She is a governess out of convenience. He is a detached rancher. How can they protect their unexpected family, with God as their guide, when darkness is approaching?
Karen is a sensitive young woman who has met the bitter side of love. When a man breaks her heart, and she discovers a governess position in the West, she seizes the opportunity to start anew. The family she encounters there desperately needs her. Meeting the child’s step-father will inspire her to believe again that good things happen. How can she show him that love is not supposed to hurt but it is a blessing by God?
Karl is a stubborn rancher who has long lost his way from God. A feud with his brother and a baby on his doorstep will only add to his struggles with the ranch. When sweet Karen responds to his governess ad, his world changes for good. He starts feeling as if he could be both a sweet father to the baby and a loyal husband to Karen. How can he redirect his heart to God’s will when struggles to accept His guidance?
Karen and Karl will face their deepest scars for their love to grow. When a menacing man arrives in town demanding the child’s inheritance, they should ask God for guidance. However, how can they really do so when His Light is just so difficult to touch?
Karen Sinclair arrived at work that morning feeling chipper. She had been waiting for this day for months and it was finally happening. Their small-town library was one of the last in their area to convert to the new Dewey Decimal Classification System, and it couldn’t come a minute too soon for Karen.
She had awoken earlier than usual and affixed her long, wavy blonde hair into a tight bun atop her head. It made her heart-shaped face look more severe than she cared for, but she planned on being quite busy. There would be no time for sweat and hair getting in her way. The shelves had been emptied the weekend before and she’d left her hair down, a mistake she would not make again.
Now, Karen stood just inside the library door, waiting for the large grandfather clock against the far wall to signal opening time. But she had lost all her nervous energy and excitement for the coming day. Moments earlier, the newsboy, Charlie, had handed her the day’s Gazette, and she couldn’t think.
USS HURON SINKS OFF NAGS HEAD!
Karen read the headline many times, unable to breathe. Though Asheville was far from the coast, it was still close enough for some of the town’s young men to have gone to port in search of work. She wondered if any had been part of the rescue effort and prayed quietly for their families.
Worse, still, were the families of the ninety-eight men who had gone down with the ship. Several of her classmates had joined the Navy after graduation, and she spent most of the day worrying that they were among the dead. She had searched the article for a list, but it only said it was too soon to tell. The wreck had occurred two days before and the information was still classified. Families were still being notified.
Karen didn’t remember her mother’s death. She had been but a baby when it had happened. But the news of the sinking brought back all the memories of her life as a motherless child. Her brothers were old enough to know, back then, that their lives would be horribly changed from that day on.
And her poor father had never recovered from his grief. But there were days when she envied them the chance they’d had to know her. Days like this made Karen wonder who had the worst of it—her with no memories at all, or them with memories that caused them pain.
Her thoughts turned to her poor father. He had only spoken of her mother’s death a few times in her twenty-two years, and with such grief. When she had grown old enough to notice the tears glistening in those pale blue eyes—older, sadder versions of her own—she had stopped asking about her mother. With the newspaper still in her hand, she couldn’t help thinking what he must have felt that day when the doctor told him the fever would take her. Nothing could be done.
Karen blinked and took a deep, calming breath. She had too much work to do to let herself fall into a well of despair. She pulled the ring of keys from her dress pocket and unlocked the door. She was three minutes early, but she needed the distraction.
The usual patrons filed in. Old Mrs. Carrington had a stack of cookbooks wrapped in her shawl. She used them to pass off recipes as her own, which everyone knew but never mentioned. Behind her were the group of children from the primary school.
Karen was tasked with teaching them the Dewey Decimal System so they would carry it with them through their lives. She had pushed for the chance, figuring if she caught them early it would make everyone’s lives easier, theirs and hers as their librarian.
But now, as she placed the Gazette over the front desk and welcomed them in, her sour mood made their wide, expressive faces fill her heart with sorrow. She so longed for children of her own, a chance to be a mother when she hadn’t grown up with one of her own.
She shook her head and admonished herself for the dark thoughts. She had let the news of the wreck put a cloud over her, and the children deserved better. When the children had all lined up along the rows of empty shelves, Karen vowed to give them the best instruction possible.
This was the day she had been waiting for, she reminded herself. But, try as she might, she couldn’t tear her eyes or her heart from the awful headline.
Karl Easley woke with a start to the sound of a loud knock. At first, he thought he’d imagined the noise. Maybe it had been part of his dream. He told himself to roll over and go back to sleep, but something kept eating away at him. Some alarm in that primal part of his brain wouldn’t let the sound go. When the cattle started to rustle and snort outside his open window, he could ignore it no more.
Through one half-opened and hazel-brown eye, he saw that it was still dark outside. His whole body felt like it had just laid down, and every inch of him protested as he climbed out of bed and quickly threw on his jeans. By the time he grabbed his hat—white and extra large-brimmed to shelter against the unforgiving Texas sun—the animals were quite upset. On top of the braying horses and cows rutting against the fence posts, he could have sworn he heard the cry of something smaller.
If another of Mr. Mackey’s feral cats had gotten itself caught in his chicken wire again, he was going to have a talk with the old man. His father had felt sorry for the widower, and part of Karl did, too, but there was only so much one man could take. His father’s death had changed everything, including what would and wouldn’t be allowed to happen on his ranch.
He stormed out of the house, letting the back door bang behind him. If he had to be up hours before the sun, so did everyone else. It would do his brother, Byron, some good to see what a real honest day’s work felt like. Following the sound of the commotion, Karl heard the faint cry again. It was coming from the front of the house.
He inched slowly along the far side of the house, cursing himself for not bringing his rifle. He didn’t think his trespasser was dangerous; it wasn’t that sort of prickle at the back of his neck, but one never could be too careful.
When he turned the corner, the chickens squawked and flapped their wings as if trying to escape. He never should have let Bryon talk him into moving their pen so close to the ranch house, but they had needed the space in back to grow more crops.
If they were going to pull through this winter, their first since their father’s passing, they needed to maximize the space. Much good that did him right now, he thought as he stalked toward the chicken coop.
Before he could get far, there was another faint cry behind him. He spun around and, now that his eyes had adjusted to the twilight, noticed a wicker basket on the front porch. Karl froze for a split second, shocked that someone had gotten close enough to his home to leave a basket at his doorstep.
He felt like a failure. It was his responsibility to care for the family farm and his poor widowed mother. How had he allowed such a brazen breach of his property’s defenses?
When the basket moved, accompanied by another mewling cry, Karl begged God for it to still be a kitten. He inched closer and peered into the basket, covering his mouth to stifle his own cry.
It was a baby.
Karl spun around and scanned the dark expanse of his property, but there was no sign of movement. Even the animals had begun to settle down after their fright. Whoever had left the baby was gone now. He turned back to the chubby thing in a fancy red dress and frowned. What in the world would he do with a baby? He couldn’t keep it, not with everything going on right now.
He paced the porch, muttering to himself, recounting all the reasons it was a terrible idea to pick up the baby girl and bring her inside. This was their first year planting much of the back field. It would take up all his free time, and then some. He had even been planning to hire some farmhands, though God knew where he was supposed to find the money for it.
He and Byron were still at loggerheads as to how best grow their ranching operation after their father’s sudden death. Not to mention caring for his aging mother, who thought she could carry on as she once had but wasn’t as physically or mentally strong as she believed.
All of these things and so many more were swirling around in Karl’s head when the door banged shut behind him and his mother gasped.
“Pick her up!” she cried, along with the baby, who had apparently started screaming. Karl had been so lost in his own worries he hadn’t noticed.
As his mother bent to soothe the baby, his brother, Byron, sifted through the remaining contents of the wicker basket.
His mother, Sue, rocked the baby girl and whispered loving words into her ear. It took some doing, but eventually the red-faced baby’s wails shuddered to a stop. “Let’s get you inside, sweetie.”
There was no time to protest, or to tell his mother all the reasons he’d just come up with to not take this baby into his house. She was gone before he opened his mouth.
Karl took one more look around, hoping to see something that would get him out of this mess. When he resigned himself to the fact that there was still no movement on the property, he lowered his head and followed his mother and brother inside the house—and to this new baby girl that was now his problem.
July 22, 1879
Karen sat in the far corner of the library, pretending to read a fresh copy of Land of the Sky by Christian Reid. She had read the book several times already, making it easy for her to stare at the page and the front door at the same time. Her lunch break was almost over and her nerves made actually reading the words on the page difficult.
Then, just as she was about to give up, the door flung open and butterflies fluttered in her stomach—the same heady feeling ever since their chance meeting weeks ago.
Dr. Daniel Coulter had struck up a conversation with her father after church service one Sunday, and Karen had fallen for him instantly. It wasn’t just his looks, although what girl wouldn’t have melted when he turned that handsome smile and deep brown eyes her way? What really sent Karen’s heart soaring was their shared love of books.
Ever since that fateful day, Daniel had spent almost every lunch break with her at the library where she worked. They talked of everything from their favorite books to politics and education. He showed a genuine interest in her opinion, not just her looks, which stirred feelings in Karen she’d never experienced before.
“So sorry I’m late,” he said, striding over to her table as if he owned the library and the whole town. He didn’t wear a hat like most men in Asheville, though Karen only really knew what other ranchers wore on a daily basis. Daniel always looked heavenly, with his neat and tidy suit and jacket and his light brown hair trimmed to above the ears.
Karen wondered, not for the first time, if everything in Daniel’s life came to easy to him. Even now, with only minutes left on her lunch break and nothing to show for it, she could only smile up at him as he sat beside her and say, “Don’t worry about it. How was your day?”
Daniel sighed. “I spent the whole morning setting broken bones and sewing wounds back up. You’d think people around here would take better care of themselves.”
She smiled wider and nodded, though in her heart she knew the dangers of living on a farm. She’d found herself in many situations that could have turned dangerous on a hair, but she never contradicted him on this point. His life had been so different from hers and, if she was honest with herself, it sometimes made her feel as if she had to prove her worth even more.
“How’s library life?” he asked when she had gone quiet with her thoughts.
“Oh, you know, not much happening today. I saw Mrs. Carrington sneaking in with three cookbooks this time.” She chuckled. The woman’s famous apple pie recipe had become an inside joke after she’d nearly dropped one of her secret cookbooks on Daniel’s toes the first day he’d come to visit Karen.
“One of these days I’m going to ask for her recipe,” he joked.
They both laughed and all the tension of waiting for him vanished. She wanted so dearly to invite him home to the ranch for lunch after Sunday service or on a rare day he could get away from his clinic. But it wasn’t her place to do so. For one, she could never have been so bold. Also, her father had been given many chances to extend an invitation since their first meeting and he hadn’t.
She didn’t know if her father was being overprotective, or if he noticed the furtive glances Daniel slipped her at times while talking to him. Either way, they were left with only these brief meetings, in public, to get to know each other better.
Daniel reached across the table and his arm brushed against hers. Fire immediately ignited in Karen’s stomach and she felt it rising through her body to rest on her cheeks.
“Sorry, I was looking at this,” he said, holding up her copy of Land of the Sky with a wry smile.
“Yes, of course.” It was what she wanted him to do. She had picked that as their next book because of the flirting that went on between the main characters.
“Have you read it?” Daniel asked, tapping the cover.
“A long time ago. I barely remember it, but I do remember it was good,” she lied.
Across the room, her boss, Mrs. Ferguson, stared at the clock then looked to Karen pointedly. When she fidgeted in her seat, Daniel noticed and glanced at the clock, too.
“Well, I can’t wait to get started.” He frowned and stood. “I’m so sorry I can’t stay. I promise to make it up to you next time. Tomorrow I’ll be in surgery, but how about Thursday?”
Karen wanted to throw something at that clock. Instead, she smiled demurely at Daniel and said, “That would be lovely.”
The rest of the day, while she muddled through reshelving books and laying out the newspapers for the archive, her mind wandered to Daniel and nothing but. She wished she could tell her father about his visits to see her in the library. Surely it meant he was interested in her. Why else would he have made such an effort to see her so regularly?
But until her father warmed to the idea of him as a proper suitor, Karen could not breathe a word of their pre-courting to him. She knew it would be futile to express her interest in Daniel before then.
How on Earth could her father disapprove of a man who showered her with such attention and affection? One who made her feel things she’d never thought possible? And a doctor, no less?
Yes, Daniel was the answer to her prayers. Karen thanked God, as she had after every one of their brief meetings, for delivering such a handsome, kind, and worldly man as Dr. Daniel Coulter into her life. God had plucked the perfect man out of the ether and laid him down at Karen’s feet, and she couldn’t imagine her life without him. All she had to do now was convince her father that he was the right man for her, and everything would be wonderful.
That evening, when she locked up the library and headed down the main road, full lunch bucket in hand, Karen daydreamed about finally having the loving husband and family she’d always wanted.
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