Two different worlds, two people coming together to fall in love… under God’s watch. Will their love endure all setbacks?
After Aiyana’s mother passes away, she is left all alone, the only healer in her tribe who believes that Native Americans should get on well with the whites. A sudden event brings the town’s reluctant doctor under her care. To nurture him back to health, Aiyana realizes that this man is more than meets the eye. He’s a deeply scarred man who needs her help to believe again in love. How can she let herself open to this new love which is God’s will?
Evan is the new ambitious town doctor. His wife’s death has made him more distant and impatient. When he is attacked by bandits and nursed back to health by Aiyana, his world changes. God has given him a reason to believe that he can love and be loved again. He has also shown him the way of a peaceful living of whites and Native Americans. How can he let himself connect with Aiyana when the townspeople plot against her tribe?
To protect this unforgettable love, Evan and Aiyana must move mountains. God is always there to listen and protect them though. How will they respond to His call of love and forgiveness?
“We will not take it any longer! Enough is enough!”
The noise in the town hall grew louder and louder but no one made any effort to curb it. The mayor of Stockridge, Gordon Rhyne stood before the people with a thick frown on his face. All around him, men and women of repute complained bitterly to one another about the latest happenings in their town.
Only one person remained silent in spite of the uproar going on around him. Dr. Evan Thorne had a lot to say, but he didn’t think that his voice would be heard in the chaos going on.
Evan sighed, removed his hat, and ran his fingers through his dark blond hair. He replaced his hat on his head and ran a finger across his chinstrap beard. His round face scrunched into a frown.
Evan wondered if it would be seen as weird if he lifted his six foot two frame from his chair and tried to create some form of order in the room. He hated chaos. Orderliness was his byword, so he felt uncomfortable in the increasing raucous gathering.
He was the youngest person in the assembly at twenty-eight years. Although he was respected, he didn’t think that it would be appropriate for him to tell the older folks to keep shut. At least not while the mayor was there, preceding over the meeting.
His deep set, topaz blue eyes roamed around the well-dressed men and women who were stating their grievances in the most undignified of manners. Although they were the wealthiest and most refined in the town, they weren’t acting that way at present.
I can’t say I blame them. I would react the same way in their shoes.
Much was at stake, so it didn’t matter that the distinguished men and women had thrown decorum to the wind. The recently established Indian reservation just across the Missouri state line in the Indian Territories left a bad taste in the mouths of everyone involved. The businessmen and women, the ranchers, the politicians were all concerned about their new neighbors.
Stockridge was a large bustling town that had grown steadily these past years. The establishment of the Indian reservation had been a major setback for the mayor and local wealthy businessmen who had grand ambitions for Stockridge. Their vision was for the town to develop into the social and economic powerhouse of the region to rival New Orleans to the south.
Evan observed as the mayor tried to calm down the populace after speaking to one of them. He had called the meeting so that they could discuss the presence of the unwanted Indians in close proximity to their town.
Jeb Rawlings had been the first to speak, shaking his pudgy hands about. He had lamented that he didn’t want the savages overstepping their boundaries and coming into town.
The man had a right to be afraid. He had five young daughters who could be at the mercy of the so-called Indian warriors if they ever decided to attack Stockridge.
After Jeb swore to take his rifle and threaten the Indians if nothing was done about it, things went downhill from there. Everyone started talking at once, and they had been at it for the past ten minutes.
The mayor lifted his hands and waved them to calm the people down.
“Ladies and gentlemen, please.” He struggled to be heard. Then he clapped his hands to get their attention. Gradually, the noise died down. Those who were standing took their seats and eventually silence filled the place.
Mayor Gordon cleared his throat. “I know that tempers are high, but we must not let it control us. If we do, we’re no different from those barbarians.”
“We will never be like them,” someone said angrily.
“Don’t you dare compare us to those savages,” Jeb remarked tautly.
The mayor sighed. “I apologize. My point is that we’re not getting anywhere arguing and stating our grievances to each other.”
“Something needs to be done,” one of the men who owned a ranch on the outskirts of the town spoke up. “We have had increased cases of cattle rustling ever since those Indians settled in the area a few months ago.”
“Same here.” Matthew Raines stood up. “I’ve lost twenty heads of cattle so far. I expect you to find a solution to our problem because if you don’t, we might just take the law into our hands.”
As Matthew sat down, Willy stood up. “I speak for businessmen and women here. Our goods and shipments have been targeted on a scale that we’ve never experienced before. By the time we get to the port, we discover that all or half of our goods are gone because of those barbarians! How do we provide the town with goods for sale if we don’t have any?”
The mayor nodded as the townsfolk stood up, one after the other, to bitterly state their complaints. When the last speaker sat down, Evan wondered if he should say anything. After all, he also owned a ranch straddling the newly established Indian reservation boundary. His gut churned at the knowledge that he was even more at risk of coming in contact with the Indians.
Evan lost his chance to talk when the mayor cleared his throat. The tall, robust man with thick black hair, which was beginning to turn grey at the roots, grimaced.
“I have listened carefully to all of you. I understand your grievances.” He traced his moustache with the tip of his finger. “I assure you that I’m doing something about it. I’m pulling all my political strings to pressure the government into relocating the reservation further west. We can’t have them here. The survival of our town depends on it. If they keep taking our food and materials, we’ll be left with nothing and we’ll starve. And then it would only be a matter of time before they come into town to kill and maim us.”
There was a consensus agreement that he was right. The Indians would overstep their boundaries and try to take their town from them.
Evan nodded in concurrence. In the past, he had heard stories of Indians leaving their reservations to attacks the townsfolk close to them.
“We can’t allow that,” the mayor continued, “I’m going to intensify my efforts in changing the location of their settlement. There are so many places they could settle, I do not understand why the government brought them here.”
The way the mayor’s throat bobbed, and his face reddened, showed how angry he was.
Evan completely shared in Gordon’s feelings. He couldn’t help despising the Indians who would think nothing of massacring a whole town just to get their point across.
It was best if they were removed from the reservation and taken faraway from there for the safety of Stockbridge’s inhabitants.
“I’ll inform you at the next meeting how far I’ve gone with my mission,” he added, looking at them intently.
As frayed nerves were calmed with the assurance that the mayor would do something about it, the men and women decided to discuss other matters arising in Stockridge.
Evan tapped the bridge of his aquiline nose as he listened to the discussion going on around him on how to move their town forward.
Finally, the meeting was over, and everyone began dispersing from the hall. Evan exchanged pleasantries with his patients and asked after their health.
He was about leaving the hall when he was informed by Old Susie Rae that the mayor was trying to get his attention. He halted in his stride and whirled around.
The mayor lifted his hand and smiled at him. “Just a minute, Dr. Thorne.”
Evan nodded and walked slowly to the man who was conversing with Martha Stunton. He couldn’t help overhearing their conversation since the seamstress had her voice raised. She was complaining about materials she had ordered to sew one of her customers’ wedding dresses.
“What am I supposed to do now? Her wedding is around the corner, and it’s going to take weeks for another set of materials to arrive,” she complained tensely.
“Mrs. Stunton, I understand your predicament. I’ll discuss with my wife. She has a horde of materials that you sent to her last month. She has been dillydallying about coming to your shop. So, she might as well offer you the materials to sew the wedding dresses.”
The woman’s face contorted in a frown. “Do you think Ruby will agree to your plan?”
A smile crossed the man’s face. “Tell you what, why don’t I discuss it with her tonight, then she’ll come over to your place tomorrow for further discussion?”
The woman beamed with delight. “That would be wonderful. Thank you, Mayor.”
Evan couldn’t help smiling as he tipped his hat to the woman who brushed past him. Mayor Gordon was a good man who had the people’s interest at heart. Ever since he was elected mayor, he had gone out of his way to see to the needs of the townsfolk. Some find him to be a hard man who didn’t suffer fools gladly, but no one could argue the point that he was a responsible man.
“Dr. Thorne, how have you been?” Mayor Gordon pumped his hand.
Evan’s smile widened. “Very well, sir. And you?”
The man sighed. “As you must have heard, it hasn’t been easy, but the good Lord is helping us.” He smiled. “Why don’t you join me for dinner?”
Evan opened his mouth to refuse but he was forestalled by the mayor. He didn’t like intruding on anyone’s privacy, particularly since he enjoyed keeping to himself.
“You can’t refuse. My wife is going to have my head on a plate if I don’t come home with you.” He laughed. “The invitation is from her.”
Evan let out a low sigh. Put like that, there was no way he could tell the mayor he wouldn’t be able to make it to his manor. He was aware the mayor and his wife would like nothing more than for him to formally express his intention to court their daughter.
Evan groaned inwardly. Not having a choice in the matter of going to the mayor’s house grated on his nerves.
“Very well, then. Thank you, sir,” he replied after a moment’s hesitation.
Gordon clamped Evan on his back good naturedly and let out booming laughter. Together, they walked out of the hall.
The sun formed an orange glow in the sky as they released their tethered horses from the posts in front of the hall.
Evan listened to the mayor as he spoke about the history of the town during their ride to his manor. They exchanged pleasantries with the people they met along the way.
The mayor’s manor was situated toward the end of the bustling town. The tall sprawling white building with a huge chimney could be seen from a distance. The mayor used its surrounding fields to tend to his horses while his wife preserved a beautiful flower garden at the side of the house.
Hardly had they dismounted from their horses for the mayor’s stable boy to take them out back to the stables, when the door was flung open.
Claudia Rhyne, the mayor’s daughter, stood at the threshold, looking as beautiful as ever. Her pale yellow silk dress with lace trimmings complemented the color of her hair. The bright blond tresses were held back together with a clip.
A smile adorned her round face and her blue eyes sparkled with delight.
“Welcome back, Papa,” she called as they walked toward the house, her rosebud lips widening her smile.
“Thank you, my darling.” The mayor placed a kiss on his daughter’s rosy cheek when they reached her.
“Good evening, Dr. Evan,” she announced after she stood aside for her father to enter the house.
Evan smiled. “Good evening, Miss Rhyne. I must say that you look delectable this evening.”
Her cheeks flushed as she beamed with delight. She looped her arm through his and led him through the hallway to the dining room.
“Miss Rhyne sounds so formal. We’ve known each other for a while now. I think you should start calling me by my given name. I’d like to think that we’re friends,” Claudia mentioned with a pout as they entered the thick carpeted dining room.
The long table covered with a grey linen cloth was already laden with food. The delicious aroma and the sight of roasted chicken, mashed potatoes, white rice, beef, and vegetable stew had Evan’s throat watering. Mrs. Rhyne, who Claudia took her beauty from, stood beside the table, smiling broadly. Gordon kissed her cheek.
“Welcome, Dr. Evan. I trust you had a good day,” she questioned when he reached her.
“Good evening, Mrs. Rhyne. I sure did. I hope you did, too,” he said politely with Claudia’s hand still clasped in his.
“I did,” she replied and then looked from Evan to her daughter with a twinkle in her eyes.
Evan helped Claudia with her chair. He sat beside her on the chintz covered chair and saw the approval in the mayor’s eyes.
Evan couldn’t deny that Claudia was strikingly beautiful. She was also intelligent and could carry on a good conversation without getting him bored.
If he were honest, it would be a good match if he married her. It would closely align his interests with the most powerful man in Stockridge.
However, his thoughts flashed back to his wife. It had been two years now since her passing, and he couldn’t deny the bouts of loneliness that besotted him at times. But could he truly ever be happy again?
Life with Lucy had been blissful. Losing her to an undiagnosed illness had torn him apart. He had found it hard to return to taking care of the medical needs of others. Unable to save his own wife when he had saved the lives of countless others had hurt terribly.
He was someone who believed that what was worth doing was worth doing well. He didn’t know if he would be able to commit to Claudia the way he had committed to Lucy, hence his hesitation.
“Is anything wrong, Dr. Evan?” Mrs. Rhyne’s question penetrated Evan’s thoughts.
Flushing because he realized he had been staring at the food Claudia served him, he shook his head.
“No at all, ma’am. I was simply trying to remember the last time I had such a delicious-looking meal.”
A bright smile replaced the frown on her face. Everyone else at the table also smiled.
Evan dug into the food and just as the appearance promised, it was quite tasty. The conversation at the table was light. They cautiously avoided the topic that was on everyone’s lips in town. Talking about the Indians would surely ruin their appetites.
After dinner, Gordon asked Evan to accompany him to his study. Claudia pouted, stating that she had wanted their guest to go for a walk with her.
“Maybe next time,” Evan said to appease the mayor’s frowning daughter.
Evan walked down the hallway with the mayor to a sturdy oaken door. Gordon pushed it open and lighted the place. He had been there before, but the place never failed to catch his admiration.
A large mahogany desk covered one side of the room, overlooking the windows which were above the garden. A dark leather chair stood beside the desk. A huge shelf with a wide range of books covered an entire length of wall.
The thick carpet dug under his feet as he walked to the table and pulled out a chair at the mayor’s instructions. The fragrance of flowers in the garden gave the room a nice smell.
Gordon walked to a side table where a decanter of whiskey and some glasses lay. He poured them each a glass of whiskey before returning to the desk.
“Thank you.” Evan accepted the glass from him and took a sip from the golden liquid.
Gordon settled himself on his chair and looked at Evan keenly. From the way he was staring at him, Evan surmised that he was about to have a very serious discussion with him.
The older man leaned back against the chair and said, “Evan, the time has come for us to have a frank discussion.”
Evan took another sip from his drink to hide his grimace. He was certain that the mayor wanted to talk about Claudia and the possibility of a marriage between them.
After about a minute passed, the mayor declared with a solemn smile, “I need a right-hand man, and I believe you’re the one for the position.”
Evan’s eyes widened. He hadn’t expected the mayor to say that. He took another sip from his drink and waited.
Gordon went on. “You’re well-liked and respected by the powerful and wealthy elites in this town. You’ll come in handy in dealing with them and other folks.”
Evan didn’t know what to say to that. Yes, he had worked really hard to be accepted by Stockridge’s influential people. He was pleased that his hard work wasn’t in vain.
Thank You, Lord, for blessing the works of my hand.
Gordon’s features suddenly became very solemn. “If you’re going to be like my deputy, I must let you in on a secret.”
Evan wondered at the motive behind the mayor telling him something confidential when he hadn’t yet agreed to be his right hand man. Was he trying to use it to coerce him into agreeing?
“Forget about what you heard this evening in the meeting.” He leaned back against his chair and sighed. “The truth is that talks with the government have stalled. Officials are digging their heels in for the reservation to stay.”
It took Evan’s training as a doctor not to show his emotions. He remembered how eloquently the mayor spoke to the townsfolk only a short while ago. They had all believed him as he renewed their hope in his prowess as their representative. But now, he was saying that it was mere talk?
Gordon smiled sardonically and carried on. “All you need to know for now is that the rustlings and attacks aren’t quite what they seem.”
What does that mean?
Before he could ask, Gordon rose and took their glasses to the side table. Even though Evan hadn’t finished his drink yet, Gordon poured them another drink.
“Tonight is about securing your full support,” he said as he returned to the table and gave Evan his glass. “I need someone I can rely on to handle things for me. I see you as that person and I hope I can get your complete cooperation.”
Cooperation for what? Does he mean that I’ll have to address the community in his stead whenever he’s out of town?
“When you say right-hand man, what do you mean?” Evan asked to make sure he and the mayor were on the same page.
Mayor Rhyne smiled. “It entails a lot of things, Evan. All I’ll say for now it that you’ll closely work with me on a lot of matters pertaining to our community.”
Evan was torn at first, given the fact that the man just told him news contrary to what he said in the meeting. But then he reckoned he would always get firsthand information from the mayor that would be highly needed in his profession. After all, he also owned a ranch.
Besides, he had a deep seated indignation against the Indians. He had been praying for a change of heart. As a Christian, it was wrong of him to harbor hatred in his heart.
Love your enemies, his bible told him. But it was easier said than done. How could he love people who wouldn’t think twice in placing bullets in his body?
Evan pulled his thoughts together as he realized that the mayor was waiting for his response.
“You have my absolute cooperation, Mayor Rhyne” Evan said with a small smile on his face.
Gordon nodded appreciatively. “Let’s not stand on formalities any longer, Evan. Simple Gordon would do.”
His expression lightened as he gave the doctor a knowing look. “Besides, my wife and I are very fond of you.” He shook his head. “Losing your wife so suddenly two years ago was a big shock to us all.”
Evan lowered his eyes. He wished the mayor wouldn’t talk about it. Although his mourning period was over, it was still a difficult subject for him.
He would never forget the day Lucy gave up the ghost in his arms. He had wept like a baby that day, wishing he could go with her to get away from the deep pain her passing caused.
Anger had replaced his misery hours later. Lucy hadn’t deserved to die helping the poor. She had been helping humanity and not herself. So, he had felt it was gravely unfair for her to be taken from him.
For a while, he had been furious with God for his wife dying. But after the priest talked to him to accept God’s will no matter how painful, he had begun to heal.
The mayor sighed ruefully. “It was just a tragic irony that her compassion for the poor was what cut her life short after she’d fallen ill working with the town’s downtrodden. It was quite saddening for us that she died so soon when she had a lot to offer those poor souls.”
Pain racked through Evan as he shifted uncomfortably in his chair. He didn’t like it being reminded of the fact that Lucy had given her life to the poor in Stockridge. She had chosen to work for the poverty-ridden townsfolk and her reward was death. But he had learned to deal with it, even though it still hurt.
“It came as a huge shock to me,” Evan inserted coolly. “I still find it hard to believe sometimes that she’s gone.”
The man shook his head. “I can only imagine. I believe she was called to serve the poor. But you, on the other hand, have so much to offer this town. Why, you have a good clientele already among the wealthy which I see as wise. We need you in this town and working for the downtrodden might not make that possible. It might sound selfish, but we don’t want you going the way of your wife, God bless her kind soul.”
Evan remained silent, hoping Gordon would get the message and stop talking about his late wife.
Gordon carried on, “I’d like nothing more than to see you moving on with your life again.” He grinned wryly and said, “You do know that Claudia is also very fond of you, don’t you?” He forestalled Evan’s reply and went on. “What better way to seal our new alliance than with a marriage to my daughter?”
Evan didn’t know what to say. He had expected it, but he had hoped that the conversation wouldn’t go in that direction.
Gordon wasn’t done with his talk. “Who wouldn’t want you for a son-in-law? You’re not only one of the most eligible bachelors in town; like I mentioned earlier, you’re well regarded by the townsfolk. You’re a leader in the community whose opinions are well respected and whose reputation is unsoiled by scandal. What say you about it?”
Evan was quite flattered by the man’s praise. However, he didn’t want to be cajoled into giving his consent when he hadn’t thought thoroughly about it.
Granted, the thought of marrying Claudia had flitted in and out of his mind every now and again. But he wanted it to be his decision.
“I’ll have to think about it and get back to you on it, Mayor—I mean Gordon.”
The man’s smile broadened. “Very well then. Take your time.”
Evan took his leave shortly after that. He had to promise Claudia that he would come again for dinner during the week before she allowed him to leave.
Evan just shut the door behind him when he accidentally ran into a rough looking man. The bearded man with a thick scar at his throat gave him a menacing stare and a snarl.
“Watch where you’re walking, doc.”
Evan hadn’t seen the man around town before and wondered how he got to know him.
“I beg your pardon,” Evan said quietly.
The man brushed past him and knocked on the door.
Evan walked down the lush lawn wondering what a brash man of his type had to do with the mayor. Why would Gordon consult with such an uncultured fellow?
Shrugging, Evan told himself that it was none of his business who the mayor chose to meet with. Possibly, the rough man must have seen him going about town visiting his patients, hence the recognition.
He climbed his horse that Gordon’s stable lad had been told to bring out to the front and put the incident out of his mind.
The thought of marrying Claudia stayed with him as he rode to his cottage. Was he ready to head to the altar a second time?
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