She’s a bride with no hope for the future. He’s a rancher with no faith in God. How can they heal their broken hearts through God’s calling?
“Then came Peter to him, and said, Lord, how oft shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? till seven times? Jesus saith unto him, I say not unto thee, Until seven times: but, Until seventy times seven.” – Matthew 18:21-22
Annie cannot take anymore her foster father’s abuse. On her birthday, she decides to flee West and become a mail-order bride with the help of her best friend. Living with a stranger though, a rancher that is extremely unwilling to talk with her is the biggest challenge she has ever encountered. How can she trust again a man’s presence and let her heart open to God’s will?
After losing his family, Will decides to live as a hermit and isolate himself from God. To satisfy his father’s last wish, he decides to put himself in a marriage of convenience, determined to keep his heart shielded forever especially from women. Meeting Annie though will slowly change his mind. When he also finds his lost family, he sees God’s plan for the first time. How can he listen to His calling to give love and get more in return?
Annie and Will must confront their fear of connecting with someone else to be truly together. When God shines His Light onto them, will they listen? Or will they get lost in a sea of lies and broken hearts?
Sixteen-year-old Annie Selby sat up on her haunches, stretching her lower back for a moment. She raised her hand and wiped away the sweat gathering on her brow. She brushed away the short, brunette curls that framed her face, once again mourning the loss of her long braids at the hands of her cruel foster father. Her eyes roved the room, taking in the sunlight as it touched the dingy space around her.
The tiny apartment she shared with her foster father had once been a cozy haven. Her foster mother had worked so hard to make it a happy home. Now, it was a broken-down specter of its former glory. The yellow-flowered wallpaper was peeling from the ceiling down, thanks to the wet climate of the seaport home. The floorboards were stained from her foster father’s many instances of being sick from too much drink, as well as his dragging in mud and oil on his boots from his former job at the docks.
The ceiling constantly dripped, and the tenants above them were a constant source of yelling and noise. They barely noticed her father’s nightly tirades about what a failure she was, how she did not measure up to her mother’s standards. Now that Mama was dead, there was no one to protect her.
No matter how hard Annie scrubbed and scoured, she would never get the feeling of loss they had both suffered out of its walls. But Annie could not dwell on that now. She had work to do.
Even in the early morning shadows, she was growing warm. She rolled her long sleeves up over her elbows and let out a long, tired sigh. Looking down at the scrub brush in her hands, she wondered if her life would always be this way. The endless chores and demands of her foster father were becoming unbearable.
Sniffing, she tried to muster the motivation to continue. She leaned forward on her hands and knees, dipping the scrub brush into the sudsy water. The familiar swoosh of the bristles against the wooden floorboards brought her some measure of comfort. But things never seemed to be clean enough for her foster father. Of course, he did most of the messing with his constant string of drunken late nights. It was a wonder she was able to clean at all.
I never wanted you. The memory of her father’s voice rang out in her mind, a continual reminder that she was an orphan. It was her foster mother who had really loved her. While her father’s rejection had been cloaked when her mother was alive, she had always felt his disappointment in her. And when her mother had passed away a few months ago, all love and affection had disappeared from her life. Will I ever find love again? she wondered. To be a part of a true family was her greatest wish.
When she heard crates crashing down in the alley outside the door, she scrubbed all the harder. Heart racing, she kept her head down as her foster father burst through the door, nearly flipping over the kitchen table.
“Stupid girl! Get this table out of my way!” he slurred harshly. His glazed eyes roamed the room, as if looking for the dog, so he could give it a swift kick. But they didn’t have a dog anymore, and she feared she was the next best thing. His long, salt-and-pepper beard was covered in beer right below his bottom lip. His shock of unkept graying black hair was standing straight up on the left side, as if he had fallen asleep at the bar. Over his dirty overalls, he scratched his protruding belly and gave a loud belch.
Annie scurried out of the way as he stumbled over to the sitting area. Most of the furniture was broken or bore the marks of his rage. He had been so angry with her during one of his drunken escapades that he’d thrown a chair at her from across the room. Thankfully she had ducked out of the way and fled the house, refusing to return until he had slept off his stupor. Father scared her more than she had words to describe, but showing it only made his tirades worse. She had learned to mask it as best she could.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Selby. I’ll move the table right away,” she said, trying to keep the peace. Its legs scraped against the floor as she pushed it toward the wall.
“No, don’t do it now, girl. I’m already in, and you’re making a terrible racket. Just get back to your chores,” he said, sinking down into a not-so-plush chair that had started losing its stuffing ages ago. Annie nodded silently and went back down on her hands and knees, trying to scrub as quietly as possible so as not to disturb him. Her hands shook with terror with every swipe of the brush. Maybe he would fall asleep, and she could escape to the market.
Lord, why do you keep me here? She prayed silently, sniffing back tears. Her eyes caught on her bruised wrist, now purple and green as it started to heal. He doesn’t want me–he never wanted me. Why do you not deliver me from his hands?
His hands. Annie shuddered at the thought of her foster father’s bear-like mitts. They had been gentle for the most part when her foster mother was alive. He had treated her mother well, even though he did come home drunk sometimes. Back then, he’d had Mama to bail him out of jail when he got into trouble at the bar. And for some reason, her mother always forgave him. Of course, he would fall at her feet and beg for forgiveness when he had come to his senses the next morning. His promises to change would last for months at a time before something at work would send him over the edge again. But at least Annie’s life had been tolerable with Mama acting as a buffer. Her demise had brought out the monster in Mr. Selby until Annie wondered if there had ever been any good in him that her mother had not put there.
All of a sudden, he sat up and lumbered over to her. Annie winced, preparing for the blow. But it never came. “You are a waste! Can’t you do anything right?” he yelled. Annie held her hands up, trying to shield her face from his fury. Spittle escaped his mouth with each word, landing on her face. She deftly wiped it away and lowered her gaze to the floor.
“I’m sorry, Father. Tell me what you want from me, and I will do it.”
He glared down at her for several seconds. “I told you never to call me that,” he said through clenched teeth, his tone low and menacing. His gravelly, slurred voice sent a shiver of dread through her. What would he do to her as retribution for her slip of the tongue?
“I’m sorry, Mr. Selby. It won’t happen again.” She cowered as he moved past her and went to the sink, filling a tin cup with water at their kitchen pump. She had called him “Father” when Mama was alive, but of course, he hated to hear it now that she was gone. Annie frequently had to remind herself to break the habit.
He ignored her, taking a swig. He then sneered at her, sending the cup careening to the floor at her feet. It made a loud bang as it skipped several times and landed on its side under the table. Cold water splashed up on her skirts, drenching her threadbare stockings. He sneered at her and went back to the sitting area before collapsing into the chair once more. “That cup was dirty,” he said, even though Annie knew it wasn’t. He ordered her to wash it and bring him a fresh cup of water with a snap of his finger.
Annie did as she was told, fighting tears as she scrubbed at the washbasin. Why had God seen fit to make her an orphan? Her mother had always said that most people just have children and are stuck with what they get, but she chose Annie. It was not that her parents were dead. Oh, no. They could be anywhere. No, her parents had abandoned her, leaving her on the steps of the church when she was just three days old. The reverend had taken her in, but he had been in no position to care for her. He had a wife and infant daughter of his own, and he had been dealing with health issues.
So, he had appealed to his congregation, asking for anyone who might have room in their homes and hearts for a precious babe. Mrs. Selby had jumped at the chance, but Mr. Selby had been wary. He had always hoped for a child of his own blood, but Mrs. Selby had never been able to get with child.
“God gave me you, Annie. You are my daughter, if not in blood, then in spirit.” Her foster mother had wanted to formally adopt her, but Father—Mr. Selby—had never allowed it. For all these years, he had held onto the hope that his wife would bear him a child. She never had.
Now Mama was gone. Annie let out a soft gasp as her heart constricted with grief. Mama had left this earth only a few months ago, leaving her utterly alone with her cruel foster father. At least Annie had her faith in God to lean on. God was her true father, after all, and she took comfort in knowing that He would never leave her or forsake her.
“What is taking so long?” Mr. Selby bellowed. His gruff voice brought Annie back to the present, and she hurried to fill the cup once more. He groaned, holding a hand over his eyes as she hurried over to him with the water.
She handed the cup to him carefully, to ensure that he did not slosh it on himself until she was well away. But before she could move, he grabbed her wrist, twisting it painfully. She cried out in pain and surprise but quickly bit her tongue. Peering up into her face, he gave her a look of disgust. “You’re an ugly little thing, aren’t you? Your eyes are too bright, too blue. And why’d you cut your hair like that? You look like a boy.” He thrust her away from him and slurped at the water noisily. Water dribbled over his lips and into his beard. He scowled at the vessel as if he had been expecting it to be alcohol instead of water.
Mr. Selby slammed the cup down on a side table, sloshing the water out onto the surface. Annie eyed the little three-legged table with trepidation. She’d had to prop it up with books to keep it upright.
Annie fingered the ends of her hair. Mr. Selby should know why she looked like a boy. He had come home a few nights before and chopped it all off, sawing the ends of her lovely braids with a kitchen knife. He had done it just to be spiteful, out of his mind with drink. But it would do no good to remind him of the incident. She only went back to scrubbing the floors.
“Sad excuse for a daughter…” he mumbled to himself. “No real child of mine would be so lazy.”
Annie glanced over her shoulder at his sleepy face, his eyelids drooping as he succumbed to the effects of alcohol. Annie turned back around and scrubbed. Perhaps if she could get the house spick and span before he awakened, he would not beat her tonight. Maybe.
“Elsie’d be so disappointed in you if she were still alive,” he continued. “Tried to tell her that taking in an orphaned waif like you was a mistake.”
Annie closed her eyes as if that alone would keep his barbed words from sinking deeper and deeper into her tender heart. But her heart was raw from the years of veiled rejection from him. The open disgust he displayed for her now that his wife was gone was salt in the wound.
Standing, she brushed off her damp skirts and plopped the scrub brush into the bucket. “I need to dump the water,” she mumbled. But he was already nodding off. She headed for the door, hoping for a few moments of solace. Perhaps if she left him alone for a few minutes, he would fall asleep.
Annie glanced over her shoulder before slipping through the door and into the alley. Mr. Selby was dozing, oblivious to her exit. Once outside, she breathed a sigh of relief. Mr. Selby had taken her life, even her hair, and there was no way for her to change any of it. That is, unless she escaped. But how was she, a sixteen-year-old girl, supposed to do that? She dumped the bucket of mud-brown water out on the cobblestones opposite their door, retrieving the scrub brush from the stones. She set the bucket and brush next to the door and started toward the bustling street. People were on their way to the market or the docks, making this street one of the noisiest. Seagulls screeched overhead and thousands of voices mingled together in the familiar din. The noise somehow gave her comfort, knowing that Mr. Selby would not search her out here to cause her more bodily harm.
Brushing her hair away from her face, she turned her heart to the Lord. He was all she had now. When Mama had been alive, they had gone to church every week. Annie had grown up with Judy, the reverend’s daughter, and they had become fast friends over the years. But now Mr. Selby kept her locked away, far from Judy and her mother. The reverend had long since passed, but Judy and her mother had always been kind to Annie.
When she came to the end of the alley, Annie leaned against the corner to watch the carts and wagons pass by. The street was a cacophony of sights and sounds. Tradesmen yelled to each other, and women chatted as they made their way to the market. Dogs barked, running alongside filthy children in rags. Pickpockets were in high supply in this part of the city. Lord, I don’t mean to complain, but I am sick to death of this place. I know things could be worse, but I want room to breathe—to be free. Visions of a little cottage in the countryside came flooding to the forefront of her mind. Her dream was to save enough money someday to purchase a modest home, with vines climbing up and around the front door. There would be chickens pecking in the yard and a garden filled with fresh vegetables. No matter what, there would be plenty of good food to eat and a warm place to sleep. And most importantly, there would be no Mr. Selby. And perhaps, someday, she would have the family she had always been denied. A family with a husband who cared for her and children to bring joy and laughter into their home.
Wagon wheels creaked and clanked as they traveled over the uneven cobblestones. The teeming city of Bridgeport, Connecticut, had been her home all her life. She had often dreamt of leaving the stinking seaport city. Still, she wondered if she would actually have the courage to flee if the opportunity ever presented itself. She wrapped her arms around her slim waist. She could feel her ribs poking through her thin dress. Months of mistreatment had made her leery of eating. Not that there was much food to be had since Mr. Selby had been fired from his job at the docks.
Taking in a deep breath, she rested her head against the brick tenement building and sighed. She closed her eyes and sent a silent prayer to Heaven. Please get me out of here, Lord. Give me a way of escape.
The Colorado Territory
Will Healey came over the rise separating him from his ranch and sighed. Had it really been four years since he had turned his back on his father and left his boyhood home? It felt like an eternity. Will took off his limp hat, ruined from two years in the gold camps of southwest Colorado. He brushed his long-sleeve shirt over his forehead, mopping up the sweat. The summers here in the Colorado mountains were Heaven compared to the heat of the South, where he’d been most recently. Even so, he was proud of what he had accomplished. His leather pouch was now filled with gold, enough to keep him and his father in relative comfort. Enough to fix up their rundown ranch and start fresh.
The work on the rivers of southwest Colorado had been backbreaking. And there had been little to show for it when he first started panning for gold in 1862. But a few months later, he had hit it rich, extracting enough gold to set him up in his dream of turning their horse-breeding ranch into a going concern once more. He had been planning to expand his gold panning operation when the relations with the Ute Indians had dissolved into chaos. Most everyone had been driven out, all except the bravest souls. Or had they simply had a death wish, crazed by gold fever?
Memories of the raids flashed through Will’s mind. After running for his life and losing all his gold panning tools, he had called it quits. What use would more money be if he ended up with a hatchet buried in his chest? He had taken his little pouch of gold and set out as fast as he could.
Will sighed again, his heart thudding dully in his chest. “Well, boy, I guess this is it.” He patted the chestnut-colored quarter horse on its neck. He looked out over the valley before him, taking in the ranch below. The ranch house was situated on the edge of an incline that led down to the river on his left. The familiar sound of the water crashing over the rocks had acted like a magnet, drawing him home. To the right of the house was a small corral, and behind that, the bunkhouse. There was another bigger corral behind the bunkhouse and another behind the house. But they were all empty now, and this filled Will with regret and longing. Obviously, his father’s situation had not improved while he had been gone. Guilt washed over him as he nudged his horse forward, heading down the shallow incline of the rocky road.
Over the years that followed his gold mining days, he’d struggled to live. He had roamed the country, taking work as a ranch hand where people would take him and working in the large cities during the winter. He did his best to steer clear of anywhere he might be drafted into the service. He had no desire to take sides in the war that was tearing the country apart.
When the war finally ended, he had ventured further east. The stark differences between the devastation in the South and the prosperity of the North made his blood boil. While he disagreed with slavery, the North had totally decimated the South by burning their lands and driving people from their homes. As he traveled through the South, he had helped many farmers reduced to rags rebuild their lives on plantations that had neither the manpower nor the resources to sustain them. He often wondered why they stayed.
He had also seen and helped dozens of formerly enslaved people without resources of any kind, just trying to survive. Even in the North, their situations were dire. Every time he closed his eyes, he remembered the tortured faces of the children. And while they were technically free, they still were not equal.
Will patted the horse’s neck once more, clicking his tongue against his teeth to start him moving down the hill. “Come on, Jefferson Davis. We’re almost home,” Will said. The wind whipped at Jefferson’s mane and sent chills running up Will’s spine. The horse had been a gift from one of the families he had helped down South. When he first took Jefferson, the horse was half-starved, with great dry patches and sores all over his body. Will had not been sure if Jefferson would survive at the time, but adequate food and water had eventually restored him to health. And with his knowledge of horses, Will had been able to cure the sores as well, returning the stallion’s coat to silky softness.
After months of wandering the South, he had decided to come home. He had seen enough of war and destruction, longing for a safe haven. Yes, he and his father didn’t see eye to eye on everything. They had seemed to butt heads ever since his mother had left, and he knew it was mostly his fault. But he could make things right.
Will put his hat back on his head, spurring Jefferson into a gallop as they neared the archway that led into the ranch. The house was nestled in a basin, with hills spreading up and out in all directions. The snow-capped Colorado mountains called to him, and Will kept back the tears with difficulty.
He reined in Jefferson, looking around the ranch with shock. It was even more rundown than he remembered. The grass had grown up around the corrals and barns, with weeds taking over the once beautiful spread. The ranch house looked worst of all, with fallen branches scattered over the roof. Vast patches of shingles were missing, no doubt adding to the dilapidation on the inside. And there was nary a horse in sight. “What’s happened?” Will breathed.
“Who’s there?!” Came a shout from the main stable. Will swung around, placing a hand on his holster just in case he had to defend himself. But he soon relaxed, recognizing his father’s foreman, Jeff Dungey. Will’s face broke out in a smile as memories flooded his mind of all the good times he, Mr. Dungey, and his father had enjoyed. But that was a long time ago, when the ranch was at its prime. The place had been a bustling hive of activity, with horses everywhere and ranch hands making it all run like clockwork. “Mr. Dungey, hey. It’s me, Will.”
Will took a tentative step forward, waiting for Mr. Dungey to recognize him.
Mr. Dungey’s face dissolved into a sad smile, and he put his shotgun down, leaning it against the side of the barn. “Will,” he said in a breathy tone. “We thought you’d died.” He choked, hesitating.
Will extended his hand for him to shake, but Mr. Dungey pulled him in for a bear hug instead, clapping his back affectionately. That was Mr. Dungey. He had never met a stranger and had always treated Will like a son.
“Not dead yet, old friend!” Will said. He kept an arm around Mr. Dungey’s shoulder while he turned and looked around the farm again. “Place has seen better days.”
“Yeah, well, the army came and commandeered the rest of the horses for the war. Promised to pay us back when everything was over, but you know how the government is. Make big promises that they rarely keep,” Mr. Dungey said in a bitter tone. He looked tired, almost as rundown as the farm was. “Most of the hands left after that, too, with no horses left. It’s been a hard couple of years.”
“Where’s Pa?” Will asked. He’d expected his father to come out and greet him by now.
Mr. Dungey glanced toward the house, and Will started moving that way. “Is he inside? Isn’t like him to lounge the day away. Pa!” he yelled. Without waiting for a reply from Mr. Dungey, he hurried toward the house, bounded up the porch steps and burst into the main room. “Pa! Pa?!”
“As I live and breathe,” came a voice from behind him. Will turned to see Elaine Prewitt turn around at her place at the stove. Her graying brown hair was pulled back into a tight bun at the nape of her neck. A short woman of over fifty years of age, she was still robust. One had to be in this neck of the woods. She had been at the ranch almost as long as he had. Her husband had been killed only a few short months after they had been married, leaving her stranded in Oakbourne all alone. His parents had given her a job, exchanging food and a place to sleep for her helping his mother around the house. After Will’s mother had abandoned them, Mrs. Prewitt had been a mother to him.
Will closed his eyes, willing himself to push the familiar anger away. Mrs. Prewitt didn’t deserve it. He leaned back, smiling down into her kind, gray eyes. Alarm struck him once more, for her eyes were filled with tears.
She looked as if she had seen a ghost. She was standing there like Lot’s wife from the Bible—turned into a pillar of salt. “Is that you, Will Healey?”
“Yes, ma’am, it is.” He looked around the room that made up the kitchen, dining room and sitting area all in one. But Pa was nowhere to be seen.
“What is the matter, Mrs. Prewitt? Has something happened to Pa?”
You just read the first chapters of "Healed by Their Divine Love"!
Are you ready, for an emotional roller-coaster, filled with drama and excitement?
If yes, just click this button to find how the story ends!
Please log in again. The login page will open in a new tab. After logging in you can close it and return to this page.