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A Bold Proposal to Redeem his Suffering Soul

She wishes to save her father by marrying him. He is a man hardened by the wounds of his past. Will God help them find the love they both deserve?

A strength only God could have given her coursed through her body, and she found the resolve to stay firmly rooted to her spot.

After Layla discovers that her father has gambled everything they own away, she realizes that she must take matters into her own hands. She decides to sacrifice herself by asking his debtor, the most notorious businessman in town, to marry her. But how can she trust that this is God’s plan for her when this cowboy is the most challenging man she has ever met?

After his fiancée cruelly abandons him and their blind baby boy, Mark is determined to never open his heart again. When beautiful Layla storms into his life asking him to marry her, he bursts into laughter. But after seeing her compassion towards his son, he agrees to a marriage of convenience. How can he ever love her when his faith in God has been lost?

Mark and Layla have kept their hearts shielded for too long. Will they be able to find redemption following God’s path when Mark’s enemies are coming their way?

Written by:

Christian Historical Romance Author

Prologue

Willow Lake, Arizona Territory

November 1885

Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory,” Layla sang sweetly.

Today would be a splendid day; Layla was just sure of it. The sun was shining through the freshly polished glass panes, and the heat of the day had yet to creep into the house. She fluffed the folds of her brand-new blue cotton dress and tucked her feet into a pair of brown leather ankle boots. “Rise and shine and give God the glory, glory, children of the Lord,” Layla clapped her hands with the tune as she finished dressing. On top of her well-worn wooden dresser, right next to a nearly empty water pitcher, was her hairbrush, which she grabbed.

She ran it through her long black hair, thinking of how she might fix it on this special occasion. After all, today was her eighteenth birthday, and she wanted everything to be perfect, including her hairstyle. Once the long strands were detangled, she pulled, yanked, and twisted them to create a clean and intricate hairdo. Satisfied with her quick work, Layla shot herself a glance in the mirror that hung over the chest of drawers.

“Happy Birthday,” Layla whispered to her reflection, her clear blues eyes twinkling back. She looked around her small room, with the walls painted a light lilac-colored, and she was completely satisfied. With a spring in her step, Layla made her way to the kitchen.

“Rise and shine, Papa!” Layla called as she walked briskly down the hall, unable to keep the spring out of her step as she moved. She hadn’t felt this happy in years, not since her mother, Rosamund, passed away, and it felt remarkable to be celebrating this notable birthday. On her way to make breakfast, it only made sense to stop in her father’s room and awaken him so that he might be able to share in her joy.

Give God the glory, glory,” Layla sang to the heavy wooden door. “Papa,” she said in the same singsong tune. “Are you awake? It’s going to be a lovely day. Up and out of bed because it’s—” She paused, listening. Typically, she would have heard her father’s raucous snores through the door, but not today.

Layla’s senses tingled all at once. While it was still relatively early, her father tended to rise with the dawn, or at least he had before her mother died. In the last few months, he had taken to drinking more often, which made him sleep later. But on most mornings, he still usually awoke earlier than most.

She stopped singing. There was no need to jump to conclusions. Her father might just be getting dressed, or he might have rolled to his side while he was sleeping, making it difficult to hear his snores. Layla rapped her small fist three times on her father’s bedroom door.

“Father,” Layla said softly. Waiting, she listened for any response from within. “Papa!” Layla called out once more. She swiveled her head, looking up and down the hall, but she did not hear him or his footsteps anywhere throughout the house. “Papa, I’m coming in,” Layla announced as she turned the brass doorknob and pushed the door to enter his bedroom.

The entire room was in disarray: the bed was unmade, with gray, red, and white blankets haphazardly pitched onto it. Clothing had been pulled from drawers as Layla could see canvas breeches thrown into a pile near the corner of the room and her father’s favorite wide-brimmed straw hat tossed onto the bed.

What’s happened here? Layla thought. At the general store her father, Emmett Fitzpatrick, owned, he was known for his attention to detail. All available goods and wares had their predetermined place, and people from all over Willow Lake could come in and find exactly what they needed because Ol’ Emmett always had the goods arranged just so.

Turning quickly on her heel, Layla left the disorder and made her way back down the hall toward the kitchen.

“Papa!” Layla shouted again. Since the kitchen was rather small, she quickly ascertained that he was not in there. He wasn’t in the dining room or sitting room either.

Layla continued down the stairs, through the general store, and out onto the front porch. No sooner had she opened the red front door that she heard a groan.

“Father!” she shrieked, looking down toward the source of the sound. She called out again, her heart beating erratically.

He was sprawled, face first, on the wooden slats of the porch. Layla could see a rip in the sleeve of his shirt, and she worried that he might be injured. Swiftly, she knelt by his side and spoke in concerned tones.

“Papa, are you hurt? Can you tell me what has happened?”

Her father moaned, and Layla reached out to try and comfort him. She was shocked by what she saw. His hair was a rumpled mess, and sweat stains were evident in the pits of his gray cotton shirt.

Using soft hands, Layla prodded her father near his shoulders. “Papa, I need you to tell me what happened. Are you all right? Can you speak?”

He groaned once more, and then, moving sluggishly, he shrugged his shoulder. Layla watched as slowly, torturously, her father rolled over. His upper body moved first, and then his legs followed. As he rotated, a smell bubbled up around him, a mixture of dirt, sweat, vomit, and whiskey.

“Oh, Papa,” Layla cried in understanding. He must have drunk too much again, she thought uneasily.

“Layla?” Emmett said, smacking his lips together in an exaggerated fashion. “Where am I?”

“You’re on the porch, Papa,” Layla replied, trying to keep her tone even. She knew now that her father had been drinking copious amounts of alcohol the night before. He often drank too much, but never had he been unable to make it up the stairs and into his bedroom.

It was clear he was still feeling the impact of his imbibing. Turning her head away from her father for a moment, she took a deep breath. She believed with all her heart that children were supposed to honor their mother and father, as it was one of God’s commandments, but sometimes, she found the task challenging.

“How did I get here?” Emmett asked, slowly surveying his surroundings. His gray eyes had thin lines of red shooting through them, and his chestnut brown hair was sticking up on one side of his head. Layla reached out a hand to smooth it out.

“I don’t know how you got here,” Layla said carefully, scanning her father over from head to toe, “but I’m glad you made it home. Let’s get you inside.” She reached down to help him so that he moved from sitting, to kneeling, to standing.

They shuffled up the stairs, through the sitting room and kitchen. Emmett’s hip bumped into the smooth kitchen countertop, and he mumbled his displeasure incoherently. Layla had to pause in their procession as she leaned heavily against the white-washed wall.

“Easy now,” she said soothingly, both to herself and to her father. She knew she needed to do her best to remain calm and steady while maneuvering him down the hall.

When they arrived at Emmett’s room, Layla eased her grip off his waist and walked with him toward the dresser. Placing his elbows on top of the dresser, he bent at the waist. He put his head down and made a content sound at the cool, smoothly polished surface. Layla bustled around the room, trying to pick up the mess she had noticed there earlier, but there was too much to gather quickly. She made do with preparing the bed. This was all new to her, so she was flummoxed. She knew her father drank too much, but he was usually able to drag himself upstairs into his bedroom, or at the very least into the sitting room, where he would rest in her mother’s faded blue wing-backed chair.

“There now, Father,” Layla said, turning from her task and returning to him. “We shall get you to bed, and then, in a few hours, we will discuss matters.”

“Few hours,” Emmett mumbled. “Yes, I would like some sleep, I think.”

“Of course, Papa. Rest, and I will take care of everything,” Layla spoke in her most soothing tone as she helped her father climb into the bed. She tucked the gray and red blanket up around his chin and took two steps back.

Quietly, she tiptoed backward out of the room, keeping her eyes on her father’s face. She left the door ajar so that she might be able to hear him should he need her later.

She lost her appetite for breakfast, and the good mood that hung about her when she awoke that morning had also disappeared. Moving into the kitchen, she pulled out a finely polished wooden stick chair, sat primly, then her resolve crumbled. She put her elbows on the table, raised her hands, and allowed her head to fall dejectedly into them.

Sadly, Layla thought, what am I going to do with him?

***

Layla knew she could not neglect the general store all day, and so she went into work for a few hours that morning. She was used to opening the store and helping customers make their purchases, but she generally didn’t have to do it all alone, as her father would be there with her. When she came back home for her mid-day meal, there weren’t any snoring sounds coming from her father’s room. Rushing down the hall, she found him sitting straight in his bed.

“Father, are you all right?” she gasped when she saw his pale figure.

“No,” her father replied, shaking his head sadly. He lifted his eyes to peer at her, and tears were streaming down his cheeks.

“What’s happened?” Layla asked, moving swiftly toward his bedside. Remembering the tear in his sleeve, she worried that he might be injured.

Her father shook his head again. “I don’t want to tell you,” Emmett said meekly, continuing to shake his head vehemently.

“Papa, you must tell me what the matter is,” Layla ordered, using her sternest voice and narrowing her eyes.

“I don’t want you to know about my …” Emmett breathed a gigantic sigh, and his shoulders shrugged heavily as tears cascaded down his cheeks.

“Father,” Layla said, trying to coax the information out of him. “I cannot help if I don’t know the problem. Please, tell me what happened.”

Her father’s eyes darted from her face to the window on the far wall. Then, his gray eyes, still bloodshot, came back to her own. “I’ve made a mistake,” he said slowly.

“Go on.”

“I’ve done something terrible. Last week, I was playing Faro with the boys over at the Tumble Weed—”

“The Tumble Weed?” Layla interrupted. “Father,” she scolded, “you know only the worst sort of cheats and gamblers go there.”

“I know,” Emmett replied in a most wretched manner. His hands shook slightly, but he continued, “I was there last week, and I bet a great sum of money. I couldn’t cover my bid.”

Layla’s hand flew to her mouth, fearing what he might say. “How are you going to pay the debt?”

“Mr. Flint is a shrewd businessman, and he wanted the only thing I had to offer,” Emmett said with a touch of regret in his voice.

“What did you give him? What did you have to offer?” The heat rose inside the small bedroom, and her palms started to sweat.

“I used the house and the store as collateral.” Her father’s eyes moved back toward the window. “I found out last night that Mr. Flint is unwilling to extend my loan any further. I must repay my debt immediately, or he will take the house and the business.”

“But Father!” Layla cried, taking hold of his forearm. “What can we do?”

“I don’t know,” Emmett admitted grudgingly. Taking a navy-blue handkerchief from his pocket, he blew his nose noisily. “I was so upset last night; I decided to have a few drinks and forget all about it.” He stared into Layla’s eyes once more. His gray eyes watered; the tip of his nose red. She stood abruptly and gazed down at him.

“Drinking will not help,” Layla said, lifting her chin in a dignified way. Since her mother’s death, Emmett’s regular drinking had not once helped him or the family in any fashion.

“I know,” Emmett moaned softly.

She clasped her hands in front of her. “I will return to work, and we will talk this through more later. We have to come up with some way to fix this situation,” Layla could not think of anything that would save their house and the store. She gritted her teeth, trying to hide her disappointment from her father.

“Yes, yes, a fine plan,” her father agreed and reclined back onto the bed. It was clear the energy he expended telling his tale had left him feeling exhausted.

Layla stepped out into the hall and closed her father’s bedroom door firmly behind her. Looking to the heavens, she uttered a silent prayer. “Lord, please guide me. Show me what I am to do next.”

Chapter One

Layla rose early dressed quickly before walking hurriedly past her father’s room, careful not to make a sound. It had been two days since he confessed his deeds, and even though she cared for his needs by bringing him water and his meals regularly, they had spoken little. She was so hurt by his actions that she had been reluctant to make small talk with him. On his end, he seemed to be staying in bed because there was no place else he’d rather be. Layla felt ashamed of the way he was avoiding the mess he had created.

Her long brown skirt rustled as she swept down the hall. She moved eagerly into the sitting room and sat in a maroon-colored wing-back chair. Taking the Bible from the small table where she left it the night before, she opened it onto her lap. She hoped that she would find solace or even an answer in her reading.

While she could have always procured a new one from the general store downstairs, Layla treasured this tome that had been by her mother’s side throughout her final days. Over the last two days, she had spent her fair share of hours devoted to the text.

She paused in her reading to gaze out the second-story window. Tell me what to do, God. Please. She had combed through some of her favorite passages, as well as ones she didn’t know by heart, and yet she was still feeling like her next move was unclear. She prayed that the Lord would speak to her and help her decide what the best possible thing she could do for herself and her father was.

Fingertip poised over the scripture in the thin pages of the Bible, she returned to the marked spot. She read Ephesians chapter five, verse two aloud: “‘And walk in love, just as Christ also loved you and gave Himself up for us.’” Layla pondered this concept. What should I do? Is there a sacrifice I can make that will save my father from ruin and make it so he might be able to keep his home and the store?

The thoughts clogged Layla’s mind. She knew she wanted and needed to help her father, but at what cost? His debts must be paid. He could not afford to lose the house or the store, so what do I have that I could possibly give?

Considering this shrewd Mr. Flint her father mentioned, she recognized he must be the same man she overheard folks in town gossiping about a few months prior.

Mark Flint had once been married to a woman named Trudie. After the woman gave birth to a son, she struggled to bond with her child, and the situation worsened when Trudie left the man and the child altogether. If the rumor was to be believed, part of Trudie’s motivation to leave was that the boy was declared blind, and she had been either unwilling or unable to care for the baby. Layla didn’t know which rumor was the truth of the matter.

“Poor soul,” Layla whispered, thinking of the baby. She carefully closed her Bible. Instead of returning it to the table, she moved it to the shelf in its proper place.

Layla walked to the kitchen, collecting a frilly white apron from the drawer and tying it snugly around her brown skirt. She thought, If Mr. Flint is caring for a babe all by himself, he may require some assistance. Perhaps I could offer my help. The idea rallied Layla.

Her own mother had struggled with being blind the last two years of her life. It was a challenge Layla wouldn’t wish on anyone, especially a young child, but she also knew from working with her mother that the difficulties of this physical hindrance could be tackled and overcome.

She was going to work a shift at the general store, and it would be her responsibility to prepare the shop before the townsfolk arrived that morning. Layla rushed down the stairs to the general store.

“Father!” she yelled, skidding to a stop at the bottom of the steps. She had not expected him to be awake or out of his room that morning. He had not left the room over the last two days, but here he was now, standing in the middle of the store, arranging several bolts of cloth into a pleasing display. “What are you doing here?” Layla asked, her forehead scrunching in confusion.

“I’m working,” her father shrugged simply, never taking his eyes from his task.

“I see that, Father, but I didn’t realize that you would be out of bed today and so—”

“A body has to get out of bed sometimes.” He shrugged his shoulders helplessly. Moving away from the bolts of cloth, he stepped back toward the counter that ran along the far side of the store. “Layla, behind the counter there, I’ve got some heavy sacks of sugar that need to be moved. Would you mind lending a hand?”

“Of course not, Papa,” Layla said quickly, moving toward the sacks. She squatted and placed both of her hands underneath one of the bags and hefted it with some effort. “Where did you want me to put these?” she asked, blowing a stray strand of dark hair away from her eyes. She scanned the already crowded store. Shelves were fully stocked with glass jars containing vegetables and fruit. Seeds were in neat pouches with gardening tools lined up next to them.

“Over here,” he replied and moved away from where the linens, wool, and linsey-woolsey bolts of cloth were now piled. Layla made a face, and Emmett explained quickly, “I thought that the womenfolk who come in here to look at patterns and cloth might be tempted to pick up some sugar if it’s at hand. Should entice them to buy it, I’m thinking.”

Layla didn’t think it made much sense to put the dry goods next to the clothing, but she agreed to her father’s plan so she could put down the heavy bag of sugar.

She walked back and forth, rearranging the sugar bags so that shoppers would be compelled to purchase them. Her father threw the last bag down on the pile and turned to Layla. Simultaneously, he wiped his brow using a small white handkerchief while she raised her apron to do the same.

“Father,” Layla said cautiously. While working, she thought more closely about the idea she had to settle her father’s debts and was ready to share it with him. Though only a matter of minutes passed as she moved the bags of sugar, she felt as though it had been hours. She was overwhelmed by the situation that loomed over them. She rather feared that Mr. Flint would appear at the door any moment and demand payment.

“Yes, sweet girl,” Emmett replied. He patted the handkerchief across his temples, moving his feathery brown hair out of the way as he moved from left to right.

“I’ve been thinking about our predicament, and I think I’ve come up with a plan that will help alleviate the situation.” Sweat beaded down the sides of her face, and she lifted the frills on her apron to swipe at them. She was nervous that her solution, even though it required a great deal of sacrifice on her part, wouldn’t be acceptable. What if Father forbids her from moving forward with it? What if it was unsatisfactory in Mr. Flint’s eyes?

“Oh?” her father asked, not really paying attention. His eyes were locked on the front door, and Layla wondered if he imagined Mr. Flint striding through them as well. He moved back behind the counter to arrange buttons and hooks along the countertop.

“Father,” Layla said, trying to keep her voice level but desperately wanting to gain his attention. “I believe I have come up with a solution.”

Emmett raised his bushy eyebrows and waited for Layla to speak. She clasped her hands together to keep herself from fidgeting, and she plunged into her recitation.

“I do not know much about Mark Flint, but I have heard the rumors about him in our shop.” Layla paused and took a deep breath. “I understand we owe Mr. Flint a great deal of money, and I have come up with a way we can repay our debt without giving him any money.”

“Layla,” Emmett said carefully, looking very concerned. His thick eyebrows contracted, and his gray eyes clouded. “What are you considering?”

“I think Mr. Flint could benefit from having a wife. I understand that he has a young son who is blind. I thought if I suggested a marriage situation that he might be willing to expunge the debts and—”

“No,” Emmett said instantly, but Layla could see that his right hand was shaking. “No,” he repeated in a frustrated tone. “I cannot let you give up your life and your freedom. We will find another way.”

“But, Father,” Layla protested, feeling as though he didn’t understand the severity of the matter. “I’ve thought it through; there is no other way. Mr. Flint will require a helpmeet, and I have experience working with the blind. The skills I learned tending to mother could help me interact with Mr. Flint’s baby boy. I could propose marriage in exchange for the repayment of your debts.”

“I don’t like it,” Emmett shook his head. “Rosamund would never forgive me if she knew that I let her beloved daughter enter into such an engagement. She would be so unhappy.” He hung his head.

“Mother would not be happy if we lost the home or the store, either. Just as much as she wanted you to take care of me, she wanted me to be here for you. I cannot let you lose everything you have worked your entire life to maintain,” Layla said confidently. Her mother would want Layla to do everything in her power to help bring her father peace.

“I do not like it, Layla. I do not like it one bit. I will think on the matter and …” He paused and sighed heavily. “We will speak of it more tonight. For now, please go open the front door. I expect customers to arrive at any moment.” He nodded toward the red door at the store’s front, and his fingers twiddled with the buttons and hooks on the countertop.

“Yes, Papa,” Layla replied with disappointment coloring her words. She resented that he so obstinately stood against her idea, but with each step from her father, she strengthened her resolve. She appreciated his words about the cost of giving up her freedom, but Layla could not see a way around the matter. This was the sacrifice she was going to make. Once Layla unlocked the front door, a well-dressed man wearing a dark bowler hat pushed through the front door.

“Good morning, Miss Layla,” the man said, tipping his bowler hat at her.

“Good morning, Mr. Lawson,” Layla responded genially. She had known him for years, as he was a regular customer. “How nice to see you.”

“Lovely day, isn’t it?” Mr. Lawson asked politely, turning his head to look down the first aisle of goods.

“Why, yes, Mr. Lawson. I do believe it will be,” Layla moved to allow him to walk freely about the store. She purposely went to the back of the store and busied herself with folding linen napkins and cotton towels that had come in just a few days before.

As she worked, she glanced back at her father. He had pulled a stool up behind the counter and was sitting there, listlessly staring out the window.

At that moment, Layla made a decision she knew would likely change the rest of her life. After work, she thought, I will visit Mark Flint without asking Father’s permission. I will strike a deal with him. If he is as good of a businessman as Father alleges, he will see the benefit, as I will be a capable wife.

Mr. Lawson made his way through the store, stepping up right beside Layla’s left elbow. “Are you well, Miss Layla?”

Blinking away her thoughts, she smiled and looked down at the cheerful white and red striped linen towel in her hand. “I was just thinking how nice it would be if you brought your wife, Mrs. Lawson, this little old towel.” Layla beamed at Mr. Lawson. “I’m sure she would appreciate such a thoughtful gesture.” He looked at her quizzically, so she quickly added, “And if you buy this red and white towel today, you can have this blue and white one thrown in … free of charge.”

Mr. Lawson’s smile widened, and he took both towels from her, turning them over in his hands and feeling the materials’ quality. “I’m sure you’re right. Mrs. Lawson would appreciate it if I brought her a little something from the store.” He looked up at Layla and nodded approvingly.

Just as he was about to turn away, Layla stopped him. “Oh, and Mr. Lawson, what about a nice bag of sugar, too? I know how Mrs. Lawson loves to make strawberries pies. Word around town is her strawberry pies are the best in three counties.”

Mr. Lawson patted his stomach and laughed in agreement. “Well, I thank you for your helpfulness. You’re just full of good ideas today, Miss Layla.”

Layla smiled gratefully and motioned for Mr. Lawson to follow her to the middle of the store, where she and her father stacked the bags of sugar. “I sure hope so,” Layla replied, praying that Mr. Mark Flint would also find her full of good ideas.

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    • Thank you so much for your kind words, Karen!🥰 Can’t wait to read your feedback once you do! God bless! 🙏

  • I love It already! You have wet my appetite to read more.Lots of great scriptural messages in this short chapter. I can’t wait to read The entire book God willing. Congratulations and keep up the good work. God bless your talent as thanks for sharing this portion.

    • Aw, thank you so much for your kind feedback, Sandra! You really made my day!🥰 I can’t wait to read your thoughts once you read it! God bless!🙏

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