She’s a teacher and a woman of deep faith. He’s a lonely man who struggles with his demons. How can they fight the darkness with God’s Light?
And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. (Colossians 3:14)
Hazel is a brave young teacher who desperately wants to find closure after her husband’s death. She is trying to save up money and leave the painful memories behind her. However, when a stagecoach accident occurs, she realizes that God wants her on another path. Hazel meets a mysterious blacksmith and accepts to teach his son. How can she heal her heart and rediscover her life’s purpose?
Luther is the new blacksmith in town who keeps mostly to himself because of his haunted past. He is far from God and has to take care of his son all alone after his wife’s loss. The unexpected encounter with Hazel will change both of their lives. How can he confront his demons and come back to God’s omnipresent Light?
The Lord works in mysterious ways, but His plan is always the most inspiring to follow. When an evil man comes looking for revenge, Luther must protect his newfound love. How can Luther and Hazel unite their hearts and triumph over darkness?
The sound of buggies and wagons as they moved up and down Main Street filled the whole place. A gust of dust swirled around in the air, causing nineteen-year-old Hazel Burnett to cough a little. She swiped her slim hand in the air to wave off the dust before continuing her journey down the street.
Summer was Hazel’s least favorite time of the year. Most times, she couldn’t stand the dryness and the heat. She raised her hand to shield her eyes from the rays of the sun. Although the sun was setting, its heat still sent beads of sweat dusting her forehead.
“Hazel!” Susannah called.
Smiling, Hazel waved at her. “I’m off to get Dillon. Lord knows if I don’t, he’ll work till tomorrow morning.”
The red-haired young woman laughed. “That’s why he’s the best carpenter in town.”
Hazel couldn’t argue about that. Dillon, her husband, had proven his mettle as a carpenter in the one year they moved from Wilmington, Delaware, to Hopevale. Her husband not only made furniture for houses and offices but he also helped with buildings. Hazel was so proud of all he had achieved since they arrived in the small but flourishing town; she never failed to thank God daily.
Her smile widened at the thought of seeing her husband soon. Satisfied with her appearance as she always wanted to look her best before Dillon, she turned away.
Hazel blushed, not realizing the baker had seen her staring at herself.
“Just making sure I look perfect for Dillon,” she replied in a small voice.
The portly woman with rosy cheeks laughed. “You always look beautiful, Hazel.”
“Thank you, Mrs. Dooley.”
Hazel slowly walked away.
Sadness crept up her heart as she greatly longed for a son who would look exactly like her husband with black hair, blue eyes, and a charming smile.
Father, please bring my heart’s desire to pass in Jesus name. Amen.
Hazel walked by the sheriff’s office and the jail, and a smile crossed her face as she sighted the unfinished hotel building ahead. The sound of hammering rented the air as she drew closer. She could see her husband perched on a ladder, hammering some floorboards. She had stopped worrying about him suspended on a ladder, working. At first, she had feared he might fall while doing his job. But then he had given her a wide grin and said, “Where’s your faith, beautiful? I’m in the hollow of God’s hands and so nothing bad will ever happen to me.”
She had said amen to his words and pushed back worry from her heart.
Hazel finally arrived at the building Dillon and a few men were erecting. Her heart thudded when Dillon flashed her that cheeky grin of his that had always been her weak spot.
Hazel’s face turned a rosy hue as she stood beside the ladder and greeted the other men hard at work.
“Where do you think you’re going?” Nathaniel asked in a teasing tone as Dillon climbed down the ladder.
Chuckling, Dillon answered, “The wife is here. You know I can’t ever say no to her.”
As if his words explained everything, the men grinned and continued hammering away. Hazel removed flecks of sawdust from her husband’s hair, and he grinned. He bent to place his tools into a small bag while she continued brushing away dirt from his hair and clothes.
Her eyes roamed all over her husband’s angular face when he straightened. She recalled with a fond smile the first time she had seen on him in Wilmington. She had thought him the most handsome man in the world with his dark hair, blue eyes that reminded her of the sky, broad nose, and firm jaw. At six feet three inches tall, he towered over her five feet six inches of height.
They bade the men a good night and walked away from the semi-finished building. All that appeared left to do was the roof and some finishing touches around the place. And then people passing through the town would no longer have to lodge in the rundown inn at the outskirts of town but at the new hotel.
“How was your day?” Dillon asked as he threw an arm around her shoulders.
She shrugged. “It was fine. I ran some errands for some townsfolk. I cleaned the house and read a book.”
“Did you think of me all day?”
Giggling, she replied, “You know I did.”
“I spent the entire day wishing you were by my side,” he remarked.
Her lips formed a pout, and she said, “By your side on a ladder?”
A gurgle of laughter rumbled from his throat. Hazel spontaneously threw her arms around his waist and hugged him tightly. She pulled away from him a little when she noticed him flinch. Her brows rose with alarm, as that wasn’t the first time it happened these past few weeks.
She looked up at him with a frown marking her face. “Are you okay?”
Alarm rose in her chest when she noticed a brief hesitance in his sky-blue eyes. In the next second, the expression disappeared, and she wondered if she imagined it.
He gave her a reassuring smile and curved her into his embrace. “It’s nothing. It’s just the aches and pains of a hard day’s labor.”
“Are you sure?” Worry echoed in her voice.
He nodded. “Come, my love. I have a surprise for you.”
Hazel shook away the worry and returned his infectious smile. “What is it?”
“I’ll show you.”
Intrigued, she looped her arm through his as they took a stroll together down the street. When they passed the last building, a post office, Hazel’s forehead creased in a frown.
“Where are we going, Dillon?”
“Patience, my love. We’re almost there.”
Hazel wanted to question what they were doing on the outskirts of the town when Dillon stopped in front of a clearing where a rectangular foundation had been laid. Her lips parted with surprise as she wondered what was going on. Her head lifted, and she searched her husband’s smiling face.
Lifting his hands to cuddle her face, Dillon said, “My love, I’m so sorry. I should never have allowed it to take an entire year since we arrived here. I’ve been so busy helping all the folks around town that I put our plans and dreams on hold. Not anymore.” He kissed her lips. “This is where we’ll build the new school you’ve dreamed about starting.”
Joy rose in Hazel’s heart. Her lips parted with delighted surprise.
“Oh, Dillon. I don’t know what to say. I bless the day we became man and wife.” She sniffed.
“Please don’t cry.” He wiped the tears streaming down her face with his hands. A smile curled the corners of his lips. “I know you’ll be wonderful with the children you’ll teach.” As an afterthought, he added, “And with ours, too.”
More tears poured down her face.
“Even though you haven’t conceived yet, I truly have faith that God is going to bless us with a family of our own in His perfect time. He makes all things beautiful in His own time. We just have to keep the faith.”
Standing on tiptoe, Hazel placed her lips on his. “I love you, Dillon. I couldn’t have asked for a better husband.”
He returned her kiss. “And you, my love, are the best wife in the world.”
A few days later, Hazel was at home in their cottage, reading a book after doing the laundry, when she heard frantic knocking on her door. Her heart jerked to her throat. Who could knock so anxiously? Had Dillon forgotten something at home? He usually kept his tools in his workshop and only brought one or two home to fix things around the small cottage. When the knocks became incessant and she heard a female voice calling her name, she rose abruptly from the rocking wicker chair and placed her book on the side table. Swiftly, she hurried to the door with her heart racing and threw it open.
Erna Granger, the sheriff’s wife, stood by the door, her face ashen and her lips trembling. Hazel stared at the slim, petite woman with an oval face, brown eyes, pert nose, and thin lips. Alarm ran through Hazel’s body when the older woman just stood there with tears welling up inside her eyes and wringing her hands.
“Erna, what is it?” Hazel’s voice came in a whisper as premonition told her what she feared most had most likely happened.
“Please, you have to be calm.” The sheriff’s wife lowered her head. “Something has happened to Dillon.”
A year later . . .
Humming, Hazel walked down the street thrumming with wagons and buckboards.
“Good morning, Hazel. How are you today?” Colt called from his barber’s shop—a corn broom in his hand and a dirty brown apron tied at his waist.
She smiled back at him. “Good morning, Colt. I’m very well, thank you. And you?”
“I’m fine. Where are you off to?”
“To the grocery store. I have errands to run for Reverend Gideon.”
“And how’s the preacher today?”
“He’s doing fine.”
Hazel halted her movement just as a stagecoach with a team of horses galloped by. She stood for a moment, watching the conveyance on its way to the stagecoach stop at the outskirts of the town. It brought back memories of when she and Dillon first arrived in Hopevale. Hastily, she pushed the memory away.
“See you later, Colt.”
Colt waved at her as she continued her walk down the street. She stopped by an apothecary to get some herbs for the preacher. He had been complaining of back pain for weeks now. Hazel had joked that he needed to get a new mattress, but the elderly man had shrugged it off.
Hazel pushed a loose strand of her hair behind her ear and retied her black bonnet, which matched her black bombazine dress under her chin. She swiped a hand across her forehead to wipe away the little drops of sweat on it. Although it was still early in the day, the sun was high in the sky, bathing the town with its burning rays. It had rained a little in the night, but there was no sign as the ground was still dry. Her booted feet paved the dusty boardwalk as she reached the mercantile. The weather-beaten building had served the town for years. A crooked sign hung loosely at the doorpost, welcoming everyone.
Hazel’s nose wrinkled as she walked into the store. The sharp smell of materials mixed with other things Mr. Weller sold filled the place.
“Good morning, Mr. Weller.” Hazel smiled at the willowy man at the counter.
The gray-haired man, counting change for a customer, returned her smile.
“Good morning, Hazel. You came to purchase some things?”
Hazel picked a small basket by the door, moved toward the shelves that held bars of lye soap and took one. She shifted to the canned goods shelf and placed some cans of beans in the basket as well as Reverend Gideon’s Arbuckle favorite coffee. At the sides of the shelves were tables stacked with several pieces of equipment like cooking and mining gear. She ignored them and picked some packets of sugar and butter. Her gaze flickered to the table heaped with stacks of cloth. Colorful calicoes, linsey-woolsey, plaid, flower-patterned and checkered gingham, cotton, and print cloth caught her eye. Her heart longed for the sky blue calico material to make a dress. It would have matched the color of Dillon’s eyes.
She shook away the thought. Even if she had enough money to buy all the dresses in the mercantile, she wouldn’t.
There’s no one to dress for anymore.
With sadness in her heart, she took her purchases to the counter where Mr. Weller was attending to another customer. She waited patiently until it was her turn. The loquacious store owner talked about the weather and the town while he boxed her goods. She paid for them and politely thanked him before exiting the place. Her last port of call would be the cobbler’s where Reverend Gideon’s shoes were in for repair.
The town had grown even more since she arrived there two years ago. It now boasted a bank, a hotel, a candy shop, and three dressmaker’s shops. More people had moved to the town, increasing its inhabitants.
Although the town was relatively small, it had several establishments that offered services to the people that made living there comfortable. A newspaper office, two saloons, a general store, dry goods store, a bakery, a haberdashery, and other buildings occupied the place.
Vast mountains bordering the north side, which made their winters exceedingly cold, surrounded Hopevale which had once been a desert land. Fifty-Niners had thronged the once cow-town in the past, hoping to strike gold in the mountain during the gold rush. Unfortunately, they found none and then moved along to other places. The town, during the influx of people, had thrived which created an avenue for the establishment of more businesses. Even as the miners no longer visited the place, it still flourished with growing businesses. They still had to travel to Denver to get some things, but they were majorly content with what the town provided to its dwellers.
Forests and winding coulees mainly covered the high plains to the west; dried sand streams cut across the plains and mesas. Canyons and rivers made a huge spread toward the end of the town.
Hazel exchanged greetings with the people she met along the way reminding her of how hospitable the people of Hopevale were.
Her mother died when she was young, and her father who never remarried raised her. He ensured she was well-educated and, after finishing school, Hazel became a teacher. It was the fulfillment of a dream she’d had since she was young. But she had to stop teaching when her father became ill, and she needed to care for him. After he sadly passed away, she met Dillon, and they fell in love. With nothing keeping them in Wilmington, they traveled West to make a new life for themselves in Colorado.
They settled comfortably in Hopevale, and Dillon had started a carpentry business. They had quickly become valuable members of the community in the growing town, with Dillon always willing to help the other townsfolk in putting up buildings.
Hazel looked away from the white two-storied hotel when she passed by it. She focused her attention on the dressmaker’s shop opposite it. She kept her head lowered also when she passed by the post office. But then, she couldn’t help staring at the rotted foundation in the empty lot a few feet away. Her heart clenched with a sharp pain as she stared at the vacant place Dillon had chosen to build her school. No one had thought to erect something there, making it serve as a constant reminder of what she had lost.
“I can’t do this anymore,” she suddenly realized.
She needed to get away from Hopevale. It had been a year since Erna came to give her the terrifying news of Dillon collapsing while he had been working on the hotel building. She would never forget that day for as long as she lived.
“He suddenly clenched his chest, cried with pain, threw away his hammer, and fell to the ground,” a teary-eyed Nathaniel had told her as she clasped her husband’s lifeless body in her arms at the building site.
“He died with your name on his lips,” someone mentioned, and her tears poured down her face .
It had seemed like a dream for a long time, particularly as she had had to live in their small cottage alone. Eventually, realization dawned, and she accepted that it was indeed true that her husband, the love of her life was gone.
A year had passed since Dillon died and it was now clear to her that she would never find closure or move on if she stayed in the town—not when most of the buildings reminded her of Dillon when she recalled how he helped build a lot of them.
She chewed on her bottom lip. But what work could she do that would allow her to save up enough money to make a fresh start someplace else? She had been forced to sell their carpentry business and Dillon’s tools, which gave her a little money to live off when things became difficult for her. She had also moved out of their small cottage. The past year, she’d been staying in a small house on the church grounds after Reverend Gideon Palmer kindly offered to let her stay rent-free if she in return helped him at the church.
Hazel picked up the shoes at the cobbler’s and with thoughts still racing through her mind; she walked back to the church. Working for the reverend at the church had basically been for her room and board. So, she had very little savings. She had stayed on in Hopevale because there was nowhere else for her to go, but now, she couldn’t do it anymore. Maybe she would move further West when she had enough money to leave. The question now was where she would get sufficient money to make the journey and settle somewhere else.
Dear God, please order my steps.
The church was situated on the outskirts of the town. The white rambling building with a huge cross on the pointed end of the triangular roof stood at a clearing, surrounded by a grove of fruit trees. When the apples, oranges, and plums were in season, she plucked some to make pies for the reverend and left the rest for the church members.
A peach tree had finally withered out because of the inconsistent weather, mostly in spring. It had been painful for her because it was her favorite fruit, and she had enjoyed making pies for herself and Dillon when he was still alive. Dillon’s favorite had been the orange apple with its sweet and tangy taste. The pear and cherry tree didn’t make it as well. Grasshoppers got there before her sometimes.
Hazel walked toward the side of the building. Through the track to the east, wildflowers bordered the dry land. Out on the south side of the grounds laid her small cottage where she had once boarded. A small garden skirted the side of the stone cottage where she grew vegetables.
Hazel walked to the back of the church building where Reverend Gideon had his own quarters; a two-bedroom cottage attached to the chapel. She knocked quietly on the door and let herself into the small kitchen with its bare floor. She placed the bag on the cupboard and stared at the neatly-kept kitchen with its small dining table, wooden stove, cupboards, and a basin filled with crockery and utensils.
Reverend Gideon Palmer was a very neat and meticulous man. The sixty-year-old widower lost his wife some years back to tuberculosis and refused to take another wife to help his ministry. He was a good cook, could sew a loose button on his shirt and could do domestic chores. He hired Hazel to help around the church as his ministry expanded to other counties.
Sadness welled up inside Hazel that she would leave the kind elderly man, but she couldn’t stand Hopevale any longer. After putting away the groceries, she walked down the narrow hallway to the connecting door leading to the chapel. Reverend Gideon, seated on a pew, flipped a page of the old, worn-out brown-backed Bible in his wrinkled hands.
He elevated his head with a ready smile on his angular face. “Hazel, you’re back.”
Hazel nodded and crossed the distance to join the sandy-haired, slim preacher with a Grecian nose, brown eyes, and warm personality.
“Reverend, I have something to discuss with you.”
A frown slightly contorted his face. “I hope there’s no problem, dear child. You look troubled.”
Hazel nodded and hesitated. She questioned whether she was ready to leave it all behind. When the image of the incomplete school building flashed through her mind, she knew she had to.
“Please sit.” He patted the space beside him on the bench.
She sat beside the preacher and folded her hands on her dress. She lifted her head and stared at the altar; her gaze focusing on the wooden pulpit standing lonely on the raised podium.
“Are you all right, Hazel?”
The deep concern in the preacher’s voice brought tears to Hazel’s eyes. It had been long since someone worried profoundly about her. Dillon used to shoulder her worries, but he was no more.
Swallowing tautly, she shook her head and stared down at her hands.
“Reverend, I want you to know how grateful I am for allowing me to stay in my small room on the church grounds. But…” Hazel drifted to a stop, realizing she might sound ungrateful if she told him what she had decided on the way back to the church.
“Hazel,” the elderly man gently called. “You know you can tell me anything. What troubles you, child?”
“I don’t think I can stay on in Hopevale much longer.” she confessed with tears stinging her eyes, hoping he would understand why she had given up.
The preacher frowned. “Why? Did anything happen while you were in town?”
She shook her head and twirled her hands on the skirts of her dress. “Truth be told, Reverend, I don’t think I can ever get over Dillon’s passing.” She elevated her head and stared unseeingly around her. “Every day, it seems the whole town triggers fresh memories of my deceased husband.”
Even the church reminded her of Dillon. He constructed the pulpit and created another layer of the podium so that everyone would see the reverend while he preached to them. He had also made some benches and donated them to the church. After the Sunday service, they had joined the townsfolk in picking fruits from the orchard. In addition, they had also attended feasts and picnics at the church grounds and spoken to the preacher together on several issues. Memories of Dillon were everywhere in Hopevale.
Reverend Gideon released a sigh. “That’s because the community valued and loved him. Dillon was one of a kind; a man of the first water and was truly appreciated. God knows why He called him home when He did.”
Hazel kept on pushing back her tears so she could say what she planned. She had shed enough tears already. It changed nothing, only made her sadder. No wonder the Bible advised Christians not to weep like heathens for their departed loved ones.
“To be honest with you, what I truly want is to find work that will pay me enough to save money so I can settle someplace else.”
The reverend let out a deep breath. “I’m so sorry, Hazel. I wish I could pay you more than the stipends I give you.”
Hazel quickly shook her head. “I’m not asking you to, Reverend.”
“I know. I just wish I could, but as you know, the life of a minister of God is a life of piety. You deserve to be rewarded more than I pay you because you’ve been such a wonderful help to me this past year. You never fail to come to my aid whenever I need it. You’re a blessing to this community.”
The reverend’s words brought more sadness to her heart. The townsfolk had become like a family to her. They had rallied around her when her husband died. She didn’t like the pitying looks in their eyes when they thought she wasn’t looking. She couldn’t stand any of it anymore.
“Thank you, Reverend, for your kind words. I wish I could get my heart’s desire working for you alone. Alas, that’s not the case. But I thank you for how much you’ve been like a father to me.”
He smiled. “You’ve been like a daughter to me, Hazel, and I’ll miss you dearly. However, I can’t force you to stay here. God’s will must be done in your life if He wants your service someplace else.”
She nodded and ducked her head. She wasn’t really sure if it was God’s leading for her to leave Hopevale. Possibly it was her hurt and pain making decisions for her.
“Bring your hands, Hazel. Let us commit your intentions into God’s able hands. May His will be done in your life.”
Hazel held hands with the preacher while he prayed for God’s intervention and direction in her life.
“If it’s Your will Heavenly Father that she leaves Hopevale to another place You’ve chosen for her, create a door of opportunity for her. You said whenever we cry to You, You will hear us. We place our hope and trust in You that You will do exceedingly more than we can think or imagine. Make a way for Your daughter, Lord. Amen.”
“Amen,” Hazel replied and opened her eyes.
She had expected peace to come over her heart, just like it had done when she and Dillon had prayed concerning the move to Hopevale. She was a little disappointed that she hadn’t received the confirmation for her departure from the town.
As if the reverend knew what she was thinking, he patted her hand and gave her a fond smile. “Don’t worry, child, and don’t be a pessimist. It will come. God will make a way. His will would be done in your life.”
“Amen,” she answered in a tiny voice. “Thank you, Reverend.”
The man squeezed her hand and then reached for his Bible. As he spoke with her concerning trusting God, Hazel believed she had made the right decision. She held on to Ruth’s courage in leaving all she knew behind to follow Naomi into unknown territory. She would be another Ruth even though she didn’t think she would ever love a man again.
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