She is ready to become a lottery bride to escape her past. He is looking for a marriage of convenience. How can they follow God’s plan on a road full of their past fears?
When Anna realizes that she has no other way but to escape her past, she becomes a lottery bride. However, leaving with her new headstrong husband is the biggest challenge she faces. Struggling with her feelings and faith, Anna is ready to do anything to solve the enigma of her mysterious rancher. How can she overcome her self-doubts and give one more chance to His plan?
Stephen’s life was never a bed of roses but his belief in God’s plan has cured him. However, he never expected a bride that is unaware of God’s glory for those in need. He slowly falls in love with her fiery spirit, but he cannot find a way to reach out to her. How can he show his wife that God’s will keeps them together?
Amidst schemes and evil plans from a wicked competitor, Anna and Stephen must find God’s shining light and follow it. But how can they bring their hearts together when time is running out?
Hays, Kansas, 1888
“God, it’s me, Anna. Please help me understand what I’m supposed to do now. Amen.” She kept her prayer short as she felt her knobby knees wobble. She shivered a little from the cold. Moments earlier, she had been expelled from the orphanage by the mistress, Rose Higgins. She was able to take with her a thin cotton dress, an extra bonnet, and her undergarments. The tears stung her eyes as Anna felt the insult of what had just happened to her. Ever since she had turned eighteen years of age, she had suspected that she would be turned out of the orphanage soon, but she had not expected to be thrown out today. On the anniversary of the death of her parents, out of all days.
They had died in 1876, during the great flood that had destroyed much of Hays City, when Anna had only been six years old. She was unable to recall much of that horrific experience as her father had tucked her into a corner of the attic and told her to close her eyes and pray that everything would work out just fine. When she was found, still crouched in that spot three days later, she was taken to the orphanage.
Even though it was a terrible place, it was the home Anna had known for most of her life. She worried about the younger children who depended on her greatly. She wondered what would become of them now that she was no longer there to protect them.
The wind whipped through the square, and Anna trembled again. The loose strands of soft brown hair that were fighting to escape her bonnet needed to be tucked back, but Anna held her hands in her apron to try and protect them from the harsh winter winds. She sat on those steps for what seemed like an eternity, looking back at the orphanage with its rough wooden whitewashed exterior, watching the morning sun rise to the mid-day point, trying to figure out what to do next. Silent tears coursed down her cheeks, and Anna didn’t bother to wipe them.
“Hey!” A young man’s voice shouted from what seemed a great distance, startling her. Anna looked up, blinking her brown eyes rapidly to try and clear out the tears. “Hey-ya!” The young man called again as he started to walk across the street towards Anna. She instinctively ducked her head. Even if Anna did know this person, she did not want to speak to anyone right now. She was too wrapped up in her own misery.
“Anna? That you?” The boy asked as he mounted the steps and came to a stop directly before her. Anna was surprised to hear him call her by her name, and when she looked up, she saw he was familiar. She furrowed her brow, trying to recall the boy’s name, and even though it escaped her, she recognized him as a boy who used to live in the orphanage, too. It had probably been three years since she’d last laid eyes on him, but she recalled the way his ears stuck out from underneath his matted brown hair. Anna felt fortunate that at least it was someone she once knew. Maybe he could help her out of this lowly state.
Anna nodded her head at him. “You never were much with the words,” the boy remarked and spat on the steps near her. She shifted uncomfortably on the stone step but turned her head so she could look fully into the boy’s thin, foxlike face. “Well,” he continued. “What are you doing out here by your lonesome?”
“Miss Higgins said I’m older than eighteen now and that it was my time to get on out,” Anna explained, feeling the shivers run up her spine again. This time, she wasn’t sure if she was trembling because it was cold or because she felt vulnerable sitting there where anyone could walk up and speak to her.
The boy nodded his head in understanding. “You hungry?”
Having eaten nothing since the day before, the mention of food got Anna’s attention. She looked up at the boy immediately and watched as a slow grin spread across his face. “Come on, Anna. I’m your friend, John. We were in that orphanage together for what, four years? It’s tough out here. I’ll help you out. I’ll get you sorted.” John reached down and grabbed her small bag containing the few items she still possessed. He draped it over his shoulder and signaled for her to follow him.
“Where are we going?” Anna asked as she stood up quickly. “I may be hungry, but I’m not trying to get into any trouble now, John.” The boy looked back at Anna and smirked.
“There’s nothing to worry about, Anna. I’m your pal. Would I steer you wrong?” He asked. Anna wasn’t sure if he was trifling with her, but she followed him because he was carrying her bag and he might be able to get her some food. She hoped to God that John was being sincere.
They had barely traveled a few feet down the main road when the boy ducked inside a wooden two-story building. The district they were in had once been ravaged by a fire, and so like the other buildings in this area, it was barely standing, and the paint on the outside still carried a charred look.
“Where are we?” Anna asked as she followed the boy into a small hall. He didn’t answer but rather dropped her things near the door. The black smudges next to the wall made Anna wonder if the flames had once licked these walls before they had put out the fire completely. She raised her head to sniff because sometimes these old buildings still carried the smell of smoke, but her senses were assaulted by other scents.
She could smell the aroma of fresh-baked bread, which made her mouth water. She looked around the dirt-covered room and noticed that besides John, there was a young boy in ragged, dirty clothing. He was standing very near to Anna, so she shifted uncomfortably, her eyes traveling over the rest of the room in search of the bread.
That was when she noticed a man wearing a broad black hat, sitting at a small round table in the very center of the room with a loaf of bread in his hands. He tore off a hunk and tossed it to Anna. She began to nibble at the crusted corners. Her stomach contracted, grateful for the food.
“She’s a hungry one, ain’t she?” A tall and gangly boy said, spitting on the ground near his boots. He was standing just behind the man in the black hat, leaning against the other side of the burnt wall.
“She’s tiny. She looks a little like a mouse chewing on a piece of cheese,” the young boy with the ragged clothes piped in, using his squeaky voice, moving to take a seat at the circular table as he spoke.
“She’s all eyes. She has the biggest eyes I’ve ever seen,” the man added. The three boys and the man inspected her closely. Anna put the bread down and gulped loudly.
“All eyes,” the man repeated slowly, and underneath his large-brimmed black hat, she could see his lips curl into a smile. The boys started to grin broadly as well. Anna dropped her eyes, suddenly alarmed. She felt trapped. She squeezed her hands together, hoping that she had not made a terrible mistake coming there. The man stood and adjusted his hat on his head, his eyes black as night. “Well, All Eyes Anna, we are in need of your services.”
Now Anna was terrified, and she chided herself for naively following a person she thought she could trust there. She had heard of the gangs that plagued the streets of Hays City. She shook her head at her folly, feeling that she should have known better than to walk right into this situation. “What do you want?” Anna asked, trying to sound braver than she felt.
“We have some business with H.P. Wilson at the Bank of Hays City up the road. We’ve been trying to find a set o’ eyes that could help us out.” The man reached out and snatched the loaf of bread away from Anna. “You wanna eat again, don’t ya, All Eyes Anna?”
“Yessir,” Anna responded, feeling her stomach rumble both from the nerves and from her hunger.
“Can you whistle, Anna?” The man questioned, and Anna found herself nodding feebly. “Can you whistle like this?” The man asked again, and he demonstrated a four-note pattern. Anna eyed him cautiously. She wasn’t sure if she should let him know that she could whistle the way he asked. She didn’t know how this skill could be used against her, but being as surrounded as she was by the three boys and the man, Anna felt she had to comply.
Anna mimicked the pattern, but she felt a tremor of fear lace through her. “All righty then. All Eyes Anna, welcome to the gang.” The man barked a laugh and tossed the bread back to Anna.
Three days later, the nervous feeling in Anna’s stomach had not subsided. While she had settled in with the gang, she did not feel comfortable there. At mealtimes, she nibbled whatever the boys passed her way, and at night, she huddled in a soot-covered corner of the room on the dusty floor, hoping that no one would bother her while she slept. During the day, she tried to keep to herself. The man, who she soon learned was called Adamus, sent the boys out in shifts, but he did not permit Anna to leave the premises. “Don’t want you getting away and telling anyone about our plans, now do we?” He had said, and the menace in his voice had frightened Anna greatly.
That morning, when Anna awoke, she found the other four inhabitants of the hovel already fast at work.
“Have a seat, All Eyes Anna,” Adamus said, and his black eyes sparked dangerously. He used the toe of his boot to kick out a chair for her. The boys were already seated around the table. John sat on Anna’s left and the youngest boy, the one with the long blond hair, Ezekiel, sat on her other side. Billum, the final member of the gang, stood leaning up against the ashy wall.
Adamus pointed to a roughly drawn map that had been placed in the center of the table. “Here’s what we’re going to do. You boys,” he said and pointed a thick finger at John and Ezekiel, “will go in the bank first. You’ll check around for the sheriff and make sure that none o’ the people inside have any firearms. If the coast is clear, you whistle. Then,” he motioned to himself and Billum, “we’ll come in and make some noise.” He placed his gun on the tabletop, covering the dirty map.
“After that,” he said as he used the barrel of the gun to point to a spot on the map, “All Eyes Anna will be here.” He turned to look at her squarely. “If you see a sheriff, you whistle the way I showed you.”
A mixture of fear and shame bubbled up inside Anna almost immediately. She knew that she was about to help this gang commit a crime, but what choice did she have? She needed to eat. She needed a place to sleep at night. Besides, she felt as if it was too late to back out now. What would Adamus and the others do to her if she betrayed them or tried to walk away? These horrible thoughts resounded in Anna’s mind as she followed the members of the gang to the center of the town.
Even though a breeze swirled around her, and the afternoon sun was starting to set, Anna’s hands started to sweat. She dug her fingernails into her palms to try to take her mind off what was happening, but that did not help. Anna stood near the church where John had found her three days earlier. Instead of being out in the open like she had been on that first day, she was now standing on the left-hand side of the building. In this way, she could see the entirety of the street, especially the bank, but the building also helped conceal her position. Anna watched as John and Ezekiel walked directly into the bank, and she almost shouted a warning when she saw Adamus and Billum draw their guns. She knew that this was all part of the plan, but that didn’t mean she could stomach it. In the orphanage, Anna had always tried to keep the other children from experiencing violence as she felt it was her duty as a Christian to protect and love others. This plan did not fall in line with her personal beliefs.
“What am I doing here?” Anna thought aloud. “These are dangerous men. I never should have trusted John.” Anna paused her disheveled thoughts and looked around the deserted town square. “Where is everyone? It’s almost like they knew something bad was about to happen.”
She continued to survey the empty square as the seconds went by until suddenly she saw the sheriff coming into view and walking into the center of town. Anna nearly jumped out of her skin. With her nerves knotting in her stomach, Anna let out a low four-note whistle. When no one exited the bank, she whistled again a pitch louder.
The sheriff perked his ears and adjusted his vest, reaching the other side of the church building and getting closer to the bank than Anna was. From this distance, Anna could tell that he was slightly older than she would have anticipated, and his midsection was round but taut. She danced nervously from foot to foot as he started to walk in her direction. Frantically, she let out the whistle a third time, and in that instant, John and Ezekiel emerged from the bank. Each boy was carrying a sack that Anna assumed was stuffed with cash. Adamus and Billum came next. They were holding guns in the air and yelling words that Anna would never dare repeat.
Anna stood frozen as she watched them run to the back. A spasm made her hands shake as she realized they were leaving her behind. The sheriff started to give chase but stopped once he realized that he would never be able to catch the gang on foot. Then, without warning, he turned on his heel and ran directly toward Anna at the other side of the church. She threw her arms over her head in a protective gesture, and she waited for the blows she was sure she would have to endure.
The sheriff wheezed a little when he reached her, trying to catch his breath after racing across the road before he stood and observed Anna for a long moment. When he finally spoke, he said, “You’re in some trouble now, aren’t ya?” Anna trembled with the fear that was washing over her entire body, unable to form an answer.
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