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A Miracle Family for the Mountain Man

She took the place of his intended…

He never wanted a bride…

But God’s plans and an abandoned baby deliver more than they bargained for…

Hazel, a widow, flees her abusive father-in-law with her son, swapping identities with a mail-order bride on the train. But the weight of her deception threatens to crush her resolve. How can she deceive this ruggedly handsome man standing in front of her?

In Colorado Springs, John, a mountain man haunted by betrayal and heartbreak, never planned to open his heart again. And then this woman entered his life uninvited. But with a baby left on his doorstep, he’s forced to let her in. He hates change, but why is this one so hard to resist?

Just as they start to find solace in each other’s company, danger closes in, and time runs out… They must unite their community before it’s too late.

In God’s embrace, the Colorado mountains stand,

A testament to His mighty hand,

Where hearts entwine in love’s pure glow,

Amidst the Rockies’ timeless flow.

Written by:

Christian Historical Romance Author

4.6/5

4.6/5 (195 ratings)

Prologue

Autumn, 1887

Finleyville, Near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

 

It would be tonight, Hazel knew. She had known it from the moment her father-in-law saw her taking the laundered sheets down from the line. Aaron Fisher would know why she’d washed sheets when it was not laundry day.

All day, she kept Leo close to her side, not a difficult thing to do because her son was averse to being far from her, especially after a night when he’d wet the bed.

“It’s all right, love,” Hazel assured her son, enfolding him within the panels of her green dress as she ushered him into her bedroom. “The sheets are washed and clean now, you see?”

Leo obediently touched the folded linens she presented to him. “I’m sorry, Mama,” he said, the green eyes that she had bequeathed to him awash with the tears that had come upon him throughout the day whenever they passed his grandfather’s empty waiting room.

There were no patients waiting anymore. Dr. Aaron Fisher’s fall from grace was so well known in Finleyville, the small town outside Philadelphia, that the townspeople preferred to make the journey to Philadelphia rather than entrust their care to a drunken physician whose hands shook when he used his instruments and whose breath was redolent of the whiskey he imbibed like a prescription.

“Ahh, Leo, my love, there’s nothing to be sorry for. It was an accident, now—was it not? —and readily fixed with a bit of soap, a basin of water, and a good scrubbing board. Don’t fret now. Mama loves you and always will. And Papa loves you in Heaven and looks down upon us.”

She was well used to comforting her emotionally fragile son while, at the same time, using her senses like a scout reconnoitering a hostile environment, even though that environment was her own home.

Her eyes quickly scanned the room.

She’d been planning for months. Folks in Pennsylvania didn’t flee from their families, but her neighbors didn’t know that Dr. Aaron Fisher’s transgressions weren’t limited to whiskey. Hazel had found her direction from the Bible stories of the faithful who had been obliged to take flight when their lives were in peril; Joseph taking Mary and the infant Jesus to escape Herod’s murderous wrath had been an inspiration to her. She, like Joseph, recognized her duty to protect a child. When a child was in danger, Hazel, like Joseph, knew that escape was the only course to follow.

It wasn’t easy to plan an escape when she was rarely alone at home, but with a taut measure of guile and innocence, she’d begun packing clothes into a carpetbag the morning after the night Aaron, in a fit of rage at his dearth of patients, had gashed her neck with pieces from a broken whiskey bottle. Leo had shrieked at the sight of blood while Hazel fought her father-in-law off.

Her wardrobe now included dresses with high collars and a collection of hand-sewn scarves so that Leo wouldn’t see the two jagged lines marking her skin. Those dresses and scarves, and Leo’s own attire, were packed and ready to go.

The curtains at the window seemed to inhale and exhale the faint night breeze blowing outside, the only indication that the window was inexplicably open on a cool autumn night. Aaron had rape on his mind, which meant that escape had to be furtive.

Across the room, next to the door, the standing mirror showed her reflection. Hazel saw a tall, slender woman whose neat dress and simple coiffed hair revealed someone who appeared to be entirely in command of herself and her circumstances.

Mirrors reflected what they saw, she thought, but mirrors lied.

“There now, love,” Hazel said, her voice cheerful as she deftly lodged the chair beneath the door knob so that the door would be barred to entry from outside the room, moving her body with practiced flexibility so Leo didn’t see her actions.

She’d been doing this night after night, but tonight was different. Tonight, Leo wouldn’t sleep in his bedroom. Tonight, he would be with her.

She no longer punished herself by trying to discern what she’d done to turn her once-respected father-in-law into a man haunted by the deaths of his wife and his son, the failure of his practice, and his descent into drunkenness. She had to protect Leo, Victor’s son. The tragedy of Victor’s death from pneumonia, the same dreaded disease that had taken his mother, Aaron’s beloved wife, had corroded Aaron’s paternal affection into something that diverged from Victor’s kind nature.

Someday, she would tell her son about his father, the man who had rescued a runaway orphan and given her a home out of his innate kindness. When he was old enough, she would explain that the first security she’d ever known was when Victor took her in.

Perhaps, one day, she might explain to Leo that love was different when an orphaned girl of fifteen, branded by her flaming red hair as one of the hated Irish whose forebears had emigrated from Ireland after the Famine of the 1850s, was hired to work for a father-and-son doctor. She might, perhaps, explain that she’d married because Victor was concerned for Hazel’s reputation. Love, she would tell him, perhaps, arose out of different emotions. She did not want Leo to doubt the love his parents had felt for him. It was simply that married love took many forms, and gratitude was one of them.

Both parents had loved the little baby born to Hazel at the age of eighteen. Aaron, too, had doted on his grandson then. But Victor’s death less than a year after his son’s birth had ruptured the bereaved father’s emotions, and instead of gratitude for what he still had, Aaron had squandered the life he might’ve had.

“Mama,” Leo began, his small face furrowing as it did when he was wrestling with some quandary too complicated for his young mind to fathom, “why is Grandfather always so angry at us?”

“Oh, Grandfather is getting old, lovey,” Hazel said, standing in front of Leo while using her foot to slide the open carpetbag under the bedframe, the movement concealed from her son’s view, “and sometimes, old people get rather cantankerous. He loves you, nonetheless.”

But even as she assured Leo that he was loved by his belligerent grandfather, she was relieved that, beneath all the garments in the carpet bad, she’d hidden the wooden cross that Victor had given to his son upon his baptism. If Aaron saw the cross, he might have taken it or destroyed it in his malevolent rage. But it was safe and concealed. Victor would want his son to have the cross and the comfort that it represented.

They both heard the waiting room door slam shut. Leo, sitting on the trunk that Hazel had deliberately placed below the window, began to tremble.

Hazel kept her voice calm, although she couldn’t prevent herself from glancing sideways to see if the chair was firmly lodged beneath the doorknob.

The footsteps drew near.

“Sometimes, love,” Hazel went on, her hand unconsciously going to the place upon her neck where the scars were concealed by a green and yellow scarf. “Sometimes—”

The footsteps stopped.

Hazel’s breathing seemed to stop as she prayed for the footsteps to pass her door. “Sometimes,” she said, “we have to—”

The doorknob twisted.

Hazel opened the door of the big wooden wardrobe, now half empty with the removal of her clothes, and helped Leo inside, putting her finger to her lips to caution her son to make no sound. Leo went into the wardrobe willingly, happy at the refuge it presented, and Hazel shut the door.

The doorknob twisted again, and the door seemed to shudder from the sudden barrage of knocking.

“Let me in, Hazel. This is my house, and you won’t deny me from entering a room in my house.”

“Mama,” Leo’s tremulous plea came from within the wardrobe.

“It’s going to be all right, Leo,” Hazel lied. “Everything will be all right.”

The door burst open. The wooden chair, an insufficient barrier against the determination and strength of a drunken man fueled by an unspeakable ardor, crashed to the flowered carpet. Aaron Fisher, his waistcoat unbuttoned and his shirt rumpled, loomed in the doorway, a bottle in one hand and his other arm raised overhead like a weapon. His once-dignified features, now florid and bloated from drinking, loomed grotesquely large, as if his face was framed by the very darkness that surrounded him.

“You live here on my sufferance, you and your stinking, heathen, Irish ways. Who wants to come to a doctor whose daughter-in-law comes from immigrant stock?” he demanded, spitting his slurred words into her face.

In the dim light of the oil lamp, Hazel could see how pale she appeared, her face almost ghostly as her reflection in the mirror stared back at her.

“Father Fisher,” she said, using the term she’d used in the early days of her marriage until, in those halcyon days, Aaron had asked her to call him Father because she was now his daughter-in-law. “For the memory of Victor, whom we both love, please—”

Aaron stepped forward, one foot rising and falling, then the other, like the appendages of a man who was not entirely capable of making his body do what it was accustomed to do.

“Don’t mention his name,” he hissed. “You have no right to speak his name.”

Hazel turned her head as the force of his whiskey breath, now so close that she could smell it, struck.

“I love him. You love him,” she reminded him as she stepped backward slowly, trying to disguise her movement. “What would he think if he saw you now?”

Aaron, the bottle high in his hand, was hunched over, his face now level with hers. “He’s dead, and he doesn’t see anything!”

“God sees,” Hazel said, refuting her father-in-law’s words. “Does not the Gospel of Mark tell us that ‘For there is nothing hid, which shall not be manifested; neither was anything kept secret, but that it should come abroad?’”

Even though she was braced for a physical attack, she wasn’t prepared for the lunge that thrust her onto the bed at her back. Aaron’s body was a weight upon her, the bottle bobbing in front of her eyes.

“Aaron, please,” she whispered, her voice hoarse and hushed as she turned her head to evade his clumsy attempt at a kiss.

The whiskey fumes were overpowering. She put up her arms to push him away, and her hand reached for the bottle. He wasn’t expecting her to grab it, but she took it from him easily, and then, instinctively, she broke it against his skull with all the strength she could muster.

Startled by her reflexive action, and his own flexibility impaired by his inebriation, Aaron slid from the bed to the floor, striking his head against the wooden frame. He lay there, unconscious, eyes closed and arms outstretched.

Hazel breathed as if her bruised heart was whipping her lungs into haste, forcing her to hurry.

She swallowed the bitter bile that rose in her throat and got up from the bed.

Hazel bent down to check her father-in-law’s pulse. It was steady. He was alive and seemed to be unharmed.

Relieved, Hazel crossed the room to the wardrobe, where she opened the door.

She couldn’t quite manage a smile as she looked down upon the figure of her shaking son, his shoulders hunched and his head almost hidden beneath the skirts of frocks she was unable to take with her. But she forced a cheerful tone into her voice.

“It’s all right, Leo,” she said. “We’re going on a train ride. Grandfather has had too much to drink again, and we’re going to leave and go away—far away where he can’t find us or hurt us ever again.”

Chapter One

“Yes, that’s right,” Hazel said calmly, taking the money for the ticket from the cloth chatelaine fastened around her waist. “I’ve always had a fancy to see the West.”

The clerk looked at her in surprise. “Do you know how far that is, ma’am?” he inquired, sounding like a man who doubted his customer’s grasp of geography. He turned halfway around so she could see the framed map behind him. “We’re here,” he told her, pointing with an emphatic finger on the spot marked Pennsylvania Railroad. “We’re pretty much the main railway in the East. That is to say, we’re mighty big. We can take you all sorts of places: Boston, New York, you name it.” He cocked his head at her quizzically. “Eastern cities,” he added for emphasis. “Places where a lady can be sure she’ll be treated like a lady.”

Hazel wasn’t going to be put off by a man who assumed that merely because a woman lived on the Eastern coast, her treatment would be gentle. Hazel knew otherwise.

“I’ve always wanted to see the West,” she repeated.

Leo, so close to her skirts that it was as if an invisible adhesive glued him to the fabric, couldn’t see the map to which the man referred. Hazel lifted him and put him on the counter.

“See, Leo,” she said gaily, trying with her tone to erase the trauma of the night before, “this is where we are. And this nice gentleman is going to show us where we can go.”

Prevailed upon to display his accommodating side, the “nice gentleman” gave her a dubious glance from beneath eyebrows that seemed to be permanently inquiring.

“A far piece,” he agreed. “That’s what they call it out West,” he confided to Leo. “A far piece. Of course, out there, a far piece might mean hundreds of miles.”

“How far will your railroad take us?” Hazel took command of the conversation again, intent on her own topic.

She intended to get as far away from Philadelphia as possible, and someplace out West, hundreds of miles away, where distance was taken for granted, was exactly what she and Leo needed.

The railroad clerk was mollified to think that this woman viewed him, a mere clerk, as the owner of the mighty Pennsylvania Railroad. With his finger, he traced a line across the map. “We’ll take you all the way to Chicago. You’ve heard of Chicago?”

“Everyone has heard of Chicago,” Hazel answered pertly, a trifle irritated by his patronizing manner.

He stood back so she could see the map. “Yes, but do you know how far away it is?”

The door of the train station office opened, and the clerk’s eyes flickered to the new arrival.

“I’ll be with you in just a tick, ma’am,” he assured his latest customer. “I’m explaining to this lady here that a trip West isn’t like a hop, skip, and a jump across the state line.”

“West?” The woman’s voice quavered. “I’m going West.”

Hazel turned. A slender woman in a fashionable traveling suit, wearing a stylish hat that sat upon her head like an ornament, had entered. The polish of her attire was a stark contrast to the wounded expression on her face.

“You’re going West?” Hazel asked, using her voice as a way of buoying the other woman’s clearly downcast mood. “How exciting. Where are you going?”

“Colorado Springs, Colorado,” the woman answered dully.

Colorado Springs, Colorado. It sounded very far away.

“What a marvelous coincidence.” Hazel smiled. “That’s also where I want to go.”

“Do you two ladies know how far that is?” the clerk demanded.

He crooked his finger at the newcomer, beckoning her forward. She advanced hesitantly. When she was beside Hazel, a pleasant floral fragrance emanated from her as if her clothing had been cleaned with rose petals.

He thrust his finger onto the map on the wall.

“We are here!” he announced as if Hazel and Leo might have forgotten since he had revealed this fact just moments before. “The Pennsylvania Railroad, which, as you may not know, is one of the biggest railroad lines in the entire country. We can take you as far as Chicago. Chicago is not a next-door neighbor of Colorado Springs. You’ll need to transfer to another railway hub, say the Burlington & Quincy Railroad, if you want to go west from Chicago, though why you’d want to is beyond me.”

He stared at the two women with a challenging air.

Hazel, sensing the emotional state of the other traveler, spoke up confidently, “And from there? Where does the Burlington & Quincy take us?”

The agent drew in a breath and exhaled slowly. “If you choose to go on from Chicago, you’d go all the way to Omaha, Nebraska. Never heard of it, I should think. Most Easterners haven’t. Why would we? Nothing there but wheat and foreigners. Still determined to go?”

Hazel smiled purposefully. “I cannot speak for Mrs.—” She turned her head inquiringly.

“Miss,” the young blonde woman said in a low voice. “Miss Jones. And yes, I am also continuing.”

“From Omaha,” he continued, “you’ll transfer to the Union Pacific Railroad. I suppose you’ve heard of that one. Most folks have.”

“Yes, indeed,” Hazel spoke up. “So that the western and eastern halves of the country would be connected, and travel would be easier.”

He did not appear to notice the irony in her voice. “That’s right. That line will take travelers such as yourselves to perhaps the Denver and Rio Grande Railroad and, from there, to Colorado Springs.”

His lecture seemed to revive his enthusiasm. “Railroads,” he declared, patting the map fondly, “they’ve changed the future of this nation. All right, ladies, since you’re both determined to make the trip, let’s get those tickets. Sleeper car?”

***

Hazel was relieved at the distraction presented by the railroad agent and the downcast traveler, whose destination had inspired Hazel’s own itinerary choice. They’d steered her troubled thoughts away from the chaotic episode with her drunken father-in-law, and even more importantly, they’d caught Leo’s attention. He was no longer hiccupping, and his tears were no longer flowing spontaneously as his child’s fears replayed in his mind. He was almost exuberant as Hazel and the traveler, Miss Jones, took their seats and sat by the window, mesmerized by the busy atmosphere of the train platform as passengers boarded.

Thanks to Victor’s generosity and Hazel’s frugality, she could afford the comfort of first-class accommodations on the train. Allaying her apprehensions with conversation, Hazel turned to the other woman with a smile.

“I must thank you,” she said, “for providing me with a place to travel to. I have never heard of Colorado Springs, but it has a very promising sound to it.”

To her surprise, the young woman began to cry. “I don’t want to go!” she burst out.

Leo turned his head from the vista of the train platform to stare at the unlikely spectacle of a stranger crying just as he so often did. Hazel gave him a slight shake of her head to let him know it would be impolite to notice the woman’s sadness, and he returned to gazing out the window. Hazel was relieved he wasn’t crying, but she observed that he had his thumb in his mouth, another habit that had resulted from the tensions of living with a volatile and abusive grandparent.

Perhaps he would be less fearful in Colorado Springs, Hazel hoped. Of course he would, she decided. That was the purpose of this journey.

“Why are you going, then, if I may ask?”

The woman leaned under her seat to pull out the trunk that had been stowed there. She pulled out a handful of letters, tied together with a piece of sturdy string.

“This is why!” she wailed, her Cupid’s bow mouth pursed in despair. “Go ahead, read them!”

“I—cannot read someone else’s correspondence,” Hazel objected.

“It’s not my correspondence; it’s his!”

“Whose? I don’t understand.”

“These are the letters that John Hawkins wrote to me. He’s a rancher in Colorado Springs. I am to marry him. He lives on a ranch in Colorado, and he’s also a lumberjack. He lives in the mountains. I loathe the mountains! I want to live in an exciting city where things are going on, and people are coming and going! I don’t want to rusticate with only cattle and mountain men! Can you imagine anything so dreadfully dull? Read the letters,” Miss Jones insisted, shaking them before Hazel. “You shall see what I mean.”

Hazel had no idea of what Colorado mountains might be like or even what a rancher who was also a lumberjack might do with his days, but she couldn’t understand why Miss Jones viewed the prospect with such aversion.

Reluctantly, she took the packet of letters from Miss Jones’ hand. The young woman, who looked to be barely out of her teens, sighed with relief.

“I’m going to nap,” she said. “I’ve been unable to sleep ever since I began getting ready for this wretched trip.”

It was easier once Miss Jones had closed her eyes for Hazel to open the first envelope and remove the single-page letter within. She felt less as if she were prying. She saw that Leo, too, was responding to the rhythm of the train as it rumbled over the tracks and was dozing, his face nestled against the cushion of his seat.

 

Dear Miss Jones,

It’s a pleasure to be writing to you. I own a ranch near Ute Pass in Colorado Springs. God has been good, and we’re prospering. I’m not a man to shy away from the work that goes with being a good rancher. I spend long days in the saddle, but the results of hard work speak for themselves. We butcher our own hogs for pork, and there’s no shortage of beef from our cattle. We have plenty of eggs from the chickens and milk from the dairy cows. In the summer, we have plenty of vegetables that grow in the garden. My aunt can help you when it comes canning time. We have food on the table and wood for the fireplace year-round. We aren’t rich, but we don’t lack for anything we need. It’s plenty of work, but for a healthy man who values a good night’s rest after a hard day’s labor, it’s just what I want.

I suppose you want to know more about me. They tell me I’m tall, like the trees I cut down. I reckon I forgot to tell you that I also work as a lumberjack in season. I like the work; it’s quiet in the forest, and if I ever get tired of hearing the cattle lowing, I can hear the voice of God in the wind blowing through the trees. I’m twenty-eight years old. I don’t have as much education as the menfolk back East, but I can read, I write a fair hand, and I keep my accounts in order.

 

Hazel put the letter down and looked out the window as Pennsylvania began to recede from her sight. This state where she had lived all her life, first as an orphan, then a runaway, then a hired girl, a wife, and a widow, held no sentiment for her. She found the simple words of the letter more evocative.

 

God has been good, and we’re prospering.

Hard work.

…we don’t lack for anything we need.

It’s quiet in the forest….

I can hear the voice of God in the wind….

 

What would it be like, Hazel wondered dreamily, the soporific effect of the train having a lulling effect, to hear the voice of God? It had been so long since she’d been sure that God was listening at all that she supposed she was forgotten by Him.

She wondered if it was possible that, after these past years of suffering and hidden pain, she was not forgotten by God after all and that He was waiting for her in Colorado Springs.

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    • So happy you enjoyed it! I can’t wait to see your reaction after finishing the book!! God bless you!💗💗

  • I believe this to be a book that would keep my interest and be extremely exciting at the same times with ups and downs around every corner. Looking forward to reading it

    • Thank you so much for your kind words! It means the world to me! Can’t wait to hear your thoughts on the book! God bless you!💗💗💗

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