The world has shut its gates for her and her young son. Only he can give her shelter and a marriage of convenience to keep her safe. How can they redirect their lives to follow God’s purpose and find happiness?
Mary has suffered from her community’s misconceptions and gossip for a long time. With no other solution, she takes her deaf son and travels out West to get married. Her new husband though is headstrong and mysterious. He speaks little and he tosses and turns at night. How can Mary find her Christian purpose in this new land next to a man who battles his own past?
Freddie hasn’t slept well ever since he lost his family in front of his eyes. He’s still a child, deep inside, letting his trauma uncontrolled. His marriage of convenience to Mary though and her deaf son will teach him the values of humility and selfishness. Freddie needs to find God to heal his heart. How can he listen to this need and protect the woman he loves when he’s too afraid?
To survive in this new life, Mary and Freddie must let their souls open to God’s calling. How can they protect their family when Freddie’s ominous past is closer than ever?
Mary Guillaume-Evans stepped out of the pantry and blinked as the bright light hit her eyes. She squinted, one hand held in front of her face as she moved forward through what remained of her home. Beneath her feet, the sound of glass shards scraping against one another stopped her in her tracks.
She peered down and gasped. “Mon Dieu,” she muttered as she saw the shining pieces of glass that lay across her kitchen floor. As they sparkled in the sun, she thought that the sight may have been beautiful if they didn’t represent the end of her life as she’d known it. She took a breath as dread spread through her chest. She wondered if this was indicative of what awaited her when she stepped outside. She remembered this feeling, this tightness in her chest. She’d felt it the morning she went into the bedroom she’d shared with her husband, knowing in her heart that the fever had taken him. The same horror crept into her heart.
Mary gulped and looked over to where the large kitchen window had been the day before. Now, there was a gaping hole. All hope that she might have escaped this most dreadful of outcomes ebbed away and she felt an emptiness fill her soul.
The tornado that had accompanied the horrible late spring storm had burst the glass and caused a large branch to fly into the side of the house, taking out the frame of the window and part of the wall. Leaves and dirt covered the floor, mingling with the remains of the dishes she’d used for last night’s dinner. An eerie silence filled the air, a jarring change from the shrieking wind and driving rain that had accompanied them all night.
She stayed close to the wall, her hand running along with the smooth wood as she made her way to the front door. To her left, a narrow hall led to the bedroom she shared with her five-year-old son Henri, but she could already see that severe damage had been done to that room from the influx of light.
As she stopped at the front door, she gulped in a lungful of air. It smelled of damp, fresh-tilled earth mixed with corn silage and lavender. It almost made her want to smile; it was such a pleasant scent. As she stepped out onto her porch, the ghost of a smile faded from her lips. As the sunbeams warmed her tanned skin, she understood why the air smelled pleasant. The fragrant aroma that had filled her senses represented the ravaged fields the tornado had torn through.
“Oh,” she whispered and stumbled backward until her back pressed against the wall. All around her, the true extent of the destruction revealed itself—trees lay splintered in her yard and the blueberry bushes that had grown along the fence were shredded; one hung limply in the branches of the one remaining oak tree, though even it had not survived the storm unscathed. The lowest hanging branch lay on the ground and smashed into the well. Only a section of the brick structure remained.
She staggered forward and her heart thundered; her hands wrapped around the cotton material of her gingham dress as her breath caught in her throat. Mary made her way around the back and saw that the roof where her bedroom was had collapsed. Beyond the house, the shed was nothing but a jumble of wood, and the large fence sections were in ruins. Her vegetable and herb gardens were no longer, and neither was the henhouse.
Her heart ached as she thought of her chickens. Had they escaped, or did their feathered bodies remain underneath the pile of mesh and wood? Then, a thought came to her. Her feet pounded across the path behind the house, sending her pulse into a frantic gallop. She scooted around the corner, kicking up sand with her leather boots. As Mary ran, her eyes roved over the wasted countryside. In the distance, her neighbor’s home appeared intact. The tornado had avoided their red-roofed barn. Perhaps she had been lucky, and only her home was damaged. Perhaps her barn would stand, her pigs would live. However, when she came around the corner, she saw that this faint hope, too, was in vain.
“No!” She cried and sank to her knees. She let go of her dress and pressed her hand in front of her mouth, biting down on the back of her hand to stop from screaming. In front of her were the skeletal remains of the small barn and the pigpen.
Hardy pigs were essential to farmers and ranchers all over the area; her two boars and their mates had produced large enough litter to sustain both her and Henri after the death of her husband. Moreover, Henri adored the pigs, and she was fond of them as well. Because of this affection and the gratitude, she felt for them for supporting them, her heart broke at the sight before her.
There, buried beneath the pieces of the destroyed barn’s red roof and the wet mud, lay the bodies of three of her pigs. Hot tears ran down Mary’s cheeks, both out of grief for their loss and because the sight had forced her to face reality—her sole source of income was gone. She had nothing left. Nothing but a ruined farm, a mountain of debt, and a son she could no longer feed.
Ever since her husband, Max, lost his life to fever three years ago, she’d done her best to keep their small farm going while also paying off the massive debts Max had taken out to stop the farm from falling into ruin. It had been difficult, but she’d managed—until now. Without a family or the community’s support, she could never rebuild what was lost. She hung her head as her hands dangled listlessly at her sides. She shook her head, unable to comprehend how this had happened to her. So many terrible things had occurred these past few years, so much death and destruction. What had she done to deserve this?
“What am I to do?” she wailed to herself as she thought of Henri, still asleep on the pile of blankets she’d hurriedly brought into the pantry the night before. A horse nickering behind her drew her attention, followed by heavy boots landing on the damp ground with a splash. She turned and blinked as the sun illuminated the tall, broad-shouldered figure.
“Barnaby?” The same apprehension she always felt when her late husband’s best friend paid a visit crept into her voice. Barnaby Richardson had appointed himself guardian over Mary and Henri after Max’s death, much to Mary’s chagrin. She’d never liked him, even when Max was alive; the way his stares always lingered on her body struck her as sordid, and his manner of speaking—overly familiar and possessive—made her uncomfortable. He’d even had the audacity of proposing marriage when Max was not yet cold in the grave. She’d forgiven this transgression and chalked it up to his grief and copious amounts of scamper juice. Still, the unease lever left her.
“Lord have mercy. Would ya look at this?” He waved his arm, indicating the destruction, but then hurried forward and extended his hand. She took it with reluctance and shuddered when his dry, leathery skin met hers. She withdrew it the moment she stood, not willing to allow this unwanted touch a moment longer than she had to.
“I wasn’t expecting you,” she mumbled and buried her hands in the pocket of her skirt. Struggling to quell her tears, she looked up to examine his face. Barnaby was a large man, standing a head taller than her if not more. He towered over most other men in their town, cutting a striking figure. Like her late husband, he was considerably older than Mary, and his age showed in the fine wrinkles around his eyes and the white hairs that mingled with the chestnut brown mop on his head. His lips, visible from under a waxed mustache that had been twirled up on each side of his mouth like spider legs, where thin and a deep dimple drew attention to his protruding chin. He was a tall man, and to look him in the eyes, she had to tilted her head slightly back.
“Had to check on ya,” he said, his drawling baritone reminding her of a saw cutting through wood. “Storm got them hogs, huh?” Mary’s heart sank as she thought of her pigs, willing herself not to cry. The last thing she needed was for Barnaby to think her weak. She needed help, yes. But not from him.
“I reckon we got a tornado or two along with the storm,” she replied, her mouth set in a firm, thin line.
He grimaced and nodded. “Had two on the other side of Carthage as well. Made a right mess. At least, we’re all above snakes.” He shuffled his right foot in the sand and looked at her intently. Mary caught her reflection in his eyes. Her black hair stood up on ends, and she did her best to tuck it behind her ears. “Looks like you’ll be needin’ some help around here,” he said and let his eyes rove over the remains of the ranch. “You’ll be goin’ hungry. Perhaps it’s time to rethink my offer?”
He winked at her and pulled a cigarette from behind his ear. Using his right hand to shield against the breeze, he lit a match, inhaled, and then the unpleasant, biting smell of tobacco wafted toward Mary. She noted that the bitterness of the smell matched her current mood and circumstance perfectly. She wrapped her arms around herself. She knew what offer he meant. His proposal. He’d repeated it jestingly from time to time, perhaps to make light of her rejection back then. Today, however, he sounded serious.
She swallowed and rolled her shoulders, determined to get out of this conversation. “Well, thank you for checking on me, but I must take care of this.” She motioned to the pigpen. “I have to bury them. It’s the least I could do. I may find the fourth one yet, or some of my chickens and…”
“You ain’t gonna find a thing, chicken nor hog, I’ll tell ya that. The fact is that this farm is done for, and we both know it. Been done even before the storm.”
A lump formed in her throat. She wanted to protest, but the truth was, the farm hadn’t been turning a profit. She’d broken even, but barely. “I reckon I can turn it around. I can ask the Carmichael’s over yonder if I can work for them part-time while I rebuild…”
“Ain’t nobody gonna hire help now.” He waved a hand. He inhaled deeply and blew circles of smoke into the air. “You ought to give this up. Better for you and your boy.” He smirked, and a cold chill ran down her spine. “I was serious, ya know? I got a nice house. I’ll take you in. Make you my wife.” He tilted his head to one side and smiled. “Ain’t the worst lot in life, I say.”
“You’re a right flannel mouth, Barnaby Richardson.” She let a chuckle escape from her lips, attempting to sound lighthearted, but it came out choking. His eyes darkened, and he dropped the half-smoked cigarette, stomping on it with his leather boot. Mary gulped, unsure if her attempt at keeping the mood light had worked. Barnaby was the sort of man who could be difficult to read. He was mercurial in nature, often switching from one mood to another rather rapidly. She’d seen him angry before and it wasn’t an experience she’d like to repeat.
A memory swam to the forefront of her mind. She, Max, and Barnaby, together in town when a man who owed Barnaby money passed by. She didn’t remember what had caused the argument, but she recalled in detail the anger in Barnaby’s voice, the apprehension in Max’s as he attempted to intervene. But most of all, she recalled the sound of the man’s nose breaking as Barnaby hit him. The sudden swell of rage had always stayed with her.
“You givin’ me the mitten again, Mary? Why? I ain’t a no bad egg, and let’s face it; nobody’s gonna take you on, not with your son the way he is.”
Anger flashed in Mary’s heart like a comet across the night sky, and her head snapped back. “Leave Henri out of this, Barnaby. I appreciate your kind offer, but I must decline.”
“Who’ll have you then, if not me? Huh? Who?” The vibration in his voice made her shudder, and she took another step back. She couldn’t back down. All she had left was her independence, her perseverance. She would not let him take it from her.
“I’ll have you know that I’ve received an offer of marriage already, and I’m inclined to accept it.” She crossed her arms in front of her chest and glared at him, although her heart thudded.
Her claim was not entirely true. She hadn’t planned on getting married anytime soon, nor had she received a proper offer. The truth was, she’d decided a few months ago to scan the advertisements for mail order brides. It had been an impulse, an insurance so to speak, should things go very badly here. The farm had suffered for some while and she had no friends here. She had to be prepared should the worst happen, so she’d answered an advertisement she found appealing, and the young man had responded.
Since then, she and Freddie Black Jr., a rancher from Colorado, had corresponded back and forth. He seemed nice enough, but thus far, their correspondence hadn’t culminated in an offer of marriage—nor had she told him about her son. However, something in Barnaby’s arrogant manner set her bristles up.
“You received an offer? From whom?” He demanded as if this were any of his business.
She pressed her lips together, unwilling to divulge more. “A gentleman I’ve been corresponding with. Anyhow, I thank you for….”
“No.” The word came as sharply as a slap. “You ain’t marrying some sad rancher who can’t get a wife unless it’s through an advertisement. You’re gonna marry me. You should have done so when Max died. He was like a brother to me. He would have wanted me to marry you and take care of you.” He took a step forward, and Mary’s heart sank. She knew this was not true. Max would not have wanted her as Barnaby’s wife. He knew that she did not care for him. She also knew that Barnaby did not like being told no, and likely his obsession with marrying her was rooted very much in her resistance to his desire.
“I don’t want to marry you, Barnaby,” she answered, her voice shakier than she wanted.
“Well, ain’t got a choice. Besides, does your fellow know about the kid and his…” He twirled his index finger around his ear and chuckled. “Or that his intended is a Frenchie?”
Mary wanted to reply because his continued ridicule of Henri and her French heritage made her skin crawl with rage, but he was not yet done.
“Besides, how else you are gonna repay me? Max owed me, but I wasn’t gonna harass him over it. Nor you, seein’ how you’re his widow. That’s why I gave you time-well. Times are hard now, and I need my money. You can get it to me now. Or,” he drawled, a sly smirk quirking up his dry lips, “you can marry me. Which is it gonna be? Huh?”
It was true; she owed him a fortune. Well, Max owed him a fortune, she thought bitterly to herself. She’d assumed when Max passed that Barnaby would forgive the debt, seeing as the man who’d amassed it was gone, but he hadn’t. And now he was holding it over her head. He was trying to blackmail her with it so she’d marry him. Anger roiled in her stomach as her hands clenched. This wouldn’t happen to her. I will get out of this, she asserted silently.
“I don’t have the money. You know that. Surely you don’t want a wife that don’t want you,” she said, infusing her speech with the southern drawl commonly used in the area. She’d inherited a slight French accent from her émigré parents, but she knew that this was looked down upon, so she’d always made sure to sound more like a local. Alas, it did no good. Barnaby took a step toward them and grabbed her; she heard the callouses on his palms rub against the material of her threadbare dress. “Let go, Barnaby. You’re hurting me!” she exclaimed, but he only drew closer.
“Mary, you might be easy on the eyes, but you ain’t the brightest. Can’t you see this is the only way for ya? The good Lord sent a tornado so you’d open your eyes, but since you ain’t willing to see, I’m going to have to make you.” He grabbed a chunk of her hair and yanked her head back. “I’m gonna make you mine, hear?”
Mary’s thoughts raced. Surely even a man like Barnaby would not use force to get what he wanted. Or would he?
“Barnaby, let me go. Henri is inside; he’ll see,” she begged, aware of the quiver in her voice, but he scoffed.
“He’ll see much worse if you don’t learn to do as you’re told.” His tone was low and menacing and his rancid breath filled her nostrils. She grabbed his wrist, trying to free herself, but he only held her tighter. “I ought to make you mine right now. Frenchies like it a bit wild, right?” Her mouth dropped open as she realized he meant it.
He would harm her, right here amidst the ruins of her farm.
His face was so close to hers; she saw the enlarged pores on his tanned skin and smelled the remains of whiskey. She had to get away, and she knew what she had to do.
“All right,” she called out. “There’s no need for this. I’ll marry you. I will. I know I got no choice.” She gulped, knowing she had to say more to stop him, because in his present state of mind, he might just take her agreement as encouragement to pursue his sinister plans. “I know you’d do right by me and Henri. I was foolish before. You’re a well-respected gentleman in the community, and I know Reverend Scott thinks highly of you as well.”
That did it. The shift in his eyes was evident the moment she brought up the church. He narrowed his eyes and took a step back, loosening his grip. “That I am.”
“We’ll marry in church, in front of the whole town. I know that’s what Max would have wanted. Just…give me a day. Please.” She hoped she was convincing, she had to be. Everything depended on it. She bit her lip and looked at him. She saw the fear in her eyes in her reflection in his. Then, to her relief, he let go of her and shrugged.
“What do you need a day for?” He crossed his arms, lips pressed into a line that made them all but disappear.
She swallowed and rose to her full height, her right hand wrapped around her left wrist where he’d grabbed her. “I must explain it to Henri. And I wanna bury my pigs. Surely you can understand.” She wetted her lips as he knitted his eyebrows.
“I suppose,” he said, resignation rife in his voice. “Go on and do your packin’. I’ll be back in the mornin’ with a cart to fetch you. But don’t be tryin’ anythin’, hear?”
She trembled so hard her teeth clattered, but she managed to nod.
“I’ve got nowhere else to go. You’re right, Barnaby. If not for you, we’d starve soon enough.”
He let his stare linger on her and then nodded. “Right then. Tomorrow. Same time.” He gave a curt nod and mounted his horse as she watched him. When his imposing form disappeared into the forest, she let out a puff of air and almost folded herself in half as the terror flooded away.
There was no time to waste. She spun and ran back into the house. However, she stopped in her tracks when she saw the hole where their bedroom had once been. Standing there, peering out, was her little boy. He had to have woken up and made his way through the destroyed house to come for her. How long had he been standing there? Long enough to be horrified for he shivered with fear, and she squatted in front of him. He pressed his hands in front of his eyes as he cried. His cries reminded her of a wounded animal, hurt in the wood, desperate for aid.
“Henri, all is well,” she said, even though she knew he could not hear. “Henri,” she gently removed his hands from his eyes. They were of a brilliant, deep brown like her own, and his black hair was as thick and wavy as hers. She raised her right hand and pointed her index finger and middle finger first to her eyes, then to his.
“Listen, carefully,” she said. Then, she pointed at him and then at herself. “You and me, we have to go.” She signaled the sign they used for running, and Henri’s lips parted. “We have to run far away. This isn’t home anymore.”
He blinked, raised his hands, and then twirled his index finger through the air, their sign for ‘where.’
She took a deep breath. There was only one place they could go. One place might provide a sanctuary for them-and even that she could not be sure of. She took a deep breath and then raised her right hand, forming the shape of a C, followed by an O.
“Colorado. We’re going to Colorado.” She let out a sigh, realizing that their entire future depended on Freddie Black Jr., a man she only knew by letter. A man who had no idea that she came with a deaf son.
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