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Saving his Scarred Heart and Soul

She is trying to escape an unfair life. He seeks to quench the fire that burns deep inside his soul. When their paths intertwine, will they manage to heal each other’s scars?

He wanted nothing more than to wrap his arms around her and admit that perhaps he did believe in fate since it seemed they were destined to be together from the start.

Annie has seen her life destroyed by men who spread false rumors. She runs away to the West and gets married to a stranger who suffers in silence. Staying on his ranch though, and watching him from afar, gets Annie’s heart beating faster. How can she show this man that the road to happiness isn’t meant to be lonely but shared?

Billy has forsaken romance and family in his life after a horrific disaster. Scarred in body and bruised in heart, he prefers time alone to letting his heart be cured. Getting married to the sweet Annie though will rapidly change his mind. He just can’t stop thinking about her even if she’s too verbose. How can he gather the strength needed to show the woman he loves his affection?

Living in the Old West comes with difficulties and conflicts Annie and Billy must resolve together. How can they put together heart and soul to save their unexpected marriage from hidden dangers?

Written by:

Western Historical Romance Author

4.6/5

4.6 / 5 (34 ratings)

Prologue

June 2o, 1889

Kansas City, MO

Annie Blake passed through the gate to the small cemetery, purple and white dogtooth violets in hand. They had always been her mother’s favorite wildflower. One of Annie’s earliest memories was of her mother carefully braiding the purple flowers through her scarlet hair.

“Someday when you get married, I’ll make you a crown of violets to wear,” her mother promised. If she thought hard enough, Annie could still hear her mother’s voice.

She made her way up the cobblestone path, between the jagged teeth of headstones that filled the cemetery tucked just outside the city. An old stone chapel was visible between the oak trees and bushes that dotted the churchyard, which was situated on a slight incline. She finally stopped in front of her mother’s grave, halfway up the hill. The street was visible from the gravesite, along with the wooden gate into the churchyard.

Annie let out a soft breath, and knelt, placing the flowers at the base of the stone that read Caroline Blake, Died June 20th, Age 30. Years had passed, and she had visited the cemetery countless times, yet the pain of losing her mother still lingered. She still felt like the five-year-old girl whose mama just died.

The cemetery was almost always quiet mid-morning. Annie preferred the peace of being alone while she mourned. The leaves on the oak trees interspersed through the cemetery were newly opened, giving the entire space a bright green hue.

“We miss you, Mama,” Annie said, her words hushed despite being alone. “Even if he doesn’t come by often, I know Pa misses you. He’s not the same since you left us.” Her father seemed so broken after her mother died. Her father said her mother got sick after she gave birth and was never the same afterward, and passing away eventually. It took years for Annie to let go of the guilt she felt as the cause of Mama’s weakness. Once in a great while, guilt still whispered in her ear as she tried to fall asleep. The message was always the same—that her mother would still be alive if it weren’t for her.

She remembered the way Pa always looked at Mama, like she was the most beautiful creature on earth. Maybe someday I’ll be able to find someone who loves me like he still loves you. She shut her eyes, letting out a gentle breath. Maybe finding someone who loved her like that would make her feel closer to the memory of her mother. Then they would have something else in common apart from their fierce stubbornness and red hair. She wished, as she so often did, that her mother was by her side as she navigated through the storms of life, instead of under the cold ground in the cemetery.

After a few moments, Annie stood, brushed the dried grass from the fabric of her skirt, and turned to make her way out of the cemetery. As she approached the gate, movement along the fence caught her eye. There was no mistaking the man as anyone but Edward McConnell. His yellow suit and unctuous charming grin gave him away immediately.

“Good morning, Miss Blake,” Edward said, as if he were surprised to find her at the cemetery. He seemed to always know where to find Annie when the mood struck him to come around and bother her. “It’s a beautiful day out, isn’t it?”

“Good morning, Mr. McConnell.” Annie looked at the man skeptically. He wasn’t the type to come around just to make innocent pleasantries. No one could deny that Edward was an incredibly handsome man. His firm jaw was accented by a well-kept mustache and goatee. His blond hair was trimmed and tidy and his gray eyes always seemed to sparkle. Every young lady who knew Edward McConnell had her eye on him. Every young woman except Annie Blake.

“It is a lovely morning,” she finally agreed, keeping her tone even. “Unfortunately, I won’t be able to enjoy the day too much. I have a lot of work to do back at the house.” His insistence on spending time with her left her uneasy, like he was trying to force a connection between them that didn’t interest her.

Edward gave her another smile, nodding. “Of course. I know you like to keep yourself occupied. Seems like every time I pay you a visit, you have somewhere to run off to.”

“It does seem so, doesn’t it?” Annie acknowledged pointedly. Edward was either oblivious or deliberately ignorant to how little she wanted his company. “Excuse me, I must be getting home,” she said, stepping toward the gate. Her instinct to shove past him and quickly get back to a more populated area made her palms itch. She couldn’t put her finger on it, but she didn’t trust Edward enough to be alone with him longer than necessary.

McConnell slid in front of her, blocking her exit. “You could at least give me the privilege of walking you home,” Edward said, darkness flashing briefly in his gray eyes.

“No, thank you, Mr. McConnell,” she said, a sharp bite in her voice. “I don’t have time to socialize today. Now, kindly step aside so that I may pass.”

Edward remained still in front of her. “Is this about that silly rumor that’s been going around town about us? You know, there’s no reason why we couldn’t indulge if there’s already talk …” Without further warning, he wrapped an arm around her waist and pulled her close, kissing her hard.

She froze, unable to make her body move. Then she gathered the strength to shove against him hard enough to separate them. “Excuse me!” Annie’s nostrils flared with anger and disgust as she pushed her way past the man. She rushed down the street, her scarlet hair bouncing as she moved.

“Have a nice day, Miss Blake. I’m sure I’ll see you soon,” Edward’s voice called after her. His voice made her shudder, as if she could shake off the essence of him. She walked as quickly as she dared, hoping not to draw any attention to herself.

The sunny street was far too crowded for Annie’s comfort. People dotted the street, too many of them watching her. They must have seen him kiss me, she thought. Most people had heard some of the talk that was going around town, talk that implied more than simple conversation between them. A hot fire burned under the skin of her face at the thought. Not only did she find Edward McConnell irritating and vain, but his constant hovering did nothing to stop the rumors from spreading.

Annie knew she had to do something to change her life. She wasn’t about to stand still and let rumors and McConnell’s unwanted advances lead her in a direction she didn’t plan to go in. The only problem was that she couldn’t see any way out of her situation, no matter how hard she looked.

Chapter One

July 2nd, 1889

Kansas City, MO

The summer air was thick and hot that morning as Annie set out to run a few errands. If she looked far enough down the street she could see the air moving, distorting the buildings and carriages in the distance. Enough people cluttered the street that it was difficult to navigate, leading her to weave in and out of crowds trying to get from the post office to the general store.

With each day that passed, the weight of Edward McConnell’s advances increased. Eyes were on Annie every time she left the house, leaving her with anxiety she didn’t know how to quell. Ever since she’d grown a woman’s figure, men began to approach her, obviously attracted to her beauty. There was no doubt in her mind that attraction was what kept Edward McConnell returning to her side. Now, it wasn’t just men that were looking at her; women were, too. Only instead of lusting over her, the women stood in judgment.

For the first time in her life, she resented her beautiful scarlet hair. She always loved her red waves, because they were the same as her mother’s, but now they simply served as her most identifying feature. People saw the red hair on her head and knew she was the woman seen so frequently with Edward McConnell. They knew she was the one supposedly spending time in Edward’s bed.

As she made her way through town, Annie spotted him across the street, heading in her direction. His head was turned, so maybe he hadn’t seen her yet. Her heart jumped into her throat. Every time she saw him, her mind went back to the day at the cemetery where he forced a kiss on her, causing her stomach to turn.

Edward supposedly worked for his father, learning how to run the bank when the time came for Samuel McConnell to retire. Annie had no idea when he found time to work, given that he seemed to be perennially socializing on the street.

Annie darted into the crowded general store, silently praying that Edward hadn’t seen her, and that he wouldn’t look through the window. Customers swirled between the shelves, conversing among themselves about the prices of goods, with a few men on duty at the counter, filling orders for upcoming weeks.

Annie did her best to casually move deeper into the store, positioning herself behind the shelves so she wouldn’t be easily seen from the front windows. Keeping the door in view, she busied herself looking through the embroidery threads in front of her. She craned her neck to try to see the front of the shop through the crowd. The heat in the store was nearly unbearable between the summer day and the people crowded together in the aisles.

A flash of yellow fabric and the jingle of the bell over the shop door announced that Annie’s attempt to hide was in vain. She closed her eyes in defeat before taking a deep breath.

“Well, Annie Blake, I didn’t expect to see you out and about today.” Edward’s overly eager voice filled the room as he stepped around the shelves to join her.

Annie forced a smile, shaking her head. “I can’t say the same,” she said, stepping back from the shelf to gain some space from Edward’s intrusion. She glanced around quickly, feeling shoppers’ eyes on her. An ashamed blush crept over her face. She wanted to loudly announce that she had never had, nor ever would have any desire to spend time with the man next to her. Instead, she bit her lip hard, stopping herself from causing a scene.

Edward frowned for a mere second before shaking it off, putting on his most charming grin once again. “Annie, I don’t know what’s gotten into you. I thought we agreed that rumors are rumors and there’s no reason to push me away simply because a few people make thoughtless comments. Besides, you’re a lucky gal. Most of the rumors are probably spread by jealous girls that wish they had my attention like you do.”

Annie felt the color drain from her cheeks. She had done her best not to pay too much mind to gossip that brewed in their community, but it was different when she was the subject of the gossip. “There wouldn’t be such rumors if you didn’t spend what seems like all your free time trying to find me around town.” Her tone was calm but left an air of distinct warning in its wake.

“Come now, Annie,” Edward waved a hand dismissively. “There’s really nothing to worry about when it comes to that type of gossip.” He paused a moment as if he were thinking about what to say next, but Annie could see through that facade easily. “If it bothers you too much, there are things that we could do to stifle what the rumor mill is running.”

“Oh, really?” Annie’s couldn’t keep the suspicion out of her voice. She turned her attention back to the shelves, pretending to look at sewing needles. Maybe if she continued to treat him with vague disinterest he would give up.

“You could always marry me,” McConnell said, shrugging far too casually for having just suggested marriage. “Then it really wouldn’t matter if the rumors about us were true or not, and the gossipers would find something new to entertain themselves with.”

It took a moment for her to realize that he just proposed to her under the guise of fixing the rumor problem, and in the middle of the general store too! Had he no respect for her at all? Annie’s eyes went wide before they flashed with anger. “Mr. McConnell, I cannot believe that you would even suggest that as a solution.”

Edward shook his head, gray eyes rounding innocently. “Why? You seem to be the only woman in Kansas City who has yet to realize that I am one of Missouri’s most eligible bachelors, a fine catch if I do say so myself. Besides, we would make an excellent match. You’re the most beautiful girl in town and I’m the most handsome bachelor. Your family has money, and my family has money. There would be none of that nasty business of trying to weed out people who only wanted to marry for our wealth. To me, it’s an obviously fine solution.”

Annie moved past him, making her way toward the door, but he followed close behind her. The bell jingled as she pushed her way out the front door, pausing to get her bearings, but she soon felt Edward brush against her shoulder.

She turned, facing him. “I want to make myself clear. I do not have any interest in marrying you. I would appreciate it if you took it upon yourself to stop the rumors about us, but if the best you can do is leave me be, then do that,” she snapped. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have things I must attend to this afternoon.”

She turned and began to hurry home, letting out an irritated breath. Her eyes caught a pair of young women she recognized from around town standing across the street from the shop. How much had they seen? A hot flush swept over Annie’s face as the two women leaned close to each other and whispered something. She knew what they were saying. It was the same thing everyone in town seemed to be saying about her and Edward McConnell: that she was his lover and was therefore impure. All because he repeatedly followed her around town, vying for her affection. They didn’t see that he felt entitled to her company and her body, or that she had never been interested in him.

Annie wanted more than anything to be able to marry a kind man, and have a family with him, but because of the stories that she had been with Edward, her options in Kansas City became more and more slim by the day. Lies and gossip spread like wildfire in this town, and there was nothing Annie could do to stop them. No decent man would ever marry her if the rumors of a relationship with Edward prevailed. She felt her chances of a loving marriage like her parents had, like she always wanted, burning up in front of her eyes. Edward knew this, and further fueled the gossip about her at every opportunity.

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