She has a God-gifted voice, but she is afraid to speak her mind. He is the prodigal son seeking redemption. How can two wounded hearts heal by God’s Light?
After losing her parents, Rosaline worked as a maid for a wealthy couple to survive. The circumstances are tough for her since her boss treats her like a pariah. God gave her an angelic voice, and singing is her only way out. Determined to get out of her harsh life, she decides to become a mail-order bride and take life in her own hands. How can she cope with a man who lost his faith and accept her feelings for him?
Thomas is the prodigal son of the family. He has lost his wife, and now it’s difficult for him to raise his son on his own. His faith has gone away, God, and he believes that has abandoned him. Thomas only wants to find a woman to take care of his son, and he is not willing to open up his heart again. How can he confront the demons of his past and come back to God’s path?
When Rosaline’s past comes hunting them, they must stay together and fight for their love. Will they listen to God’s voice and let their love shine?
Baxton Kansas 1870
6 months earlier
The candlelight flickered, casting ominous shadows across the bed as
Thomas Stratton stared at his wife over his clenched hands, his intertwined fingers white from the pressure of his grip. His lanky frame was hunched over, his elbows rested on his knees as he brooded.
The hours of bedside prayer had left him exhausted, and his usually neat, sandy hair was messy from the constant frustration as he had attempted to nurse her back to health.
The old floorboards creaked as he gently rocked back and forth in thought on the old rocking chair he had managed to squeeze into the corner of the small room facing the bed.
Only yesterday she had seemed better, but this morning she had taken a turn for the worse. He never left her side, refusing to let anyone take his place.
She had still worsened, despite his best efforts, and her breathing had now become erratic. Her once beautiful features were drawn and listless. Her golden blonde curls clung to her face, curls she had passed on to Robbie, their infant boy who lay down the hall in his crib, unaware of how close his mamma was to death.
It was hard to believe that just a few days ago she had been playing with their 6-month-old son, laughing in the summer breeze that blew through the ranch.
He should never have allowed another person into the house, even if it was just the midwife, but caution had overruled his better judgment.
Childbirth could be tricky at the best of times, you never knew when help would be needed, even in the face of an epidemic, he had reasoned with himself.
So many had fallen. Cholera had come to Baxton just a few years earlier, sweeping through the town and surrounding ranches like a plague. Since then they had experienced a non-stop onslaught of the disease. At any given time, at least one person was dying, if not more. It never stopped. There was hardly anyone that survived once they caught it.
Death reached its boney fingers into their community and took as it pleased.
He looked at the words of one of his mother’s favorite verses as they hung next to the old wooden door. His wife had embroidered the cloth by the dim light of the paraffin lamp, adding a tiny yellow butterfly at the end because she loved them so much. She always said that yellow butterflies were a sign of a loved one’s peace and blessings. Stitch by stitch, hour after hour as she held vigil by his mother’s side, she had stitched the cloth.
(Romans 8:28) “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are called according to his purpose.”
He shut his eyes against the memory of his mother lying in this very bed only two years prior. It was separate from the other rooms and they had set it aside in case anyone fell ill. It was small and sparse enough to keep clean, yet comfortable enough to allow the sick to rest. Once the sewing room at the end of the hall, they had removed the machine and brought in a simple wooden frame with a mattress. A bedside table held the water jug and medicines needed to nurse the sick.
His wife had nursed his mother with care and dedication. She had wiped her brow and changed the linens as the disease took its foul course. No matter how much you cleaned, you never quite got rid of the smell. The sickly sweet stench of an outhouse combined with dying. The smell of cholera.
A groan from the bed drew his attention back to the present. He pushed himself out of the rocking chair, making the floorboards creak even louder. His usually proud posture drooped under the burden of his worries, and he had to drag himself to the bedside table. The lack of sleep was beginning to take its toll.
Dipping the corner of the rag into the cool water, he bent over the bed and dabbed at her cracked lips.
“Shhh. It’s going to be okay. Save your strength,” he whispered tenderly.
She tried to speak again, but all he could make out was “Robbie,” amidst the moans.
“He’s well. My father is seeing to him. You just rest Mary, that’s all you need to concentrate on.”
She groaned again before her eyes fell shut and her breathing resumed its rattling course through her chest.
He knew all too well what that sound meant. How could he not? His mother had sounded the same towards the end. He resumed his position in the rocking chair as she lapsed back into a fitful sleep, afraid to fall too deeply asleep. The doctor had warned him that fits were a possibility towards the end, and he needed to be awake to calm her.
He clenched his fists once more as her frail limbs jerked.
How could this happen? he asked himself over and over again in his mind. They were so happy together.
A tear rolled down his cheek as he remembered the way they laughed together whenever Robbie made a silly face or gurgled contently. She had wanted a baby so badly. He remembered the night she had given birth. The terrible screams, followed by pure joy when he came into the room and saw her cradling his son close to her chest.
She was the most attentive mother and wife any man could ever have hoped for.
God couldn’t possibly take someone as pure as his wife.
“Please don’t take her, Lord,” he pleaded under his breath, his eyes never leaving her for a second. “We need her. I need her. I can’t raise a child on my own. He needs his mother.”
The sun had long since set. Thomas had accidentally fallen asleep, his body giving in to the demands of exhaustion, only to be awoken in the early hours of the morning by his wife’s violent fits knocking over the glass of water next to her bed.
Her body jerked as he leaped to her side and grasped her hand. “Please stay with me, he begged, trying to hold her still.
Thomas quickly reached for the smallest bottle next to the bed, knocking the others over in the process. The doctor had said it would ease the fits. He struggled to steady her head as he spilled half of the liquid onto the pillows, leaving trails of sticky brown liquid.
His father came rushing into the room, his grey hair tousled and messy from bed. “What’s happening? Is it Mary?” he asked, his voice rough with sleep. “Oh Lord, no.” he gasped as he took in the scene. He rushed to his son’s aid and tried to hold her limbs. But it was too late.
She gave a final jerk as her breathing eased and her eyes stared blankly ahead. “No, it can’t be.” Thomas’ honey brown eyes pleaded desperately as he sought his father’s for help.
Arthur Stratton gently picked up her wrist and felt for a pulse. When he couldn’t feel one he gently closed her eyes, pain etched into his face.
Thomas fell back onto the pillows and stared down at his wife lying limp against his chest, his beautiful, darling wife. Her eyes had sunk into their sockets and her cheeks were hollow.
“She is at peace now.” His father laid a rough hand on his shoulder and squeezed. “She’s with God.”
“You speak of God”, he said in a monotone, shifting himself off the bed and gently laying his wife on the pillows as Robbie began to howl in his crib down the hall.
“What kind of God would do this?” he asked and walked to the door. “What kind of loving God would leave a child without his mother and a man without his wife?” He paused as he reached the door. “Never speak to me of God again. He does not exist in this house.” He ripped the embroidered cloth off the wall and threw it at his father’s feet.
Thomas watched as his father knelt and retrieved the torn verse without saying a word.
He knew that his father’s heart was breaking too, but he could not bring himself to offer any form of comfort.
Robbie lay crying in his crib, screaming for a mother who would never again come to him as the sun rose over the ranch.
Wilmington, Delaware 1870
Rosaline Berry stood in the center of the town hall stage, her hands in front of her, one clasping the other. She held her head high as Mrs. Voss had instructed her, but the glare from the gas lamps was making her nervous and hot.
“All the singers carry themselves with dignity and grace. I expect the same from you.” Mrs. Voss’ words echoed in her mind as the restless crowd stared at her and sniggered. All the farm owners from the surrounding area had come out to hear her sing, gawking at her while dressed in their finest evening attire.
She was an oddity, nothing more than a kitchen maid that could sing. Her heart was beating in her throat.
She had never sung in front of more than a handful of people. Indeed, this would be the first time she had ever sung outside the confines of the Voss’ farm.
The fabric of her new bustle was itchy and irritating. She had never owned a fancy dress in her life before now, let alone one that was fitted specifically for her.
Even when her parents were alive she had worn nothing but hand-me-downs, but she had been happy back then. While they had never had much in the way of possessions, she had all the love in the world.
The fabric of her new dress rustled as she swayed lightly on the stage, working up the courage to begin, trying her best to remember the words of the new song Mr. Voss had ordered her to sing.
Her dress was a stunning green, a color that Mrs. Voss had chosen, in no small part, to bring out her eyes. She remembered her one-sided conversation with the seamstress as she had fitted her dress: “It’s such a pity you are nothing but a hireling. With your stunning complexion and eyes, you would have made a beautiful lady.” She clucked her tongue. “Lord knows why he would give a creature as lowly as you such pretty features,” she continued as she took her measurements. “Such a waste if you ask me.”
Rosaline knew she was beautiful, she had been told often enough. Her eyes were a stunning shade of jade. She had delicate features, flawless skin, and auburn hair that hung down to her waist. She had spent most of her life trying not to stand out, yet here she was. On stage, in front of a crowd, ready to sing. Singing was something she enjoyed with all her heart and soul, but it was not something she felt she should be ordered to do at the drop of a hat.
For a split second, she wished she was back in the scullery scrubbing pots or cleaning floors. Anything was better than standing in front of all these people being judged. In her mind, she played back the events that had led to this point.
Rosaline Berry had been working for the Voss family since she was ten years old.
Her parents had succumbed to cholera, and she had nowhere else to go when the orphanage had handed her over to Mr. And Mrs. Voss. as a maid.
She’d cleaned their house and taken their abuse for eight years, never knowing a word of kindness.
Somehow this series of events had led to her current predicament. Standing on a stage in the town hall, terrified, and dressed in clothes she wasn’t accustomed to while carriages and horses bustled outside on the busy street.
Someone cleared their throat in the audience and brought her back to the present.
Mr. Voss was impatiently tapping his foot and glaring at her from the front row, his beady eyes angrily searching her face. He was a tall man with a round belly and a cruel hooked nose that was permanently thrust into the air. The words, “you better not disappoint me,” were clearly etched across his stern face. He had repeated them often enough before they had arrived at the hall.
Taking a deep breath, she thought of her favorite verse to give her strength.
(Isaiah 41:10) “Fear thou not, for I am with thee; be not dismayed, for I am thy God. I will strengthen thee; yea, I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of My righteousness.”
She closed her eyes and conjured up a picture of her mother singing her to sleep. She opened her mouth, letting the words pour from her like a nightingale.
“Rock of Ages, cleft for me
Let me hide myself in Thee
Rock of Ages, cleft for me
Let me hide myself in Thee…”
She opened her eyes as the rustling ceased. Everyone was silent as they watched her sing, a mixture of surprise and pleasure spreading across the faces in front of her.
“Let the water and the blood
From Thy riven side which flowed
Be of sin the double cure
Cleanse me from its guilt and power…”
Once again she closed her eyes and her lips broke into a smile as she pictured her mother encouraging her, matching her note for note. Every fiber of her being wanted that image to be real. She wanted to run towards her mother. Towards the last place she had ever felt loved.
“Nothing in my hand I bring
Simply to thy cross I cling
Nothing in my hand I bring
Simply to thy cross I cling…”
She was transported in her mind to a place she loved, watching her mother prepare the evening meal in their tiny kitchen as she played with her doll on the steps, her auburn hair floating around her. Not pinned so tightly into place as it was at the moment with that it made her head ache.
“Naked, come to Thee for dress.
Helpless, look to Thee for grace
Oh, look to Thee for grace
Vile, I to the fountain fly
Wash me, Savior, or I die”
“Rock of ages, ooh, rock of ages,
Cleft for me, cleft for me.
Let me hide myself in Thee
Rock of ages, cleft for me
Let me hide myself in Thee, in Thee.
She finished and opened her eyes.
The crowd was completely silent. She held her breath.
Did their silence mean she had messed up? Her mind raced as her eyes darted to Mr. Voss who was looking less than pleased.
Perhaps their silence wasn’t because they were captivated by her voice. Her confidence faltered. She never wanted to sing in public, but she knew better than to rouse Mr. Voss’ anger by telling him no. Whenever he said that something would happen, it happened.
To her great relief, the audience began to clap. Polite applause that brought a relieved smile to her lips.
Mr. Voss sat quietly and watched her, not joining in the applause.
The carriage bounced over the pebbles as the horses’ hooves beat their course back to the farm. Rosaline’s heart was light from the applause, yet her gut told her that a reckoning was coming. The crowd had seemed pleased with her singing, but the look on Mr. Voss’ face let her know that he was not happy with her performance.
“What happened to the song we had discussed?” he asked, his voice calm as he examined his gold-tipped cane.
She cringed under his gaze and shrunk back into the seat. She knew not to trust that tone of voice. “I couldn’t remember the words,” she replied, her voice barely above a whisper.
His face darkened. He could fly into a rage at a moment’s notice if you didn’t tread lightly. “If you weren’t singing those insipid hymns all day, you might have remembered the words,” he snapped as his tone took on a warning.
“I might if I had more time to practice…” she said quietly before she could stop herself. The evening had been long and she wasn’t thinking properly.
The rage in his eyes made her realize her mistake.
“What did you say?” His tone was icy as he grabbed her wrist. “You dare speak back to me, girl?”
“I’m sorry.” She winced as his grip turned into a vice. “I didn’t mean it.” She cowered and slunk back further into her seat.
He let go of her wrist and flung her arm onto her lap. “Ungrateful wench!” he spat vehemently. “I’ve clothed and fed you for eight years, and what do I get in return? Ungrateful remarks from a petulant child who doesn’t know her place. It seems you have forgotten what happened the last time you disobeyed me,” he warned. He straightened the golden cufflinks at the end of his sleeves, shaking his head and cursing under his breath he lay back in his seat.
She looked at the hand he had thrown into her lap as the carriage bounced along the road and traced the scar that ran the length of her palm. She remembered how it had happened as if it had been yesterday.
She had been at the ranch for six years at the time she had gotten the scar. Mr. Voss had flown into a white-hot rage because she dared utter a word he did not like. “No.”
The day had started simply enough. She had awoken at dawn, made all the fires, and carried on with her chores. Singing Hymns to herself as she worked. Just as her mother had done when she was a child. The hymns would always lighten the loud of her chores as she worked.
Mr. Voss had summoned her to his study that afternoon. She had hesitantly entered the room, wringing the hem of her dirty apron in her hands, not daring to pass the edge of the Oriental rug. The high ceilings of the farmhouse made her feel small and insignificant.
“I heard you singing on the stairs this morning,” he had barked at her from behind his mahogany desk, not looking up. His pen continued to across the letter he was writing.
“Yes… Sir. I’m sorry if I was making a noise, Sir.” She stammered at his tone.
“You will wash and comb your hair. Mrs. Voss will give you a clean dress to wear and you will sing for my guests this evening,” he decreed as he sorted through the papers. “You are not an exceptional singer, but I need entertainment for my guests and you will have to do. Make sure that you pin back that hair properly. None of those ridiculous loose strands.”
Her head had snapped up in surprise. “But sir, I can’t possibly do that…”
“What did you say?” He had jumped out of his chair, scattering the papers on his desk.
She had stumbled back in surprise as her foot had hooked on the carpet. and her hands had grasped at the vase that stood next to the door. It had shattered into a million pieces and sliced her palm in the process.
“Never say no to me.” He had hissed at her cowering figure before she had fled from the room.
She had performed that night with her hand bandaged and held behind her back so that the guests could not see. She had sung the hymns that brought her comfort, the hymns her mother had taught her.
She sighed as the carriage jostled her back to the present. Rosaline stared out the window at the rocky terrain as they passed acres and acres of empty farmland and cattle. How she wished she could run past them in the opposite direction. Her heart longed to be free of the drudgery and misery of her circumstances. If only God would hear her plea and help her escape the clutches of her arrogant employer.
“Don’t you forget who all that belongs to,” he said, gesturing with his cane. “I own the clothes you are wearing and the room you sleep in.” He smirked. “You have nothing and no one without me. No parents or relatives to take you in.”
Rosaline shifted in her seat, trying to hide from his gaze. She hated it when he tried to intimidate her. She was never sure when his patience would wear thin and the shouting would begin. The confines of the fine carriage did not allow for any kind of escape.
He had never noticed her until he had heard her singing on that fateful day. Why would he? She had been nothing more than a dirty servant girl back then. A creature beneath his station, not deserving of his attentions.
Since then, Mr. Voss had forced her to sing whenever they had company, reminding her how grateful she should be for him even allowing her out of the kitchen.
If only she had gone about her work silently that day. But then again, it was impossible for her not to sing while she worked. Hymns poured from her soul like water from a spring. There was no stopping it.
The horses came to a stop in front of the imposing farmhouse.
A few lights flickered in the windows. Some of the other servants were still awake to welcome Mr. Voss and take his coat. She could just make out their hurrying silhouettes through the lace-draped windows, scurrying to welcome their master.
The wrap-around porch was silent apart from the swing swaying gently in the breeze.
He blocked her escape with his cane, just as she reached for the door.
“You think those people were applauding because they liked your voice? That was pity applause, they felt sorry for your lack of talent,” he sneered. “You need to try harder.” His tone held a warning. “Go to bed without supper, you don’t deserve to eat.” He lowered the cane, allowing her to pass.
Rosaline flung the door open and raced past the horses, picking the skirts of the fancy dress up as she ran. She would not spend a moment longer in his presence than she had to, lest his temper turn. She ran around the house, knowing he would be watching her every move. She had tried to run away once before, but he had caught her in the act and locked her in her room for a week without any food.
Running to the back of the house, she yanked open the door at the bottom of the stone steps that lead to her quarters. Once inside she flung herself onto the metal-framed cot in the corner that took up most of the space.
She allowed her breathing to ease before she reached for the matches next to her bed and lit the candle stub. Mr. Voss only allowed her to have one a month, so she had to be careful how long she let it burn and only used it to read her Bible.
Reaching behind her into the bustle of her dress, she pulled out a roll that she had managed to sneak on the way out of the town hall. The room had been laden with food for the guests, so she had snatched one and quickly tucked it into her bustle. At least all that material was good for something.
She carefully placed the roll on her bedside table.
This wasn’t the first time that Mr. Voss had punished her by forcing her to go without food. She had known after seeing his face in the crowd that she would have to take what food she could get when it was available.
Rosaline began to pull the pins from her hair and let the auburn tendrils fall to her waist. Once they were all out she took the old brush from the table and brushed out the curls. The brush and the Bible were the only keepsakes of her mother’s the orphanage had allowed her to keep.
She sighed as she brushed her hair, remembering the evenings her father would read to them from the Bible as her mother combed out her hair before bed. She knew all the stories by heart, yet it still brought her comfort night after night, reading the verses that gave her courage.
She stood and walked over to her basin, splashing her face with cold water and removing the powder and rouge Mrs. Voss had insisted she put on.
She felt so much better once all of the makeup was off and she could lay back peacefully on her bed.
Once she was ready for bed, she took the Bible out from under her pillow, feeling for the money she had hidden. It was the only glimmer of hope she had for a better future. She didn’t have much as far as money went; Mr. Voss was not a particularly generous man. She had to use what little wages she earned to buy her own soap and intimate items.
The money that she had managed to save was enough for a one-way train ticket out West. She dreamed that someday she would board that train and steam as far away from the Vosses as possible.
Once she was certain that everything was present and accounted for, she sat on the bed and nibbled at her roll. Flipping through the chapters, not needing to check the index, she stopped at her mother’s favorite verse.
(Ephesians 2:8-9) “For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast.”
Her lips moved as she read to herself and flipped to her father’s favorite verse.
(Deuteronomy 31:6-8) “Be strong and of good courage, fear not, nor be afraid of them: for the Lord thy God, he is that doth go with thee; he will not fail thee, nor forsake thee… And the Lord, he is that doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.”
Closing the book she lay back on her pillow as hot tears stung her eyes and rolled down her cheeks. “Lord, please help me,” she prayed in desperation. “You are the God of miracles. Make a way where there seems to be no way.”
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