Upon meeting her, he realizes that God has spoken. How can they follow His Gracious plan when dark enemies approach?
“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord”. – Romans 6:23
Faith knows that her persistent dreams are a Godsent sign. After her parent’s tragic death from bandits, she runs away to escape and finds herself wounded in a stranger man’s land. God’s plan leads her to the ranch of a mysterious rancher, where she comes face to face with the little boy she kept dreaming of. Will Faith find the way to understand God’s calling and listen to her thriving heart at the same time?
After losing his wife, Oliver prays every day to God to give him a sign to continue his life. Finding a fainted woman in his territory isn’t what he expected, but he decides to be a good Samaritan and meet his destiny without knowing. This unexpected woman fits in with his family like a missing piece of a puzzle, and he can’t stop his heart from beating faster every time he sees her. Will this Godsent encounter be the miracle he was asking to save him from his sorrow?
Faith and Oliver know that their meeting is God’s plan. Fighting to save their miraculous love and Oliver’s little son makes them inseparable. How can they stay true to God’s calling when everything around them is falling apart?
Evanston, Wyoming, Summer 1866
The dream first came when she was twelve. Not every night. Just once in a while. In most of Faith’s dreams, she rode her horse Flora to new lands, to places she’d only read about in books. In others, she toiled in a garden that reached as high as the rooftop and as far as the eye could see. In this dream, though, she wasn’t the star. She was the onlooker, watching as the angel Gabriel appeared to Mary. “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus,” he told her while the light that shone from the angel bathed Mary in a soft glow, warmer than anything Faith had ever seen.
The same dream. The same words. The same beautiful light. Faith had no idea what it meant, but it had to mean something. She’d asked the Lord for guidance, over and over again, but no answer came.
“Good day, Miss Everest,” Reverend Huxley said, breaking into her musings and bringing her back to the present. She lingered in the doorway of the church as the rest of the congregation filtered out. The elderly reverend was easily a head taller than her but so thin that he appeared to be little more than skin and bones. His smile, though, was kind and warm.
“Good day to you, Reverend Huxley. It was a lovely sermon, today. My parents will be sad to have missed it.”
“I hope they will be well again soon. I will pray for their good health,” he promised her with another smile.
Returning his smile, she bid the reverend farewell and stepped out of the rough wooden church into the bright, mid-morning light. The air was dry, just like the dusty ground, but a faint, earthy petrichor had begun to permeate the air for the first time in weeks. Heavy, grey clouds had gathered far off in the distance. If they continued this way, the rain would be a welcome reprieve. Even the leaves on the white oaks that dotted the churchyard had turned upward in supplication.
She crossed the dry, dusty path to where she’d tethered Flora, her father’s sandy mare with the deep chestnut forelock. The horse picked up her feet, one and then another, anxious to be off. It had been quite some time since she’d taken her for a good, hard gallop, and it seemed Flora was feeling the loss.
“I promise we’ll go soon,” she soothed, stroking the horse’s forehead.
She mounted up with one foot in the stirrup, wrapping her leg tight around the pommel. It wasn’t often she rode alone, but her mother and father were both unwell. “We trust you can handle yourself, Faith,” her father had reassured her. “We’ll be here when you return.” He’d kissed the top of her head, smiled, and then smothered a sneeze in the crook of his elbow.
She smiled and nudged Flora into a canter, looking back for just a moment at the timber church with its tall, slender spire behind her. In front of her, a carpet of green-brown grass seemed to stretch all the way to the mountains. The rain would be welcome, indeed, even if it meant having to rush to finish the day’s chores before the storm moved in.
As she traveled homeward, the dirt path beneath her turned to unkempt grass and brush.
Her father had told stories of his life back east—tales of row upon row of houses and cobblestone streets teeming with people and carriages. So much at odds with the vast wilderness here, but Faith thought she preferred this peaceful and unkempt land.
The white oaks gave way to sparse clusters of pines as she cataloged the long list of chores that needed tending. She looked up at the clear, hot sky above her, but the dark clouds had crept closer. It would be a rush to complete the chores in time.
A trickle of sweat dripped down the back of her neck as she nudged Flora onto the dirt road that signaled the final stretch to her family’s small ranch. But as the horse churned up dust beneath her hooves, a prickle of apprehension shivered down Faith’s spine. The scent in the air was different. She could still smell the sharp, refreshing scent of the pines, but woven within it was an acrid odor that made her want to wrinkle up her nose.
Something was wrong.
“Let’s go, Flora,” she urged the horse on while the heavy feeling in the pit of her stomach grew.
She squinted, trying to see beyond the cloak of pines that stood between her and her home, still several miles away. Nothing out of the ordinary at first, not until she’d traveled close enough to see the wisps of smoke that curled above the treetops. Why on earth would her father have a fire burning in the hearth today? She pressed her leg firmly against Flora, and the horse picked up her pace, breaking through a gap in the pine trees within a moment.
The heavy weight in her stomach turned to lead. The smoke was thick and dark, like an ominous rain cloud hanging over her family’s home, ready to let loose its fury.
Closer, she could see the flames licking upward, reaching for the smoke like orange-gold tendrils. Her home was engulfed in fire, spewing copious amounts of smoke that wafted toward her and tickled her lungs. She coughed as vile images flooded her mind. Mother! Father! They couldn’t be inside. Dear Lord, please don’t let them be in the house.
Her heart twisted painfully in her chest as she leaped off Flora. She ran for the house but had to stop. The heat, even from several yards away, was too much. It licked along her skin while every crack and snap from the blaze jolted through her chest.
She swung around toward the barn, but even through the thick haze of smoke, she could see it was alight too. The flames crawled up the sides, not as thoroughly engulfed as the house, but it wouldn’t be long.
“Mother! Father!” she croaked out over the roaring conflagration, fearing the worst, but with every breath, more smoke snuck inside her, choking her and making her cough.
“No! Don’t, please,” a woman screamed as she came from behind the burning stable. She was running so fast her dress billowed out behind her until she stumbled and fell mere inches from the blazing wood. Though the smoke cast a thick haze over the scene, Faith could see the fair skin and deep auburn hair sprinkled with grey. Mother. Her bonnet was missing, and the hem of her dress was charred black, but she was alive.
Relief flooded Faith’s veins, but before she could rush to help, a man a man, clad in black, appeared from behind the stable, his hat pulled low over his forehead. He walked; he didn’t run. One step, and then another, his pace too fluid, like a spider creeping along the ground.
A fresh chill shivered down her spine, and her fingers began to tremble as her mother struggled onto her knees, pulling herself forward despite the way her skirts caught beneath her. A sob caught in her throat as the man raised his arm just a little, just enough that the waning sunlight glinted off the vulgar, black weapon in his hand. Terror coursed through Faith’s veins. No, don’t. Please Lord, no.
The crack of a gunshot rent the air. Though the gun was aimed at her mother, Faith felt it in her heart, like the bullet had ripped right through her chest. Faith opened her mouth to scream, but it was her mother’s scream that pierced her eardrums. Her mother’s final cry.
Her mother fell to the ground, no longer screaming. No longer moving. Sobs wracked Faith’s body as blood blossomed across her mother’s chest. “Faith, run,” a voice called. Her father’s voice, but she could not see him.
The murderer looked up and met her gaze while the tiniest smile turned up the corners of his wide lips. Her whole body shook. She’d never known this kind of fear, the kind that made her want to turn around and run no matter where her father was or how much he needed her. But she was frozen. She couldn’t move. She couldn’t think. Not until her father stumbled out of the burning barn, his face bloodied and bruised. Two men trailed behind him, each with a gun pointed at the back of her father’s head.
“I vowed you’d pay for your betrayal, William. Now you will watch your family die,” the creeping spider hollered while his heavily lined face twisted in rage.
That was preposterous. Her father was a good man. He didn’t have a drop of disloyalty in his blood. And yet, he didn’t seem surprised by the wild accusation. William Everest didn’t respond at all. He braced his shoulders, and Faith glimpsed the even, unharried motion of his lips. He wasn’t speaking; he was praying.
Lord, please protect him. Please don’t let him die, she joined in, but in the pit of her stomach, she knew what was about to happen. The crack of a gunshot rang out, piercing her heart for a second time as her father slumped to the ground.
Her mother and father were dead. Gone, in what felt like a heartbeat.
Evanston, Wyoming, 1866
Faith stared in horror at the unbelievable scene in front of her. It couldn’t be real. It was a nightmare; it had to be. Dear Lord, please let me wake up, she cried silently, but her parents continued to lie motionless in the dry, dusty dirt. The flames around her continued to blister the air, reaching out further and further as the wind picked up.
Tears spilled down her cheeks as three heads swung in her direction, the twisted grimaces of three murderers. She could barely make out their features through the heavy haze of smoke, but she could see the dark glint of the gun in the creeping spider’s hand.
He strode toward her, his footsteps leaden with purpose. “There’s no sense in fighting, miss. I’ll not be leaving until William Everest’s whole family is in the ground, right where they should be.”
The man coughed, but the smoke didn’t deter him. He kept coming, closer and closer.
She spun around in search of Flora, but the horse was gone, spooked by the fire or the gunshots. She was trapped out in the open, waiting to die. There was nowhere to hide with everything around her one fire. Lord, I don’t want to die, she cried.
Another step; the man had closed half the distance between them. She turned to run, nearly blinded by the smoke now. Everywhere she looked was thick, acrid smoke and fire, stinging her eyes and assailing her nostrils. She ran blindly, knowing he was coming for her. Knowing it was only a matter of time before he caught her.
A horse’s whinny close to her left made her choke out a sob of relief. Flora! You came back! Yet through her tear-filled, she could see the animal wasn’t Flora. This one was black with a jagged white line down his forehead, and he stood at least a hand taller than the mare. There was no time to think about it. She veered to her left and ran for the strange horse.
“Stop!” the creeping spider hollered, picking up his pace.
Faith didn’t stop. She ran headlong. The second she reached the horse, she shoved her foot in the stirrup and heaved herself astride, sputtering amidst the smoke while praying the horse wouldn’t throw her off.
She grabbed the reins and squeezed the horse’s sides with her calves. He trotted stiltedly like he wasn’t certain he should be obeying her commands. She leaned in low and nudged him again, urging him on. Faster. Please Lord, faster.
Accepting the command, the horse stretched out his legs, galloping forward, carrying her away from the blazing nightmare behind her. She could feel his hardened muscles beneath her as her heart pounded in time with the heavy thud of the horse’s hooves. She’d never ridden astride before. The saddle abraded her skin, and she had to adjust her balance over and over again, imagining all the times she’d seen her father atop his horse. Each memory forced fresh tears from her eyes, but she couldn’t think about that now.
“Stop her!” the man yelled, and her breath caught in her throat. They’d be behind her in no time, overtaking her in seconds. Faster, please. Clearing the pines, she gasped her first breath of fresh air. The air was thick, heavy with moisture, but free from pitch and smoke. She slowed the horse and chanced a glance back, but all she could see were obscure figures through the smoke. She squinted, but the heavy rain clouds had moved in, blotting out the sun. Ominous and dark, they obscured the world’s color, turning her surroundings a dismal grey as the first drops of rain pelted her cheeks.
And then she saw them; three men on horseback galloping through the heavy haze. She swung back around, clutched tight on the reins, and urged the horse forward. Away from here. “Please, Lord, deliver me.”
The rain fell harder, pattering against the ground and drowning out the sounds behind her. Amid the rhythm of raindrops, the horse’s strong hoofbeats moved in time with the pounding of her heart. She couldn’t bring herself to turn and look but instead leaned down lower, pressing into the horse, urging him to go faster.
Moments passed, or maybe it was only seconds. Time wasn’t measured in minutes. It ticked by with every pound of the horse’s hooves against the ground. Yet how many more, she wondered, before they overtake me?
A shout came from far behind her, muffled by wind and rain, but she was certain it was the band, and the sound made her body jolt with terror. Sobs clambered up her chest because she was never going to be able to outrun them. There was nowhere to hide, nothing but wide-open space around her.
“Lord, I can’t do this alone. Guide me. Please don’t let me die,” she begged, her voice growing louder with every syllable.
No answer. No guiding hand to lead her to safety.
“Please help me,” she screamed, turning her face up to the sky.
The clouds ripped open, pouring out a deluge like she’d never seen before. Rain fell so hard, she couldn’t see ten feet in front of her, like the whole world had disappeared behind a wall of water.
Her breath caught in her throat. Could it be that the rain was a blessing in disguise? If she couldn’t see, then neither could the men pursuing her. Maybe they’d give up, and even if they didn’t, she was safe behind this wall so long as she kept moving, kept navigating blindly.
So, she kept moving, peeking behind her over and over again. She clung to the horse with every ounce of strength she could muster as the horse seemed to speed up. The rain had saturated her dress, soaking her and making the saddle slippery beneath her and the reins like wet, writhing snakes in her hands. She was gaining distance from her pursuers, she had to hold on, no matter how hard. If only she’d learned to ride astride like her father.
Father . . . A choked sob slipped out. No matter how many years God gave her on this earth, she would never forget his bruised and bloodied face or the crimson blossom across her mother’s chest. Those images had been etched into her brain and burned into her heart with a branding iron. Her parents had cared for her through every day of her life. They’d tended to her and prayed for her when she’d fallen deathly ill with scarlet fever as a child. They’d been her whole life, and now they were gone.
They’d taken everything, those wretched, evil men. Her family. Her home. She had nothing. Nowhere to go, no one to care for her, and nothing but a wall of rain to keep her safe.
Misery pushed down on her, threatening to crush her. Surely, God had forsaken her. “Dear Lord, why?” she cried. Why? The question reverberated in her mind like the heavy toll of a church bell. She’d tried to be a good person, a devout Christian, but this nightmare could only have been reserved for the vilest sinners. She had no answers. No way to make sense of the horrors that had taken place. It was like the world had swallowed up everything but the grimy residue of confusion and fear, and it clung to her, coating her skin and seeping into her flesh.
The horse had galloped so far; even if she could see her surroundings through the storm, she was sure she wouldn’t recognize them. Where am I, she wondered as her sight blurred with tears and rain. Though the rain had eased, the meager light of day had given in to the cloistering darkness of night. Blackness in front of her and behind her. An abyss, that’s what it felt like, and though the horse galloped onward, it was like she was falling. And just like there was no floor in a bottomless pit, there was no end to this waking nightmare. She could ride forever and still not be certain they wouldn’t find her.
The reins soon felt too heavy in her hands. She let go before the weight pulled her down further into despair as an image from her childhood flashed in her mind. The first time her father had helped her atop a horse. She’d been twelve, far older than most children first learning to ride, but after nearly succumbing to scarlet fever, her parents had been careful with her. They’d kept her sheltered and protected from even the most trivial hazards. What a blessed life she’d had.
The memories were vague, but she could faintly recall her father kneeling at her bedside, holding her tiny, feverish hand while he recited scriptures and prayed. She’d been so ill, few of the words had stuck with her then, but a handful stood out to her now. “‘Jesus said unto him, if
thou canst believe, all things are possible to him that believeth,’” her father had recited. “I believe in Your healing power,” he’d whispered. “I believe, Lord.”
Her head lolled forward as the world spun again, and her eyes fluttered closed once more. Time seemed a vague, indistinct thing as her energy continued to fade. No matter how much she tried, she didn’t have the strength to force her head back up. The horse had slowed to an easy canter, and the gentle pace lulled her. The light pattering of rain had become a soothing rhythm in the background, and the blissful realm of sleep called to her with its promises of sweet, thoughtless relief. She was far too tired to fight its call.
So tired . . .
Then, the world of her dreams enveloped her in a light embrace as the angel Gabriel appeared before Mary. The scene was so beautiful, so warm, it banished the chill that was trying to slither down into her subconscious. Unlike with most dreams, she knew she was asleep, like she was somehow teetering on the edge between consciousness and sleep. “Behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall name him Jesus,” Gabriel commanded, his voice resplendent with majesty and assuredness. Mary smiled; she wasn’t afraid, and some of her peace seeped into Faith’s veins. Mary embraced God’s love and His plan for her life, and the glow of the scene wrapped around Faith like a warm blanket, embracing her, cocooning her in the perfection of God’s plan.
A horse whinnied, yanking her from the Lord’s warmth into the damp cold around her. Goosebumps rose on her flesh as a gentle breeze wafted across her wet skin. She shivered and nestled closer to the warm, strong body beneath her as she pried her eyes open. It was no longer raining, but the flat, wet ground caught the moonlight and shimmered dully. It was still night,
and she was still lost, traveling blindly. Behind her, trees rose up like a shrouded wall, and the only thing she could make out in front of her was a low wood fence.
The horse whinnied again. A warning sound, she realized, as the sound pulled her away from the vestiges of sleep just as the horse reared, mere inches from a low wood fence. Straight- up on his hind legs, she hadn’t time to tighten her grip. Faith was falling, too fast, too hard. She slammed into the hard ground, buried amid tall, wet grass. Her leg screamed with pain, but it was drowned out by the sharp agony at the back of her head.
And then the whole world went black and she was dropped right back into the dream from which she’d been wrenched.
Mary’s smile. God’s righteous plan. The scene played itself anew in front of her. There was no pain here. No fear. Only warmth, and God’s message to Faith. If only she understood what He was trying to tell her.
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