She is a bride driven by God’s Light. He is a rancher ridden with self-doubt. How can they follow God’s ways if the road to selfless love is filled with past fears?
“For as high as the Heavens are above the earth, so great is His love for those who fear Him; as far as the east is from the west; so far has He removed our transgressions from us.” Psalm 103 11-12
Amelie is a wounded schoolteacher who has sworn off love after multiple tragedies. Desperate to find a family which she can call her own, she accepts a marriage of convenience with a secluded man. Dealing with James’ stubbornness and his only daughter are challenges that ask her to have deep faith. How can she show her new husband that God is not a punisher but The One who spreads love and gives love in return?
James is a young impulsive rancher who is renounced God since his wife’s death. He cannot easily connect with his only daughter since she painfully reminds him of his wife. Marrying Amelie is his last hope to restore some balance in his house. When he sees in Amelie a woman who can forgive his rough spots and give him and his daughter another chance, he realizes that this is all he ever wanted. How can he listen to God’s plan when he’s chosen to shut his heart to Him?
When a strange figure from the past approaches them and asks for shelter, Amelie and James will understand that God works in mysterious ways. How will they embrace the profound love for each other when James is still trapped in previous fears?
It was a cold January morning when the unimaginable happened. The morning had begun as usual for Amelie, who worked at Hope’s Foundation Teaching Center in Hartford, Connecticut. It was the town’s only teaching center, and Amelie had worked there for the past five years. To her, it was a means of holding together, a way to fulfill an in-born passion for teaching.
She got up earlier than usual with the same energy she had kept for the past six months and rushed through a cold bath and a breakfast of fruit pie and a glass of fresh orange juice. There was a sense of foreboding bearing down on her as she got out of the house and headed for the boarding area.
“Good morning, Ken,” she greeted the middle-aged rider, who tipped his hat at her and stepped aside so she could get into the stagecoach. Amelie enjoyed riding with the man because of his kind nature, and he always had some encouraging word to say to her.
“Amelie, heading for the teaching center this early? Do you ever take a break?” he asked, and she smiled. “I hope you find time to care for yourself as much as you find time to teach these kids.”
“Not until the sun sets, Ken. How are Lily and Jane?” His wife and their newborn daughter had been the talk of the town the entire past week, considering she’d recently delivered in the medical center not far off from where Amelie worshiped.
“Great. She’s getting bigger each day, and we’ve completely lost all sense of peace and calm,” the man replied, his eyes and voice beaming with the joy of being a father.
Amelie smiled at him, then released a breath and closed her eyes to say a short prayer. She needed to feel God’s reassurance this morning, as she didn’t know why she had awoken with a heavy heart. Deep down, she sensed something was about to go terribly wrong.
When the stagecoach moved, she relaxed against the leather seat and made sure she had as little body contact as possible with the men on either side of her. Every morning for the past two years, she had ridden with Ken to the center, and the ride was always a pleasant one.
Hartford had a few coaches available, but Ken’s rode out early, just around the time she needed to leave, so she always joined his. It took nearly thirty minutes to reach the school, and if Amelie were to walk, then it would take longer.
When they arrived at the T-junction leading to the long, dusty road toward the main town, the draft horse slowed down and took a detour to avoid the road area riddled with depressions ahead. The detour always led them past the graveyard, and whenever she rode past the memorial, memories flooded her.
The same ones that always brought a sting of pain and a wave longing. She had experienced pain when William, her fiancé, passed away from a sudden illness that had consumed him. She’d dealt with it in numerous ways, first blaming the loss on herself and then gradually shifting it to God. Her lips quivered as the turmoil of emotions filled her again, and she sucked in a deep breath to bury them far inside her.
How much longer will this pain stay, Lord? Help me heal from this pain. Help me move on.
Then she had lost all sense of connection with Him, spending her time asking questions about why it all happened as her faith gradually dwindled. It had taken months of gradual mental effort and support from her church to help her feel alive again. She’d needed constant words of encouragement so she could pick up her Bible again.
She was thankful she had caring people around her who made sure she didn’t derail too far from the truth of God’s word. Maybe if there had been no one, then she would have found another way to deal with the pain.
Lord, I’m sorry, but it’s just so hard, she thought, apologizing again for how she had behaved when the pain was new. Taking the route past the memorial was not torture as most people would think. It was her way of remembering the love she had shared with William. The love that had been cut short so unexpectedly.
She arrived at the T-junction leading to the school a few minutes to eight and stepped out of the coach. The moment she stepped out, she saw the thick smoke colliding with the clouds. With one last pleasing smile to Ken, Amelie started her walk to the school gates a few dozen meters from where she’d dropped. The school was located in the middle of town, and beside it was the only church, where the people gathered for service on Sundays and some week days.
The townspeople around her were staring at the entrance of the school as she neared it. Some were rushing into the school in frenzied states, and a heaviness suddenly filled her heart.
The strong scent of smoke in the air filled her lungs and made her heart jump as she slowed down her pace. The flames licked high into the sky, darkening the once-beautiful blue paint she admired. Her initial shock faded and was replaced with panic. She quickened her step and ended up racing toward the burning building.
Tears stung at her eyes as she watched the community members and the other teachers gather around the building, dragging their long hoses and trying to quench the thirsty flames.
Lord, why? Why take away the one thing that’s keeping me going?
She watched in horror as the entire building continued to char in flames, destroying everything. Her stomach churned, and her heart squeezed so tight, it felt like she wouldn’t recover from the pain. It felt like a sharp-toothed bite eating at her from inside, consuming her from within. The wooden building where she had taught children she cared so much about was now completely engulfed in the pool of fire.
Amelie spotted the school’s director, a tall bald man in his sixties that liked to talk. He was shaken, his arms wrapped around his body as he stared in dismay at the school. The firemen could do little to salvage the situation. From the look of things, when they’d arrived, the main building was far gone. The fire continued to eat at it, destroying what was left.
The brick walls, once the color of local clays and golden in the sunlight, were now stained black. Most of the roof was charcoal, and the windows had exploded from the heat, scattering glass around the schoolyard. She rushed to one of the men holding the hose, helping to pull and straighten it as he tried to connect it to the new tank that had just arrived.
When the water started running, she looked around to find the headmaster, Frank, and spotted him standing alone in a corner, his arms folded over his chest. He was a tall man, with golden-colored hair he wore short and a warm smile. Amelie had admired him from the first day they met, which was weeks after William’s funeral.
His encouraging words and prayers had also helped her gather courage to push forward with teaching. She forced her legs to move, and she approached Frank. “What happened?” she asked him, and he lifted his hurt eyes to hers.
His eyes narrowed, and when he spoke, his voice was a croak. He cleared his throat before answering. “Oh, Amelie, I got the call from the gateman. It happened in the early hours of the morning, and by the time people got here, it was already far beyond our help. The school is gone, Amelie.”
As his words sank into her, she placed her hands on his shoulders, offering comfort in the only way she knew how. Her heart ached, but there were no words to voice how she truly felt. The throb continued in her, and she sucked in a deep breath. Her hands moved to wipe at her cheeks as the tears flowed.
“This was all I had,” Frank said. “There’s no way I can do anything else here. The costs incurred are not viable for the state, and I doubt they would agree to rebuild the school. It’s all gone now.” His voice was soft, and so were his blue eyes as he looked at her.
“Will you be alright, Amelie? I know how much teaching means to you.”
Amelie nodded, though his words shattered the last bit of hope she had. If they had no plans of restructuring the place after this disaster, then where did that leave her? She raised her head to the smoke cloud. What could she do next?
What about the kids? Lord, what do I do now? Where do I go from here?
She stepped away from Frank and walked to an unscathed bench at a corner of the schoolyard. When she passed a crowd of people, the sympathetic looks on their faces tugged at her. The bench had been her favorite spot. She’d spent time here after closing hours, watching the kids play while they awaited their parents’ arrival. When she got to the bench, she sat and whispered a Bible verse that came to her, hoping for a sense of peace and calm. She said the words, believing them.
“Philippians 4:7, ‘And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.’”
I ask for your peace, Lord, to pass through all tribulations with your understanding. Keep my heart and mind for you. Help me go through this the right way without losing sight of your goodness or your grace over my life.
Be anxious for nothing but in everything by prayer and supplication.
A calming sense of peace filled her as the words reverberated through her, and she closed her eyes and poured out her heart.
Lord, you know my heart. You know everything, and you alone can show me where to go from here. I need your guidance now more than ever, please.
Do not be troubled. Trust in Me.
The words were clear, and she opened her eyes and looked at Frank again. From his gaze, she saw he was struggling to keep his own emotions at bay. Her heart was heavy, but in the midst of it all, she knew there was only one thing she could do:trust that everything would work out in the end.
TWO MONTHS LATER
The dryness in the weather could be the only reason Amelie was this parched. Sweat beaded on her forehead, and she pushed the strands of her wavy chestnut-brown hair that clung to her forehead away. She rolled her neck from side to side to loosen the kinks in it and inhaled in a large amount of air to steady her nerves as the stagecoach approached the first boardwalk she had seen since she’d entered Colewood. The air was dry, her throat was parched, and twice she had to squeeze her eyes shut and open them again to ward off sleep.
There was nothing much sustaining her in the hot conditions this far south, and she knew the only reason she hadn’t passed out in the stagecoach the entire ride was the hope that she would soon meet with her Aunt Dee.
Dee’s enthusiasm when Amelie had written her a letter two months ago after the tragic accident in Hartford was what kept her going. Her aunt had been horrified that the school had burned, sorry that Amelie had lost her main source of survival in Connecticut, and excited that she had made a decision to change her environment.
At first, she had been reluctant to leave the town she had known her entire life, the place where she had grown, loved, and been loved, but in the end, this was what God wanted. She knew this because she had spent time after the fire praying and pondering. Her reluctance stemmed from the fact that she would have to leave behind everything that reminded her of William and move on. It was difficult because of how much she would miss the reminders, but she had to obey.
Besides, she needed a fresh start, and leaving was the only way to get that. A fresh start in which she hoped to find happiness and peace like she had found with William.
With an aching heart and lots of questions, she’d decided to leave Hartford. What could she expect to face in Colewood? Was this God’s test to see how faithful she could be? Why else would he ask her to leave her home that held all the memories of her life and go to a place where she knew no one?
How much more do I have to endure?
She got out of the stagecoach and gathered her bags in her right hand, using the left to lift the skimming hem of her wide skirt. As she stepped onto the boardwalk, she took a few steps without looking up and collided into something hard and solid.
“Watch where you’re going,” the thick, gruff voice said with a twisted Southern accent, making her head snap up to his face. His brows were drawn together, and his eyes flared in annoyance. “You should watch where you’re going, lady,” he snapped. She looked up at him and immediately noticed the color of his eyes. It was the deepest sapphire blue she had ever seen, and his brows drew together, forming a crease line. She also noticed the soft arch and the square set of his jaw in an annoyed expression.
Amelie flushed and stepped aside for him to walk through. “I’m so sorry,” she apologized, but he ignored her and stepped past.
“Just avoid bumping into anyone else,” he replied as he turned away from her, his strides long as he disappeared around the corner.
Stunned, she watched his retreating figure and then blinked twice, amazed at the coldness in his blue eyes.
Is everyone in Colewood this rude? And unwelcoming?
Her fear returned, and she wondered if she had made the right choice. Was moving all the way to Texas a good idea?
She headed for the stagecoach office, and when she entered the place, she spotted her aunt rising from a chair and hurrying toward her to envelope her in a warm hug.
She wrapped her arms around her in return and smiled when Dee stepped back. “You’ve grown so much, Amelie,” Dee complimented, and touched her hair gently, a smile still on her face as she pulled away. “You look just like your mother the last time I saw her. She was as young as you are, with the entire world ahead of her.”
“It’s been nearly fifteen years since I last saw you, Aunt,” Amelie replied, and hugged her again briefly, then stepped back to assess her. Her aunt had changed much over the years. Her wide-set hazel eyes had wrinkles around the corners and her brown hair showed gray highlights, but she had the same uplifting smile Amelie remembered. Dee picked up her carpetbag, and they left the office.
As they walked down the road, she saw a few people loitering around. One woman stepped out of her house, holding watering can in her hand, and stared at Amelie intently as they passed.
There were a few rustic cabins and saloons on the road, dotting the grassy lands as trees stood up tall amongst them. Open roads led to more grasslands and ranches owned by members of the town. It was awfully quiet for a Saturday morning, and Amelie concluded that there was either a town council meeting going on that had required the presence of the indigenes, or this was a complete ghost town.
Finally, she spotted a small cottage perched on the plain near the woods. It looked better than the descriptions her aunt had given in her letter. It was old and rough, and the wooden walls almost looked like they would cave in. It was worse than her aunt had described, and it was a dull cream color, partly covered in dust, she was sure. There was no other building nearby, and if not for the smoke and the sign out front, she would have mistaken it for abandoned.
The surrounding yard was small, and the windows were covered in dust so thick they were hard to see through. As Amelie looked around the place, she realized how much work needed to be done. Her aunt could not possibly do the all chores on her own, so she had left most of them unattended for a long time.
Dee walked forward and opened the door even before Amelie had stepped onto the front porch. Amelie gathered her carpetbags, bringing them into her small space.
Amelie looked around. There was a flash of white and pink that made it a bit vibrant. The living area was small. The settee had clothes draped over it, and the rocker in the left corner had a Bible on it. She was sure her aunt spent her time on that particular piece of furniture, reading.
There was also a fireplace with a knickknack on the mantle.
“You must be exhausted, dear, from the journey. Come, I’ll show you to a room prepared for you,” Dee said as she led Amelie past the living area into an adjoining corridor. The first room to the left was the door she pushed open.
Amelie admired the room too. The bed looked like it would be far more comfortable than the bed she had slept in back at Hartford. She hadn’t owned many possessions and maintained minimal need to get any since she had moved into William’s log cabin after his death. The room had been a tiny space with a small dresser standing in the left corner and the walls covered with whitwash. There’d beena lamp, a chamber pot in the right corner, and no personal belongings on the walls.
She had moved all the personal belongings into a box after William died.
“I’m famished too,” she said, and ran her fingers over the mattress.
“That’s a given, dear. I need you to freshen up and then head back out. I’ll fix you something quick for dinner,” Dee offered. Amelie thanked her with a smile, and her aunt placed her hand on her shoulder, staring into her eyes deeply for a moment before leaving the room.
Once alone, Amelie cleared her throat and dropped to the bed with a sigh. She closed her eyes and prayed, thanking the Lord for the pleasant journey and hoping her stay would be a memorable one with more good fortune to signify her new beginning. She hoped coming to Colewood would help her find closure and a fresh start.
Amelie walked out of the room after she had washed her face and changed her clothes into something lighter and more suitable for the Texas summer, a beautiful blue-and-white prairie skirt. She had spent a few seconds staring at the mirror on the dressing table in the room, admiring the pleat on the skirt as she tied a white apron over it. Her wide-set hazel-brown eyes looked tired, but she was sure after a few days of complete rest, she would feel better.
She walked into the kitchen, following the scent of mutton cooking, and she took the bowl on the table and fell into rhythm with her aunt, helping her with the jelly and already-roasted pork. She cut the pork into small pieces with a knife, letting the musty scent of lamb meat fill her nostrils.
She prepared ground nutmeg and cinnamon in the mortar and crushed some black pepper into powder to spice up the soup. Dinner was ready in minutes, and they sat at the small table in the kitchen. Dee closed her eyes and let Amelie do the honors of blessing the meal.
“Lord, thank you for the food before us and for the rest of the day ahead. Amen.”
“Amen,” Dee said, then opened her eyes and lifted a spoonful of mutton. “Tell me everything,” she asked simply as Amelie dug into her own dinner.
“After the school burned down, there was nothing left for me in Hartford. The director refused to renovate or start up the set up, and it left a lot of teachers with no other source of income and the kids with no other means of acquiring the simplest of education.”
“God has a reason for everything, Amelie,” Dee offered, and Amelie nodded. She paused, her spoon hovering above her plate.
“He does. I truly believe that, but sometimes it’s so hard to continue with that in mind. I mean, why would God take away the only thing I had left? I lost my mother, and then my fiancé, and that should have been enough. The school kept me going; it was the last thing I cared about in Hartford.” She was no longer bitter about losing her mother and then her fiancé months later, but she still felt the pain.
She tried her best to not question the past. There was a reason everything happened, and it was all going to work in her favor, so she steadfastly continued in her faith and avoided the thoughts that came with the pain she felt, praying for God’s guidance each time.
“Do you still hear from Him?” Dee asked, taking a sip of water from her cup. She was asking if Amelie still heard the Holy Spirit speak to her. Amelie nodded, and made a small hand gesture to accentuate her point.
“I hear Him. I feel his presence every day, guiding me through it.”
“Then you must know it’s not going to be easy here either. I barely get by with what I earn from sewing and doing laundry work, since I sold the grocery store. But I believe there is a reason you’re here, Amelie. You just have to keep letting Him guide you,” she encouraged.
“I’ve survived so far by feeding on what I earn, and the local church has been really helpful too,” she said, and Amelie nodded. “If this is God’s will, then He will make a way. I’m certain that He has brought you to me for a reason, one that will benefit us both.” Her words were certain and reassuring, and Amelie felt her cold uncertainty when she had spotted the cottage lift a bit.
“I believe so too,” Amelie agreed, thankful for her aunt’s kind words. After they finished eating, she helped with the dishes, then returned to her room to rest. That night, she dreamt of the peaceful life she so desperately craved and needed.
One similar to what she’d had with William years ago, the love they’d shared and the future they would’ve had. There was a man whom she had yet to meet, and when she opened her eyes, she got on her knees and prayed about the dream.
If this man was a crucial part of why God had sent her here, then she knew she would meet him soon. Whatever the plan was, she asked God for guidance.
“Lord, if this is your will, then guide me through it all and offer me your strength when it gets tough, as I know it will. Help me not cave beneath the pressure. Let your will be done. I ask that you also heal my spirit. Moving away from home has been difficult, so please help me adjust quickly.”
I will uphold you with My righteous hand because I am your strength.
The voice calmed her spirit as it always did, and she went back to sleep peacefully.
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