrinkled lines on her face no matter what was going on around her. Possibly, Serena decided, if she didn’t allow whatever was said touch her, she would be like her mother, carefree and happy.
Please Lord, help me to be like Mama. I don’t want to become a worrywart over what I have no control. Help me to do what’s pleasing in Your sight always. Amen.
“Are you alright, my dear?” Rosa’s voice was laced with concern.
Sighing, she said, “Yes, Mama, I’m fine. I’ve heard everything you said. It’s going to be mighty difficult ignoring those blatherskites, but I reckon that the good Lord will help me.”
Beaming with joy, her mother said, “I know He will. All you have to do is ask.”
Nodding, Serena took the reins from her mother and smiled at her. Now that she was calmer, she could drive. Even though she knew she hadn’t yet accepted the situation, she hoped she would eventually. If things didn’t change soon, she might just have to take matters into her own hands.
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