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An Uncommon Family Made under God's Light

With a child that no one loves apart from her, she runs to the West. He’s been rejected so much in his life, he feels God has cursed him. How can they inspire each other to believe in their Godsent love?

“Not because of me. Because of the Lord. He’s given us all of this and more.”

After several rejections, Lizzie decides to hide the existence of her daughter and to become a mail-order bride in the West. Getting married to the distant Dan, though, and having to deal with her daughter’s different way of seeing things doesn’t go so well. This new life is hard, sometimes unfair, and often challenging. Can she let the Lord guide her through these times and bring her to Dan’s embrace?

Dan never expected he’d be single in his thirties. He also never expected he’d be rejected by both God and love. So, when Lizzie comes with her… unique daughter, he thinks that this is another way for Him to mock him. Still, God is omnipotent and omnipresent, and He sees everything, like Dan’s need to give and receive love. How can he let his guard down and show his new family his true needs?

Dan and Lizzie’s romance will be a whirlwind of hidden emotions. Still, their hearts are in tune, and when they realize that Heaven’s Light can vanquish their fears, they’ll completely give their hearts to each other. Is this enough for the secret enemy that’s been watching them for a while?

Written by:

Christian Historical Romance Author

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4.8 / 5 (178 ratings)

Prologue

Hampshire, Georgia

September 1878…

Elizabeth Montague stood on her tiptoes and reached for the mason jar in the back of the pantry. Her fingertips touched the glass but slipped off, and her fingers brushed against dust and sand on the shelf. Three months ago, a hurricane had ripped through their county, taking part of her little farm’s roof with it. The back bedrooms were fully exposed to the elements now, and only the kitchen remained intact. The creaking of the walls and the spiderweb crack in the only window told her that soon this sanctuary too would fall to pieces like the rest of the farm.

Then what would they do? She pushed away the concern and focused on the task at hand—the peaches. They’d run out of everything else edible. The wheat was gone; the hurricane had destroyed the chicken coop and uprooted the fruit trees. Her cows were dead except for one she’d been forced to sell. The harvest, of course, was a distant memory, and thus, they only had a few peaches she’d canned earlier in the year. After that, they’d go hungry.

She stuck her tongue out of the corner of her mouth and grabbed for the jar again but once again failed.

“Oh no,” she muttered under her breath.

“Do you need help, Mama?” her daughter Annie called from the kitchen, and soon the sound of her daughter’s feet whispered across the creaking floorboards.

Lizzie peered down at her daughter, who looked at her with bright blue eyes. Her button nose was sprinkled with freckles that matched the fiery red color of her hair that hung confined in a thick braid down her back. As Lizzie looked down, she noted how threadbare her daughter’s blue and white checkered dress was. It ended above her knees, but it swallowed her little frame-up as well.

The same was true for Lizzie’s green gown. It hung off her shoulders like a sack, and the extra fabric bunched under her belt.

“I can’t reach the peaches,” Lizzie said. Then an idea came to her. “How about I pick you up?”

Annie’s eyes grew wide. “Like when I was a wee one?”

Lizzie’s heart warmed. At almost seven, Annie was still a wee one, but in Annie’s mind, she was a big girl.

“Just like that. Come on,” she waved Annie over, heaved her up, and pointed her toward the peaches.

“How many are there?” Lizzie asked.

“Two. Two marvelous jars of delicious peaches.” Annie replied. “Also, a trail of ants. One, two, three. One, two …”

“Annie,” Lizzie gasped as her child grew heavy in her arms. “Just fetch one jar; we don’t need to count the ants.”

“But I do,” Annie protested. “I want to count them. One, two ….”

The muscles in Lizzie’s arms jumped. She knew if she interrupted Annie’s counting, the girl would fall into fits. But if she didn’t, there was every chance Lizzie’s thin arms would give out.

“Annie, I gotta let you down. Fetch the peaches and….”

“No! One. Two…” Annie hollered and kicked her legs against the warped wooden shelves with force when Lizzie pulled her back, sending Lizzie staggering into the wall. In a panic, the child screamed, and then the sound of the mason jar shattering on the ground filled the air, intermingled with Annie’s hysterical cries.

Lizzie hurriedly carried her out of the cramped pantry into the kitchen. Annie had built a little fort under the kitchen table where her straw bed had been made up. Sheets—some of the few they still owned—covered the openings to the girl’s cave, while Lizzie’s bed was made up alongside it, opposite the kitchen stove, their only source of warmth now. Their meager belongings were in a pile along the wall. Their home had never been large, but since the storm, they were reduced to living in this one small space, and even that space would not keep them safe for long. One strong storm…

Annie struggled in her arms, and Lizzie focused on her child.

She stood her up on the kitchen table and cupped her face.

“Are you hurt?”

Annie didn’t reply. Her face had turned red, and tears streamed down her cheeks like rivers.

“It’s all right, Annie. It was just the jar shattering. It’s all over now,” Lizzie soothed her daughter and pulled her into a tight embrace. When Annie was this upset, often the only thing that helped was to hold her close.

Loud noises had always terrified Annie, ever since she was an infant. It was one of the many eccentricities that set her daughter apart from the other children and made it difficult for her to have friends.

The joyful shouts of other children frightened her, as did any unexpected movement or a change in her routine. This, in addition to her habit of counting seemingly anything in sight had made her an outcast among the other children.

“Mama,” Annie sniffled as her fit dissipated.

“Yes, dear?” Lizzie asked as she stepped back and dabbed a cotton cloth against Annie’s face.

“We shall go hungry,” she stated this with such certainty it almost broke Lizzie’s heart.

“We will not. I have to go into town to stop at the post office. When I’m there, I’ll find us something to eat.” It occurred to her that they had very little money left, and there was no certainty food would be available for purchase. Many farms had lost as much as she, if not more, and even the larger plantations had their harvests destroyed. Unless a delivery arrived from other parts of the state, there was no food to be had. However, she made sure to keep her tone cheerful so as not to alarm Annie. However, judging by the child’s expression, this was in vain.

Annie’s lips quivered as a stiff breeze rustled the leaves in the bushes outside. “Mama? Are we going to be like Lazarus?”

Lizzie drew her eyebrows together. “Lazarus? What do you mean?”

Annie pressed her lips together and blinked. “In the Bible. Lazarus who begged outside a rich man’s door and then died because the rich man did not aid him. The book of Luke. Chapter 16, verse 19.”

Lizzie took a deep breath. Usually, she found her daughter’s ability to memorize sections of the Holy Bible impressive, and it pleased her that her child was so faithful and had such a close connection to the Lord at this tender age. At times, Lizzie’s faith was the only thing that sustained her, and she’d always wished to instill the same sense of comfort in her daughter when it came to the Lord.

Today, it drove tears to her eyes. Her daughter was as scared and as hungry as Lizzie was. But Lizzie was her mother. She was all Annie had. Her thoughts traveled to her husband, Robert. If he were living, if her parents were, she would have someone to share the burden and she’d not feel so very alone. Alas, alone she was—and she had to be strong.

“We will not be like Lazarus, Annie. We will … we will persevere.” She wanted to think of another biblical story to illustrate this to her daughter, but her mind was so befogged, she could not think of one.

“Like Ruth? And Naomi?” Annie offered as Lizzie lifted her off the table and went to fetch the broom.

Lizzie looked up and smiled as she thought of the tale of Ruth, the woman who had left her homeland with her mother-in-law to start anew in a strange land.

“Perhaps. But we won’t leave home,” she replied in as confident a tone as she could muster. Though the truth was, they were running out of food; they had few supplies; and more and more of her neighbors had left town to do just what Ruth and Naomi had done. Start over elsewhere.

She didn’t want to leave the farm. It was all she’d ever known. But Lizzie had to admit, it was becoming clearer by the day that what had once been home could no longer sustain them.

***

Later that afternoon, Lizzie made her way back from town. As she’d feared, food remained scarce, and what little was available she could not afford. Her stomach growled as she thought of the peaches broken on the floor. She’d picked them up and rinsed them, examining them carefully to ensure no glass remained, but she’d yet to decide if she could risk eating them. The last thing she needed was for either of them to bite down on glass.

The sound of a wagon’s heavy wheels grinding through the sand behind her drew Lizzie’s attention from the letter in her hand, and she looked over her shoulder. Behind her, a large, covered wagon crept closer, pulled by two bay horses. She squinted against the bright sun and placed one hand over her eyes as the wind blew strands of chestnut-colored hair into her face.

On the seat in front were her neighbors, Mr. and Mrs. Hanson, and judging by how the horses strained, the wagon contained all of their earthly belongings. Lizzie’s heart grew heavy, as she’d seen this sight too many times before. They were leaving town, weren’t they?

Mr. Hanson slowed the horses. He nodded at her, and Lizzie noted how his usually jovial eyes appeared sunken in, and his face had a haggard, drawn appearance.

Lizzie knew the expression well. It was resignation—she’d seen it on the faces of so many of her neighbors ever since the hurricane tore through their county and destroyed so many lives.

“Lizzie,” Mrs. Hanson called down. She wore a large cloth bonnet that created a shadow over her face, softening the sorrowful expression Lizzie knew she carried. “Charles, I’ll be right back,” she told her husband and climbed off the seat, her boots landing with a thud on the dusty road. She clasped Lizzie’s hand, and now that they were face-to-face, Lizzie noted the deep dark circles under Mrs. Hanson’s brown eyes.

“You’re leaving?” Lizzie asked. The Hansons were her nearest neighbors, and she and Mrs. Hanson had a friendly connection. The thought of losing them, too, made a knot form in her stomach. She and Annie would be even more isolated.

“We’re heading to Oregon. My sister has a ranch there. Cattle, like we had here,” she said, a mournful tone in her voice.

“I thought you were trying to rebuild,” Lizzie exclaimed as she realized once the Hansons were gone, she’d have no neighbors. The Pemberley family and the Winston clan had already packed up and moved weeks ago after the storm wiped out their herd of cattle and crops.

“Ain’t got no choice. No supplies, nothing available,” Charles Hanson called down and pushed his hat up out of his face. He was a bear of a man, the sort who could pick Annie up with one hand and twirl her through the air to the girl’s delight. But now, he looked small, tired. The storm had killed two of the Hanson’s sons. A difficult cross to bear. Lizzie knew it all too well.

“Charles is right,” Mrs. Hanson replied. “Half the town is destroyed, and the other half abandoned. We were one of the last holdouts. Perhaps you had better go, too. I hate to think of you and your little girl alone.” She grimaced and wrapped her arms around her waist as she looked out over what remained of their former homes. These had been sprawling farms with many animals and fruit trees rich with apples, pears, and a variety of other fruit. Now it was a wasteland. Uprooted trees and debris from destroyed buildings still lay in the deserted fields even months later.

Lizzie swallowed and glanced toward what remained of her farm.

All she had left was half of her home. The storm had carried part of her roof to the Pemberley farm, where it smashed into their stable. Lizzie shuddered as the memory resurfaced.

She’d hoped to rebuild, but Charles Hanson was right. There were no supplies. There was no help, no food. Yet, she was stuck here. She had no option. Well, that wasn’t true. Not entirely. She had one…

She glanced at the letter in her hand. For the past three months, she’d been conversing with a gentleman in Texas, a Dan White, who was looking for a mail order bride to help around his large ranch.

She’d found the add in a newspaper the week after the storm. Good Samaritans from the surrounding counties had come and brought crates of food in those days, the crates lined with newspaper. She’d wondered if it was a sign at the time, and a part of her still believed it was. Maybe the Lord wanted her to go to Texas?

She’d gone back and forth over what to do. She’d even talked the option over with Mrs. Hanson, who had been in favor of it. Lizzie knew it might be her best chance, but there was Annie…

Lizzie adored her daughter, but her peculiar habits and tics could be frightening and at times uncontrollable. She was regarded as strange by the townspeople, and some were even afraid of her. Her own husband, Robert, had regarded their child as slow and strange. It was one of the reasons he’d left even before death had come for him.

Dan White didn’t know about these things. She hadn’t told him. While he sounded like a kind man in his letters, a faithful man who could provide a good life for them, she didn’t trust that he would accept Annie. Then again, she was out of options. Perhaps there was nothing else to do but put her faith in the Lord. After all, why else would she have found Dan White’s ad right after the storm?

“This is the only home I’ve ever known,” Lizzie said quietly. She wrapped her arms around herself and shivered, even though it was hot. Mrs. Hanson placed a hand on her upper arm. It was a small gesture, but it brought tears to Lizzie’s eyes as she realized she was about to lose the closest thing she had to a friend.

“I know your parents are gone, but what about Robert’s?”

Lizzie’s stomach dropped at the mention of her late husband, and she shook her head.

“They’re gone too. He didn’t have siblings either, just an aunt and uncle, but I doubt they’d want Annie and me.” She took a deep breath as the true depth of her troubles sank in. She’d managed to get by these past few weeks by living day to day, but Mrs. Hanson’s words brought home the fact that she had to face reality. There was no future here.

“What about your gentleman friend in Texas? Mrs. Hanson asked, and Lizzie looked down at the letter in her hand again. Like the last few letters, this one repeated his offer to have her come to Busker, Texas to be with him. He was offering a new life, a secure one.

“I… I don’t know if he’ll accept Annie. I haven’t told him about her … habits.”

Mrs. Hanson shook her head. “If he is a good Christian man, he will open his heart to you both. And I know that the Lord will look after you, Lizzie. He will guide us. The Lord knows best.”

“Maribelle, daylight’s a-wastin’,” Charles Hanson called down, and her neighbor took a step toward her. She wrapped her arms around Lizzie, and when she stepped back, her eyes glistened with tears.

“I’ll write to you when we arrive. That’s if you’re still here. Mark my words; the Lord sent you that advertisement for a reason. You’re not meant to stay here,” she squeezed Lizzie’s hand one more time and then climbed onto the wagon’s seat beside her husband.

“Godspeed, Mrs. Hanson,” Lizzie called as the wagon with its large white cover set into motion and headed toward the bright blue horizon, past the wreckage of what had once been beautiful farms full of life and laughter.

And as she did, Lizzie realized Mrs. Hanson was right. Annie had been right. If she wanted to avoid ending up like Lazarus the beggar, they had to take inspiration from Ruth and Naomi and forge forward into the unknown.

Her eyes fell to the letter in her hand again, and she let out a sigh. All she could do now was hope that Dan White would accept not just her but Annie as well. It was their only chance, for she understood now that the life she’d always known was over.

Chapter One

Near Busker, Texas

Two weeks later…

Hickory, Dickory Dock, the mouse ran up the clock. Hickory Dickory dock…” Annie sang under her breath as the train rattled along. Lizzie looked down at her daughter, who sat in the seat beside her, a little wool blanket over her lap. She still wore the same green dress she had on most days. While it was thin and worn, it was still the best they had. Her hair was in a braid, running down her back while Lizzie had pinned hers up neatly at the nape of her neck.

Annie appeared calm, but Lizzie saw that she tapped her index finger and thumb together three times as she sang.

Lizzie placed a hand on her daughter’s head, stroking her hair. She canvassed the interior of the train. Unlike the previous one, the train was not crowded, and it was a lot more comfortable. Two seats were located on either side of the narrow aisle, and little yellow shutters gave the train a peaceful, quaint appearance. The seats were soft and wide.

“Are we nearly there, Mama?” Annie asked in a cheerful tone.

“Two more stops, and then we’re home.” Home. It felt odd to say the word. After sending her letter to tell Mr. White he could expect them in the last week of September, she’d sold her land, and what remained of the house.

Her parents, and later Robert, had run up tabs with many vendors in town, from the dry goods store to the veterinarian. After paying those bills, she had just enough left to get them to Texas, along with a little bit of emergency money which she’d sewn into the lining of her carpenter’s bag. Annie had taken the packing up of their home and the journey remarkably well, although the longer they were on the road, the more pronounced her distinctive habits became.

Annie had been a fussy baby, but Lizzie’d always thought that once she grew older, she’d become calmer. The opposite had been true. Even before Annie could walk, it became clear she was not like other children. She couldn’t handle change; she’d fly into fits whenever a loud noise startled her; and when she found something frustrating or could not get her way, she was prone to hitting herself or banging her head against walls.

These behaviors only increased when she got older, and Robert hadn’t been able to accept his daughter’s struggles. He’d found her odd and distanced himself, often recoiling when the child came near, so much so that even Annie noticed despite her young age. As she grew older, her habits only increased. She’d developed a vivid imagination, and sometimes spoke to people nobody else could see, her imaginative friends. Robert found this alarming. Lizzie knew the reason for his leaving the family hadn’t been to find better employment to provide for them. It had been to get away from Annie—and from Lizzie, whom he’d blamed for having a less-than-perfect child.

Lizzie knew her little dove was different from other children, but she never regarded her as slow. She was smart as a whip when it came to remembering details, and she soaked up information like a sponge. There could be no denying that she was unusual, but no doctor had been able to give her a satisfactory answer as to what the trouble was.

How would Dan White react to Annie? Would he be like Robert? Would he send them away? His letters painted a portrait of a loving man who cared for his community, who treated his ranch hands well. A man who liked to read and spend time with his dear friends, Tim and Ruth, of whom he wrote often. She was under no illusion that she’d find love with this man, but if he was anything like his letters, he could be a wonderful husband and father.

However, now that they were closer, Annie’s tics had settled somewhat, though the tapping of the fingertips and singing remained.

“Do you think it will be marvelous? Do you think there will be horses?” Annie asked, her eyes wide.

“Mr. White said there would be,” Lizzie replied with a smile.

“That is good news. Perhaps I can be an equestrian when I grow up. Do you think so, Mama?” The sparkle in Annie’s eyes warmed Lizzie’s heart.

“I am sure you can.”

From somewhere outside, the odor of a nearby bonfire drifted into the train, and Annie rumpled her nose.

“Lightning causes wildfire, do you know? It stinks.” Annie asked before tapping her fingers together again without waiting for an answer.

Lizzie could not disagree. The biting stench of burning wood brought water to her eyes, and in the distance, she spotted black smoke billowing into the air.

It was fascinating how much the view had changed since they’d left Georgia. The bare trees, stripped of their glorious leaves by the storm that had swept across the land, were soon replaced by rich groves of trees that flew by as the train snaked its way across the country.

Now that they had reached Texas, cedar elms and black cherry trees rose against the radiant blue sky. The air had become dryer than she was used to, and the colors were not the lush greens she was used to but more golden hues and browns.

From time to time, when the train slowed, settlements lined the view outside, and Lizzie wondered just what Busker would look like. Did it have a large wooden church? Did fields of corn surround it tall enough that she might run across with Annie to play hide and seek?

Beside her, Annie shifted in her seat and cleared her throat noisily, and then, her sweet voice sounded out again.

Hickory, Dickory Dock, the mouse ran up the clo….”

“Merciful heaven,” a male voice boomed from several rows away. Lizzie craned her neck and spotted an older man with white hair and a matching beard rise from his seat. He was dressed in a gray suit with a white shirt underneath—and he pointed a long, thin finger directly at Annie.

“Can you not make this racket stop? It’s been going on since Waco. Some of us are trying to sleep,” he hollered.

Annie’s mouth hung open as she stared at the man. Her thumb now tapped rapidly against her index finger, and her breathing grew quicker at an alarming rate.

“Sir, she’s but a little girl. Surely you can allow a child to sing if it soothes her,” Lizzie fired back as her blood pumped through her veins so hard, she felt it drum against her skin.

“This caterwauling ain’t singing. Is she slow?” an older woman chimed in from behind them. The seat in front of her obscured her face, allowing only a view of her elaborately adorned hat. Gemstones had been sewn into the cobalt blue material, and the sunlight streaming through the window made them sparkle. This would have usually fascinated Annie, but now the girl sat terrified without moving an inch, hands balled into fists.

“How dare you complain about a little girl? What has she done to you?” Lizzie fired back. This was not the first time someone had made rude remarks about her daughter, and she wouldn’t stand for it. Annie was how God had seen fit to make her, and Lizzie would not have anyone insult her because of it.

A ball of red-hot rage burst open in her stomach and flooded her. She was a patient, quiet woman, but she would not hesitate to stand up for her daughter.

“She’s robbed me of my rest. You ought to give her Jesse!” the older man bellowed, and the woman agreed loudly.

To Lizzie’s horror, another woman, further in the front, turned in her seat. A pair of spectacles balanced on the tip of her nose, and her mauve-colored dress gave her a stern appearance. “Criminy, you all need to be quiet. I’m trying to knit,” she shouted in a high-pitched tone.

“This little girl needs to be quiet. No manners, none!” The woman in the ornate headdress retorted.

Hickory, Dickory Dock, the mouse ran up the clock. Hickory Dickory dock….” Annie muttered under her breath, but the tone of her voice was no longer cheerful. The words came out rapidly, one tumbling over the other as her gasping increased. Then, she leaned forward and rammed her head into the empty seat in front of her.

“Annie, sweetheart. I love you,” Lizzie exclaimed and bent over her child, forcibly keeping her from banging her head.

Hickory, Dickory dock, Hickory, Dickory dock…. Hickory…” Annie continued faster and faster as tears spilled out of her eyes, and she wailed the words.

“Are you pleased with yourself now? Is the sound of a child in despair more pleasing to your precious ears than her joyful singing?” Lizzie said, her voice shaky. If any of the people replied, she did not hear them.

Instead, she was solely focused on Annie, who rocked back and forth in her arms, still repeating the familiar words.

As Lizzie glanced out of the window, she sent a small prayer to the Lord that he might make the station appear faster, for if Lizzie knew one thing, it was this: They had to get off this train.

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