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Finding the Key to his Sheltered Heart

She is a lively woman who enthrals with her words. He is a broody man who speaks with his actions. Will they be brave enough to heal their aching hearts, or is their romance destined to fizzle?

Striving to make ends meet, and desperate to escape the clutches of her dangerous suitor, Daisy decides to take charge of her own life.  After learning that a recluse rancher is searching for a wife, and in hopes that her words will inspire him, she writes to him. But how can she offer her heart to a man who is so cold and distant?

Devastated by his painful past and hesitant to confront his fears, Leo has isolated himself from the rest of the world. But when he begrudgingly admits that he must take a wife, an unexpected letter turns his world upside down. How can he trust that she will offer him the love he secretly craves when he has been betrayed before?

Their love is written in the stars. But when a wealthy miner wishes to steal Daisy away, the ghosts from Leo’s past come to life. Will they risk everything to stay together, or will their fragile hearts break into million pieces?

Written by:

Western Historical Romance Author


4.4 / 5 (208 ratings)


Fool’s Gold, Colorado, April 1884

It was a warm day for early spring, but the creak of the floorboard next to her turned Daisy King’s blood to ice. Her neck prickled with discomfort as a man pressed too close for decency, filling her nose with the rank odor of cigars and sweat, along with a peculiar smell of unknown origin. Not that she wanted to know.

She suddenly longed to run fast and far—far enough away that he’d never find her. He’d never leer at her again or demand that she—

“Miss Daisy?”

Mr. Hammel’s brisk voice wrenched her back to his store. Daisy blinked, edging away from the sharp edge of shadow, side whiskers, and a Stetson. She did not dare allow her eyes stray even an inch to her left, where the bombastic owner of Devil Tooth Mine stood eyeing her in the same manner she employed to inspect the piece of meat on the counter before her.

The store was no longer a cheerful place with long counters and shelves stacked high with goods, but a snare to entrap her. The shelves holding jars and tins loomed darkly, while the ropes and whips hanging from the ceiling felt like nets ready to drop and suffocate her. Even innocent displays of fabric and sewing notions seemed threatening.

The mine owner knew he’d managed to corner her once again. He also knew that she could barely afford the scraps of meat she haggled over for the past ten minutes.

Daisy knew he was weighing her desperate hopes for the future against his twisted greed and lust. Because he was a wealthy man who could buy the whole town if he wanted to, he felt free to manipulate and toy with her at will. Over the past two years, Daisy lost count of the times he tried to buy her.

Mr. Hammel sighed, and she tried to collect herself despite the amused but condescending chuckle from her left. Her hands shook until she balled them into fists on the counter. For a split second, she didn’t even recall why she was in the general store.

Buying supplies for Clara and the baby—for what’s left of my family.

“I know you can offer me a better price, Mr. Hammel,” she persisted, the faintest quaver in her voice. Once, Daisy’s voice had been strong, sweet, and clear. How she hated its current uncertainty!

Mr. Hammel cleared his throat and darted a look at the mine owner. His thick black mustache twitched a few times before he named a lower price—by a paltry nickel.

Daisy closed her eyes momentarily. Stifling the urge to explode, she countered with a lowball number, something only the desperate would voice.

The mine owner snickered. “A dollar twenty-five? Really, Hammel, I think she means to rob you.”

Mr. Hammel’s eyes narrowed. “Feel free to peruse the tobacco shipment that came in this morning, Mr. Butler.”

Travis Butler roared with laughter. “And miss a good Fool’s Gold haggle? I wouldn’t skip it for the world; a man can’t ask for better entertainment.”

Daisy bit her tongue so hard her eyes watered. She knew better than to retort. Travis Butler would then make a grand gesture and pay her bill, only to use it as oily leverage against her in the future or worse, create an immediate scene.

Her stomach twisted in mortification. Daisy wanted nothing more than a permanent exit from the town rumor mill. Too many townsfolk felt that her life was fair game for open discussion. And there was no worse place for it than Hammel’s Groceries & General Store, the nerve center of Fool’s Gold, Colorado. Folks stopped in for gossip as much as daily supplies.

The only blessing was that this was the mid-morning lull. Even the upturned barrel holding the checkerboard, a popular local diversion in town, was unoccupied.

Daisy met Mr. Hammel’s bespectacled eyes. Rounding her own eyes, she silently implored the grocer to meet her price and help her get away. Please, please, please, she chanted in her head. It wasn’t like the grocer had any great love for Travis Butler. Mr. Hammel had barely done him the courtesy of a nod hello. Unfortunately, Travis had real gold and power, so he was received with controlled civility if not outright bowing and scraping.

Mr. Hammel didn’t hear her silent pleas. “Three dollars and twenty-five cents,” he announced. “More than fair,” he added, as though Daisy were indeed trying to rob him.

An excruciating three minutes later, she had Mr. Hammel down to two dollars and sixty-five cents. To her great relief, Travis Butler did not follow when they moved to the other side of the store. Still, while her meager supplies were wrapped, she felt the weight of Butler’s gaze from under his Stetson like an iron hand clamped against her head. She knew he watched what she purchased—the half pound of mutton, the pound of venison, a quarter pound of sugar, and a loaf of bread.

All the food her family had for the next week.

Her mind flashed to Clara and her nephew at home, waiting for her because there was no one else to wait for. Six months ago, Jack, Clara’s husband, had died in a tragic mining accident. And as Daisy paid, her shoulders hunched as she recalled how Mr. Hammel denied the King sisters when they’d begged to keep Jack’s credit line at the store. Men used credit, not women or widows.

Thinking of her widowed sister, Daisy looked wistfully at the thick shawl for sale displayed by the door. Clara’s had all but fallen apart, but there was simply no extra money to buy a new one.

Thankfully, Travis left her alone for once, and Daisy seized the opportunity to swiftly leave Hammel’s.

Once away from the store, she paused to inhale the fresh air coming down off Cimarron Ridge. The mountains in the distance were still snow-capped and regal, with a springlike freshness to the air in Fool’s Gold. Although, it was hard to overlook the smell of horse droppings, never mind mud, wood smoke, and cigars.

Cigars? Oh no. Hearing the sudden crunch of gravel, Daisy gasped as she made to escape. But quicker than a Texas copperhead, Travis Butler appeared at her side.

“You should smile when you greet me, girl,” he said in a voice edged with warning.

Daisy inclined her head and tried to determine her escape, but the world suddenly seemed too big with too many places for evil to hide. Like the evil she saw in the pale gray eyes of the man in front of her, whose eyes she refused to meet.

Daisy was aware of sharp movement, and suddenly her chin was caught roughly by one of his black gloved hands, filling her nose with the overpowering smell of leather and gun smoke. His eyes gleamed like silver in his weathered tan face. He was a broad-shouldered man, his size increased by his prodigious gut. As he pulled her forward, Daisy was glad she was one of the tallest women in Fool’s Gold, which made her—despite her reluctance—able to look him in the eye, her forehead meeting the brim of his Stetson.

Once Travis told her she was lucky she wasn’t taller or he would never marry her, no matter how beautiful she was. He always conquered women, in height and every other way possible. Today wasn’t the first time Daisy would have agreed to sell her soul for six more inches of height. There was much she would agree to if it resulted in Travis Butler to leaving her alone. Only that would never happen because Daisy had dared to tell him no.

And Travis Butler didn’t take no from anyone.

He bared teeth that were almost too white in a wide grin as he squeezed her chin harder. “I’ve missed you, lovey.”

Daisy fought the urge to pull free. He’d like that. Instead, she glared up at him. “Let me go,” she demanded.

He chuckled and let go of her chin, but when she tried to back away, his hands caught her upper arms. “Now, now don’t you scarper on me, missy.”

Daisy should’ve known better than to shop during a lull. She managed to avoid him all winter and now, the first time he caught her, no one was around, as if anyone would cross Travis Butler. Hammel’s Groceries & General Store was set back from the residential street it resided on. Hidden by the trees on either side, the store had never seemed farther away from anything or anyone.

“Good thing one of us has patience,” Travis said, staring down at her.

Such a cold gaze. Colder than the high places where the air thinned, and snow lingered. Her lungs seemed to constrict; one could never draw a proper breath around Travis Butler anyway.

Daisy hated looking at him. She hated that he wanted her look at him. It made her think that one of these days Travis would somehow force her hand in the last way that she wanted.

The thought of marrying him made her shudder. Travis pulled her closer, which caused her to struggle, but he simply tightened his grip on her arms until she almost cried out. He certainly knew he was hurting her, but instead of letting go, he held on. A strange look passed over his face, something almost inhuman, as though he took pleasure in her pain and resistance.

He stilled suddenly and began speaking as though they were engaged in a normal conversation between reasonable people. “Surely you realize, Miss King, you would never haggle over scraps at Hammel’s store again if you just accepted my proposal. In fact, you would never haggle about anything ever again; you would never want for anything ever again.”

“I’ve told you no a hundred times, Mr. Butler, and I meant it every time. Now let me go or I’ll—”

“You’ll what?” Travis baited, eyebrows raised as he lifted his hands in mockery. Daisy’s arms throbbed where he’d held her. “Tell me what you’ll do.”

“What I will do is not marry you,” she stated. Daisy knew it was futile to say anything more. She’d tried before and learned he was not a man to be reasoned with when he wanted something. Travis regarded this as a chase, one he was determined to win. She tried not to think about what would happen when he tired of it. He thought himself above the law, thought he could take what and who he wanted, when he wanted it.

Though Travis was capable of striking terror in her, a clear determined voice was still alive in her heart. You can’t have me; you will never have me. At the same time, she knew in her very bones that Travis only held back because she kept a cool head. She knew he wanted her to crack and sass him, to give him any excuse to assert his alleged authority.

Daisy’s eyes darted to his ham-like fists, trying not to imagine what it would feel like to be struck by one. She’d seen him knock down men with a single punch. Another time, he whipped a boy for a perceived insult. The child had simply been playing with his friends and accidently got mud on Travis Butler’s boots.

Travis feigned the look of a long-suffering beau with the tilt of his eyebrows and a pout on his mouth. “It’s been a long winter and I spent it thinking about you,” he cajoled. “That’s all the romance you could ask for, girl.”

“No,” Daisy said. She had no interest in Travis Butler’s brand of romance. In public, he had no problem throwing his weight around. She couldn’t imagine what it would be like in a locked room with no escape. “I must go.”

She had barely started to turn away when he snaked an arm around her waist and pulled her against him. Everything felt wrong and sharp, somehow, in spite of his girth against her. With her skin crawling, all Daisy could think of was that if someone saw them, it would be all over town that she was spoiled goods.

Horror choked her throat as she tried to get free. Then he leaned down. That darkness in his pale eyes made a rising scream die in her throat. Fear tangled her tongue as she braced for a blow.

“Mark my words, Daisy King, one way or another, you will be my wife.” She knew the dark rumors about how he craved women—craved to bully and break them. After all, hadn’t the brothel down in Vernal banned him for life? The story went that it took five big men to pull him off the matron, who’d dared pull a gun on him.

With that, Travis all but shoved her away from him, turning on his heel. She watched him stalk away, a hand pressed to her chest. She shook so badly she almost dropped her purchases, now half-crushed thanks to Travis.

Glancing around, she saw that the street was devoid of a single soul. Daisy didn’t know whether to feel relieved, more scared, or if she should run.

Looking up at the blue sky, which now seemed brittle and far away, she brushed at her tears. It was bad enough that she and Clara could barely fend for or feed themselves. Add in Travis Butler, big shot owner of the Devil Tooth Mine and the richest man in Fool’s Gold, and their chances for any kind of a happy ending were laughable.

God, she’d been saying no to Travis for two years. How much longer before he simply took what he wanted?

How much longer could the King sisters run on hope that they could survive like this?

Chapter One

Fool’s Gold, Colorado, April 1884

Smoothing out a wrinkled dollar bill, Daisy placed it on top of her dresser. Rummaging in the top drawer, she found the small purse that belonged to her mother. Rubbing her thumb along the edge of the purse, Daisy imagined it opening to a plethora of gold coinage.

Instead, it was the King sisters’ dwindling savings, and a bolt of panic shot up her spine.

Making a note on the small ledger page Daisy kept with the purse, she tried to find grace amid the gloom. At least she was earning a steady income, a dollar per week for washing and sewing for the Beale family up the road, even though sometimes her job felt like a cruel joke. The Beales filled their fine, new home with laughter and music, which played like a painful echo in Daisy’s heart. It was too much like her childhood in Austin, Texas—the sumptuous furniture, the cutting-edge fashion of their clothes, and the obvious love.

The last one was the worst. It was bad enough to sit in the corner in her homespun, a blot against the beautiful room. But to be around so much love and family was painful, because in Daisy’s world, it was hard not to believe one paid a terrible price for laughter and love. Not only had she and Clara lost their childhood home, but their family. First, within the span of a month, both grandparents died suddenly. Then, not a year later, their parents were killed in a terrible carriage accident when Daisy was fifteen and Clara just eighteen. It was something people still discussed, at least according to letters from their mother’s cousin who still lived in Texas.

It wasn’t just the tragic death of two loved ones and the two orphans left behind, though. It was the grim, delicious twist of the knife that got tongues wagging. Their uncle, William Franklin King, who was the girls’ father Robert’s brother, stepped in after their parents’ deaths to manage his brother’s estate. Unfortunately, as William King reported, Robert King’s holdings had been grossly misrepresented. Uncle William was duly bereft and downcast at having to report to his nieces that only a pittance remained for them to live on. He was good enough to turn over to the girls every last remaining cent their father had left: $337.46. He kissed each girl on the cheek and wished them well. Then he left the state for parts unknown and was not heard from again. It was a monumental theft of the King fortune by their own blood kin, someone they’d trusted. Instead, William King forced two orphan daughters to flee west to Colorado.

Daisy ached every time she thought about what was lost. It was a burning scar that lived deep in her heart, with all the swallowed pain from trying to make the best of things. But it was impossible to forget.

Once, Daisy had danced in silk gowns and wanted for nothing. Now, more often than not, she went to bed early, shivering under thin blankets and trying to convince herself that she wasn’t hungry, merely tired and cold.

Closing the drawer, Daisy found herself remembering her spacious room as a girl. Pale pink wallpaper, luxurious carpet and a marble fireplace. She tried not to mind but even she couldn’t find a silver lining in her cramped room. The floors were a washed out gray, the bedstand the same, and the dresser older than the hills. Meanwhile, the window looked out on a grim visage of the back of their landlord’s farm, the chicken pens and the livestock barn blocking the view, such as it was. It often felt like climbing into a musty hole, but it was the only place that Daisy could find a minute’s peace.

She jumped when there was a step in the hall and then Clara appeared at her open door. “How much?” she inquired.

“Enough, Clara,” Daisy assured her as a throb of pain went through her temples.

Clara’s lips became a thin line and she turned away, calling back, “We need to talk.”

“About?” Daisy asked as she followed her older sister into the sitting room.

It was one of the nicer rooms in the cottage, with big windows that looked out on the road and the meadow beyond, with the shadow of mountains in the distance. The big fireplace had a handful of mismatched chairs on one side and a sofa on the other.

But the empty shelves on either side turned Daisy’s stomach. One day last month, Daisy returned from the Beale house to find every last one of the King knickknacks and Jack’s books had been sold. Now the empty shelves served as stark reminders of their empty pockets.

Stopping in the doorway, she watched as Clara went to Henry’s makeshift bed on the old sofa. He’d outgrown his cradle in the last month, but there was no money for another bed. At night, he slept with Clara, but Daisy knew her sister’s mind was forever racing ahead to the future when he would need so much more than what they had. Whenever her sister wilted over Henry, a grim foreboding seized Daisy. Not another fight.

Daisy made her way over to the chair in front of the fire and sat, her feet and back aching. She sensed Clara’s eyes on her but didn’t look up, only hugged a cushion to her stomach.

“Not today,” Daisy begged before Clara could speak. “Please.”

“Then when?” Clara asked in a low, intense voice. “For months, we’ve been barely scraping by. Now? I have no words. It feels like the end.”

Daisy sat up straight and frustration overflowed. She wanted to hurl the pillow into the fire and gripped it to keep from doing so. Why did Clara have to catastrophize so?

Once, Clara had been curvier than Daisy, with a warmth to her skin that brought out the red in her hair and the gold in her amber eyes. She was determined, busy, and filled with a sharp wit. Now, she was whittled by grief down to the bone. She seemed to grow more pinched and puritanical by the day, which worried Daisy. She knew it was impossible to subsist on next to nothing. She couldn’t even recall the last time Clara smiled.

For so long, Clara had been the one to take charge. To see her sister like this scared Daisy in a way that even Travis Butler could not. Even their good friend, Veronica, had drawn Daisy aside, warning her about women who suffered emotional distress after giving birth. And then to be widowed?

It was as though all of Clara’s strength collapsed in on her. After that talk with Veronica, Daisy decided that Clara should stay home and tend to Henry. They couldn’t even afford to pay anyone to watch the baby.

“Your head is stuck in the clouds,” Clara said with a sudden odd intensity. She twisted her hands in her skirt. “You know what needs to be done.”

Daisy shut her eyes for a long moment and braced herself for what was coming next.

“Don’t you see? There’s no choice but to accept Travis Butler’s proposal. We’ve reached the end of our rope.”

It was as though her sister’s hands were twisting Daisy’s heartstrings and she could barely whisper, “Clara—no!

Clara hunched over, her head in her hands, rocking back and forth. Daisy slumped back with a hand over her aching heart. The King sisters normally didn’t snap at each other—they didn’t have harsh words between them. But the compounded stress of so much relentless tragedy left them fractured in ways they didn’t even realize.

Clara was still reeling from Jack’s death. It had been a marriage of convenience, yes, but it was amiable and courteous. Jack was a good man, a good provider. No one worked harder than he did, and no one doted more on Henry.

Daisy still expected Jack to come bounding through the door, streaked with dirt, and laughing as Clara chased him out to wash up. She pictured Jack whistling as he went to work, pausing to doff his hat and tweak her nose. She remembered his blonde hair falling into his rugged face, gazing down at his son with such love that Daisy’s breath caught.

There was something about seeing her brother-in-law as a father that made Daisy feel safe in a way she hadn’t since her own father died. Jack’s solid arms holding his small son seemed to assure he’d never let any harm come to his anyone in his family. It had done something far more potent to Clara, though. She opened her heart and Jack followed. Daisy had watched as they began to fall in love, and then—Jack was gone.

Are we cursed?

Unable to bear the thought, Daisy stood and went to the small firewood chest that Jack made. Only four pieces of wood were left inside. They’d painstakingly stretched it out all winter, which seemed to refuse to turn into spring just to mock them. After a single warm day last weekend, the weather plunged back to freezing temperatures.

Tossing the log on the fire, Daisy turned and let it warm her back, casting an eye over the small cottage. In spite of its barrenness, it always smelled of fresh wood and cotton.

Jack had rented it for his new bride, never intending to stay there long, but also refusing to rent a house from the mine owner, seeing it as the lesser of two evils. Clara had argued, but Daisy was fervently grateful for her brother-in-law’s foresight. If they lived on Travis Butler’s land in one of the Devil Tooth houses, using scrip at the Mining General Store … It did not bear thinking of.

Finally, Clara looked up. “If not for me, Daisy, say yes for Henry’s sake.”

“I told you,” Daisy said, hating that her voice cracked. “I’d do anything for you two.” And I feel like I already do. “But that is something I simply can never do.”

“There’s no one else,” Clara said plaintively. “Not for you and certainly not for me.”

Because of Travis, Daisy wanted to say. She wrapped her arms around herself. Stealing my future, my chance for love, for happiness and a future.

Clara had urged Daisy to accept the first time Travis proposed. After all, Clara married Jack to avoid a vicious man doing the same back in Texas. So this about-face, this pretense that Travis would make everything alright and not break Daisy in any way he could—it hurt more than the bruises he’d left on Daisy’s arms.

Daisy was silent before she looked up. “We should move to Denver.”

Clara recoiled. “We can’t hope to survive in the city. Why can’t you marry Travis? Why!”

Daisy paced to the window, trying to calm the anger that leapt like lightning under her skin. But she couldn’t stop her words. “Because I agreed to stay here and work, even though I could make better money in the city. I did not agree to stay here and marry that monster.”

“If there was someone else—”

“There’s not, is there? Because of Travis. Clara, he broke Hank Myer’s arm just for complimenting my hair. Hank! A kind and good man with plenty of money.”

“Hank said it was an arm-wrestling match gone wrong,” Clara murmured.

“That’s because Hank didn’t want to scare you,” Daisy almost snarled. “Travis drew a gun on a man who joked about offering for my hand. One of the young miners.”

Clara made a face. “That’s illegal, Daisy.”

“Don’t talk down to me like that, Clara, just don’t.” Daisy had a flashback of standing outside the general store watching Travis loom over her, grab her, mock her. He barely held himself back from doing worse. She all but snapped, “Remember Victor Johnson? Last fall he was on his way here to offer for my hand and was set upon by Travis’ men. They left him at the state border.”

“Rumors,” Clara protested.

“Oh, now they’re rumors,” Daisy scoffed.

“Look around.” Clara flung out her arms. “We’re falling apart. We fight almost every day. That’s not like us.”

“Because you—” Daisy had to fight back sudden tears. You’re broken and you don’t seem to want to get better. “What about Chicago? Or New York?”

“I can’t,” Clara said.

“Why not?”

Her sister’s face set and her eyes looked glassy. “I won’t make it, Daisy.”

Cold invisible hands wrapped around Daisy’s throat and robbed her of speech.

“I am trying to survive. For my son.” Clara whispered, and again the cold hands wrapped around Daisy. “For you. But even if we both worked, there’s no way out. No fairy-tale ending.” She let out a bitter laugh. “The King sisters’ curse, I suppose, and I’m sorry for that.”

Daisy clasped her hands together tightly. “Don’t be sorry. Clara, I’ve been providing for us and—”

“And it’s not enough,” Clara said gently, causing Daisy to flinch. “It never will be. That’s why you have to marry Travis. Only that will guarantee us a good, prosperous future.”

“You don’t know that.”

“So, you’ll keep scrubbing and sewing what—forever?” Clara’s voice rose, but she wasn’t yelling. She didn’t seem to have the energy.

“No, I thought—” Daisy stopped as her head spun. She didn’t know what to think.

Clara, who hated to cry, spoke through trembling lips as she forced out word after word, almost choking on them. “Two years ago, when Travis proposed, I had a husband who could protect and provide for us. Four years before that, I married Jack for the two of us.”

Daisy cast a longing glance toward the window, wondering what it would be like to be a bird. Just for a day. Just a short reprieve to be free and to fly.

She’d been barely fifteen when Clara and Jack married, still wracked with grief over losing her family and her home. Going west to escape the nightmare of Austin seemed as good as anything else back then. It was only in Colorado that Daisy understood Clara’s sacrifice.

By then, it was too late. And what could Daisy have done? Told Clara not to do it? That was like telling the sun not to rise.

Once, she’d tried to discuss it with Clara, even apologize, and her sister had laughed at her. After that, Daisy had refused to feel guilty. Or tried not to. Both of them had tacitly agreed to look forward. To make the best of things.

“Jack was a good man,” Daisy said, “But Travis–” She turned away, unable to look at her sister another moment. She thought she could feel the shadow of Travis’s Stetson out of the corner of her eye, coming closer and closer, leering at the two of them. The last thing she wanted was to bring up the other way Travis Butler had hurt their little family. Jack.

Turning back to Clara, Daisy said, “You were the one who told me about his two dead wives. You know what he is.”

Clara sighed. “I know that, right now, he is our only hope.”

“We will not find salvation in the man who all but killed your husband!” Daisy exploded. “If Travis treated his workers like men with families, Jack would be alive right now.”

Clara sucked in a breath, horrified. Regret washed over Daisy and tears swam in her eyes. For a moment, she couldn’t speak, and only Henry’s soft breathing and the crackling of the fire filled the room.

“Oh, Clara,” Daisy said. “I had no right to say that. And I’m sorry for raising my voice. I could’ve woken up Henry … I know.”

“I know,” Clara said. For several moments, neither sister said a word. “If something doesn’t change soon, we will be in the poorhouse or on the streets. Mr. Phipps stopped by today.”

The room swam before Daisy’s eyes and she sank back into the chair, her knees no longer able to hold her up. Clara extended a hand, as though she wanted to reach for her sister. Only she didn’t.

Looking away, Daisy made herself ask, “What did he want?”

“He has a new tenant lined up for the first of June.”

“How can he—” Daisy cried out.

“Hush,” Clara cut in. “We don’t have to pay May’s rent. He actually gave me money. For travel expenses and the like. You know Phipps; he assumes everyone shares his line of thinking. He has no idea we can’t go back to Texas.” Clara turned and began to pace. “I will not leave Colorado. I feel that we owe it to Jack to stay. He loved it here. He gave us a new home and a new life. He gave me Henry.”


“If you want to leave, I’ll understand.”

Her sister had not shed a single tear, but somehow her voice and manner suggested something far worse. Despair. Something Daisy thought Clara King wasn’t capable of.

Now Daisy wanted to sink to the floor and sob, tear at her hair. But more than that she didn’t want to hurt Clara. In that moment of taut silence, Daisy felt the wrong move could shatter the young mother.

Finally, in the smallest whisper, Daisy managed a soft plea. “Don’t ask me to do this, Clara. I’ll think of something. Please.

“No, Daisy.” Clara came back to her little sister and reached into her pocket. “You’ll use this money for a wedding dress and dowry. You have to get married.”

Pressing a sudden kiss to Daisy’s forehead, Clara swept over to scoop up Henry and escaped into her little bedroom. Daisy watched her go, startled.

The kiss felt like an unwanted apology. Worse, she had a feeling that if she went to Clara’s room, her sister would be weeping bitter tears over her small son. And she’d never let Daisy comfort her.

Looking down at the money in her hand, Daisy closed her fist over it. In her mind were two warring thoughts, and they were tearing her apart. The chant of never, never, never against the louder howl, you must get married.

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