She is a woman ahead of her time trying to navigate a world that rejects her. He is an honorable sheriff weighed down by responsibilities. Will they follow the path God has designed for them and allow their souls to unite?
“She looked into his eyes and knew that God’s plan is written in words of love and that we all hear whispers of it when we listen to our deepest, truest hearts.”
Lucille’s greatest desire is to honor her divine calling and help people by practicing medicine. When her father, who taught her everything, passes away though Lucille is lost. Her only chance to work as a doctor is to marry the sheriff of a neighboring town for convenience. But Lucille never anticipated to feel so attracted to her new husband. How can she concentrate on her practice when his magnetic presence threatens to distract her from her goals?
A woman doctor sounds like a scandalous idea, but it’s Nicholas’s last chance. He is a sheriff in a town infamous for its criminality, and he has his hands full. The only thing he has to do is agree to a marriage of convenience and save his town. But the feisty Lucille doesn’t seem like any woman he has met before in his entire life, and it’s a daily challenge. How will they come to terms when the plan not to fall in love backfires on him?
As Lucile and Nicholas grow closer, they are confronted by the bandits that will stop at nothing to destroy the town and their happiness. Will they get their happily ever after and manage to find God’s light before the darkness tear them apart?
Pinewood, Arizona Territory, 1871
Lucille’s vision was cloudy with unshed tears as she surveyed the room. It was a warm day, and sunshine filtered through the window, shining onto the neatly brushed floor. The air smelled of the carbolic disinfectant she’d used to clean the surfaces—the desk, the copper washbasin, the cupboard that housed the microscope, and other equipment. It should have been a pleasant scene, but Lucille could barely bear to look at it. Her heart felt entirely cold, like the barrenness of the desert was resting within her.
This was her father’s workroom. But he was not working here. Not anymore.
He was with God now.
Her beloved father passed away last week after a brief fit from which he had not recovered.
She swallowed hard, trying to feel something. Despite her wishes to cry, she couldn’t sense any emotion. When she eyed her father’s books, the wooden desk with its piles of papers, and the neat notes stacked in the glass-fronted closet, she wished she could express something. Part of her was howling in rage, pain, and loss. The rest of her—the part that everyone could see—quietly listened to the voices outside the window.
“He’s at peace, now.”
The lawyer, Mr. Tarrant, and the banker, Mr. Longford, told her they would be coming to speak with her. Lucille knew she would have to face those men and discuss his estate and belongings.
She didn’t know how to start. Even at nineteen years old, she had never been without her father. She smoothed her black linen skirt and high-collared blouse. As she bowed her head, her dark hair remained in place, pulled back in a bun, away from her face. She shut her dark eyes, keeping the pain at bay for a moment before they knocked.
“Miss Newbury?” a hesitant voice said through the door.
Lucille stepped forward, letting the men into her father’s workroom. “Yes. Please, enter.”
Outside, Mr. Longford removed his top hat, looking uncomfortable. Mr. Tarrant, tall and somber, wet his lips. Lucille stood behind the desk while they remained in the doorway, seeming reluctant to enter and ill-at-ease in her father’s workroom. But she didn’t feel ill-at-ease—she simply felt weary, knowing she could barely bear to speak with them. She just wanted everyone to leave her alone.
“Miss Newbury. We need to talk to you about your father’s, er…effects,” Mr. Tarrant addressed her carefully.
“His belongings. Yes, I know.” Her voice was tight and croaky. She stared at them, trying to stand straight.
This was her space. She and her father had worked here for hours at a time—he had taught her how to stitch wounds, clean the equipment, and make medicine for coughs and fever. He was the town physician, but she had been his assistant.
And now, he was gone, and these cold and confused men were in his workspace.
Part of her wanted to tell them to get out, to leave her where his things still filled the space. It felt almost sacred because it was just as he had left it. If she sat in here, she could pretend for a moment that he had just walked into the village to buy more supplies and would return at any moment.
“Miss Newbury,” Mr. Longford said gently with his head tilted. The banker occasionally called at their house and was a friend of her father’s. “We need to speak to you about an… awkward thing.”
Mr. Tarrant, who was much taller, hesitated beside him. They were merely floating, earnest, pale faces; their black, somber suits blended with the door’s shadow.
“Please, begin,” Lucille said, annoyed by their caution. She only wanted the facts. While she knew they were doing their best, anyone’s presence was too much to bear.
“Um, yes,” Mr. Longford said. “Mr. Tarrant, perhaps you’d like to, er…outline the news?”
Mr. Tarrant glared at the shorter, rotund form of Longford with a wrinkled lip as if he did not wish to speak simply because Longford invited him to do so. The men didn’t like one another; it was known to the townsfolk and was a source of some entertainment. Lucille might have found the asperity funny, but now, she couldn’t find much amusement in anything.
“Miss Newbury,” Mr. Tarrant repeated carefully. “There is a matter of a loan.”
“A loan?” Lucille gaped at them, unbelieving. “What sort of—”
“Apologies,” Mr. Longford said. “My dear girl, your father borrowed money of a considerable sum. It was unpaid, and now that he is…passed…he…well, his estate owes the money.”
“I owe money?” Lucille asked in a whisper. Dizzy, she leaned on the desk. None of this seemed accurate; she couldn’t believe it. She thought they came to discuss the distribution of his property. Since she was the only living relative Papa had, it would pass to her. As far as she knew, her father had no debt. One thing she knew was that they were comfortably off—they owned the cottage that appended the workroom where they stood now, the plot of land, and the cart with which they traveled. They were wealthy in comparison with many folks in the town. Her father did not need moneylending.
“You don’t, my dear girl,” Mr. Longford assured. “It is just, well, when a debtor passes, their debt needs to be paid, and so—”
“But how did Papa incur debt?” she asked, her voice like a small child’s. She’d never felt so helpless, so weary, and confused.
Mr. Longford glanced away before speaking as if nervous to answer. “My dear, your papa was too generous. He didn’t always take payment for his services. And he spent more than he had. He built up debts in every establishment, and, well…this is the result.”
“Miss Newbury, the house passes to the estate, which passes to the bank. It will be sold to pay the debt owed to them.” Mr. Tarrant sounded wintry. While Longford was doing his best to be kind, Tarrant was relaying the facts, which, in a way, were what she needed. She needed something to hold onto, something to understand. She had been raised to have an incisive, clear mind and found confusion hard to bear.
She leaned on the shelf behind the desk, too weak to support herself. None of this was real. She must be dreaming.
“My dear girl, I’m sorry,” Mr. Longford repeated in a tight and strained voice. “I am so sorry. If there was another path, I would take it, but we cannot leave his debt unpaid. The—”
“Miss Newbury,” Mr. Tarrant interrupted flatly. “I suggest that you contact any acquaintances to arrange lodging. I will delay if I can, but you need to find alternative accommodation.”
Lucille’s body shook, and her ears felt blocked with cotton as though going deaf. Nothing made sense. Slowly, her senses withdrew. Though the men were trying to remonstrate, a part of her was floating, unable to comprehend the words.
“Miss Newbury, of course, we will do everything possible to ensure that—”
“Please,” she whispered. “Please. I can’t understand you. Please, let me think.”
Mr. Longford glanced at Mr. Tarrant, and relief flooded through Lucille as he tapped him on the shoulder. “Let’s leave Miss Newbury to think. I’ll ask the neighbor to step in for a bit,” he said softly.
“No,” Lucille breathed. “I want time to think on my own.”
Mr. Longford patted her hand. “You need company, miss. It’s not good for you to sit here without a companion. Let me fetch the neighbor.”
“No.” Lucille knew he hadn’t heard, but all that concerned her was the men were leaving. Once they departed, she slid into her father’s chair.
Utterly drained, she rested her head on the desk and prayed. God would find a way forward for her where there seemed to be none.
She was still in her father’s chair with her eyes shut when her neighbor entered, sent by the banker and the lawyer. Lucille sighed. She didn’t want to talk to anyone and wished they hadn’t sent her. She tried to smile, though—she didn’t want to be unkind.
“Good morning, dear,” Mrs. Powell said gently. “I brought you some fresh-baked bread.”
Lucille nodded absently. Though she didn’t have an appetite, what could she say? She appreciated the gesture, though she struggled to find words through her brain’s fog.
“It’s no trouble at all, my dear,” Mrs. Powell said caringly as though Lucille had responded. “Now, I’ll sit with you if you like. It’s not good to be alone. I brought my Bible and could read it aloud to you…?”
Lucille shook her head, trying not to cry. “Thank you, but I would prefer the quiet. I have a lot to think about.”
“Of course,” Mrs. Powell agreed kindly. “Well, I’ll leave the bread here for you. And remember, the Lord hears our prayers.”
Even in her current state of numbness, Lucille knew that to be true. While she couldn’t imagine how, somewhere in her heart, she knew that help would come from the Lord.
The smell of tobacco and coffee, sackcloth, and plaster floated across the trading store’s counter. A line of people was already at the counter, and Lucille wanted to run. She wished to avoid the crowds, but she’d been busy washing her laundry.
As she stepped inside, she was aware of the eyes on her. Everybody found it necessary to remind her that her father had passed, eulogizing him like she had no idea who he was or how much they missed him.
Hands clenched in a fist, she wished they knew how she tried not to think of him sometimes. If she did, the pain would become unbearable.
The coins for flour and yeast were heavy in her hand. Though she wanted to buy soap, she couldn’t purchase anything else if she did, and she so dearly longed for fruit. However, she was aware she had limited resources. If she didn’t get a job soon, she wouldn’t have any money.
Options for work were limited. Lucille considered taking in washing for neighbors, but that was already primarily taken by Mrs. Prester on the corner, who did all the washing for the ranch hands. Lucille had no skills in baking or handicraft, though most people did their own cooking. There was already a teacher for the schoolhouse, and other options like housekeeper or cleaner were limited. The few houses big enough to employ people were in larger cities, like Prescott, fifty miles away. Their housekeeper, Mrs. Whitestone, left weeks before Papa passed away. Now, Lucille understood it was because they could no longer afford to pay her, and her father concealed it from her. She had no idea what to do.
Some of the neighbors tried to help. Mrs. Powell, who had always cared for her, bought a paper from Prescott to help Lucille in her search, but being poor as well, that was the most she could offer. Except for Mr. Longford, Mrs. Powell was the only person she and her father knew well. Nobody else had even come forward to attempt to help her in her need.
She gazed around the crowded store. Most stood around talking while Mr. Rosegate, the owner, served Mrs. Paget at the counter. The shelves were stocked with farm equipment—hoes, rakes, plows, and bags of grain for chickens. All the other wares—soap, tobacco, flour, sugar, sweets—were kept behind the counter. Its high, wooden length festooned with bottles and the shelves behind glinting with jars and baskets of apples and pears.
Taking a breath, Lucille wished Mrs. Paget would hurry, as five people were waiting. Did everybody in the town do their shopping mid-week? Why had she not recalled this would be the busiest time?
She felt helpless and irritable, as though flies buzzed about her, settling, biting, and flying away. Though Mr. Tarrant and Mr. Longford tried to delay the debt collection for a week, she couldn’t expect them to give her more grace than that. If she didn’t move out soon, she would still be in the cottage when the bailiffs came to take her belongings.
“….and it’s about Miss Newbury…”
The voice was low but distinct. She frowned, scanning the shop. They are gossiping about me.
The townsfolk knew about the debt; Tarrant or Longford told somebody, as she guessed they would, and word spread. Two shoppers glanced over their shoulders with guilt and speculation in their gaze. Shame was like fire on her skin.
Without thinking about it, she blundered through the door. She couldn’t endure their eyes on her, their wagging tongues, sure that some folks enjoyed her helpless state. Her father had friends, but he also had enemies—more than they knew. He had been oblivious to those who resented him or were jealous of his popularity and good reputation. However, Lucille noticed the sullen glances. Now, they directed their anger and bitterness toward her. Lucille had thought that the townsfolk would remember how they valued her father and help her, but nobody bridged the gap. Perhaps, after all, they had resented the subtle status difference that being a doctor gave him, which was why they were reluctant to help.
She had been so sure of everything, so confident. When people whispered about her, she felt like an outcast, like she had a mark that made her less of a person. She would soon be homeless, but all those fickle townsfolk could do was talk about her. Constantly threatened and judged, it sapped her belief in everything, especially herself.
The dirt and paving were rough under her boots, smelling dusty and dry as she fled. The store stood on the main street, and six others roads branched off from it. Her house was on the other side of town. While she wanted to flee there, she was utterly overcome with emotion.
“Please, God,” she whispered as she rounded the corner by the inn. “Please. I need Your guidance.”
She had almost stopped believing He heard her prayers but reminded herself: He does. I know He does.
Though she didn’t like being a doubter, she had never felt this flat, cold silence when she prayed. It genuinely felt like nobody was there, as if nobody heard her. Every time she didn’t find jobs in the paper, every time she searched for inspiration, and no guidance came to her, a little of her faith diminished. But she hadn’t entirely stopped believing. She took a deep breath and shut her eyes, trying not to cry. The stone was cold as she leaned on the wall. While it felt better than standing in the store, the wind cut through her clothes like ice.
She was utterly alone.
Footsteps approached and stopped on the cobbled street. Opening her eyes, Lucille saw a wrinkled, wise face with dark, somber eyes. “Mr. Chaffee?”
The short, older man grinned, showing yellowing teeth. “Look at you! Lucille Newbury, I’m so glad to see you.”
“Mr. Chaffee,” Lucille gasped, flooded with relief. “It’s a surprise to see you here!”
Max Chaffee was her father’s friend. He seldom visited because his ranch was many miles away, in the wilderness between Pinewood and Oxplains. Once a month, he came to town for supplies and to stock up on goods, some of which he sold in Oxplains. Lucille blinked at him, genuinely glad to see someone she knew. He was someone she had known all her life and somebody who understood her father. In a world where people were fickle, and gossip sprang up around her like wildfire, it was good to have someone she could undoubtedly trust.
“Yes, child. It’s me, all right. Look at you! You’ll catch a chill if you stand around without a coat.”
Mr. Chaffee’s laughter made her smile. He wore leather and homespun linen, his face tanned by the sunshine. He hadn’t tried to commiserate by telling her how much he missed her father. He hadn’t even mentioned her loss, though he must have known about it. Due to her father’s popularity as the best physician in the region, his passing made the front page of the local Gazette.
His hazel eyes were filled with care. “How are you faring?”
Lucille sucked in a breath. “Not well, Mr. Chaffee.” The road was still unoccupied, but she didn’t want to talk where they could be seen—both because they would gossip and she needed to vent about her troubles and didn’t want them overhearing.
“Would you like a cup of tea?” she asked. It was impossible to invite Mr. Chaffee to her home since people would talk if she entertained a man, even a family friend. But the inn was open, and nothing was stopping them from taking a cup of tea in the inn parlor. Though unconventional, it was not suggestive, not even by the standards of the most closed-minded.
He nodded. “I’d like that. And best if you get indoors.” He coughed as he swore about the cold. “Sorry, miss. I’m not fit for polite company.”
“Darn right.” Laughing, Lucille followed him into the building, feeling better than she had in a while.
The parlor was empty, and Lucille was relieved to talk freely. After they requested tea, Lucille’s heart surged. The interior was dark, except for the light that shone through the window behind them, a net curtain keeping out any curious eyes. There was nobody else inside besides them, for which Lucille was grateful; she expected any villagers seeing them would gossip. While it was reasonable for villagers to take tea there, most didn’t, reserving the inn for the out-of-town guests who might pass through on their way south or traders.
Lucille grinned at him. “I’m so glad to see you, Mr. Chaffee.”
He beamed. “I’m pleased to see you, Miss Newbury.” The laughter-etched wrinkles in the corner of his eyes drooped with sorrow. “I am so sorry for your father’s passing.”
“Thank you.” She sighed. “We both feel sorrow for his loss.”
“Gerard was a fine doctor. A fine man.”
Lucille allowed thoughts of her father to surface. She could share real memories with somebody who knew him as more than just the physician. Mr. Chaffee had known Gerard Newbury, a complex human with his own story.
They sat in silence while the proprietor brought tea.
“Listen, Miss Newbury,” Mr. Chaffee said awkwardly, stirring milk into his tea absentmindedly. “If you need anything, tell me. You’re a young lady, and I know it’s hard. It’s not easy dealing with all that…legality.” He gestured in the direction of the office.
“I am trying to deal with it,” she swallowed. “But it’s not easy. I…” She tried to find the words to tell him the news. “Papa had debt and never told anyone. I only found out a week ago.”
“Debt, eh?” Mr. Chaffee, who’d been sipping his tea, sat straight.
“Yes,” Lucille murmured. As she shared the story, he nodded slowly, his expression gentle. Relief flooded her. After the whispering gossip-spreaders, genuine care was like a balm for her. She hadn’t realized how much it wore her down, how those sly glances at the store had eroded her belief in everything, even—and especially—in herself. That, plus the fear of imminent homelessness, stripped her dignity away and left her raw and uncertain of everything she always knew.
“That’s rough.” Mr. Chaffee whistled. “You need somewhere to stay. How about…” he paused, rubbing his chin. “Your pa trained you?”
“That’s right.” Physicians never took women as apprentices—that was an absolute rule. Though it was almost unheard of, she had practiced. But her father told her that nothing could stand in her way. Her eyes flooded with tears, recalling how highly he’d spoken of her. Her voice wobbled. “He trained me.”
“Well, then,” Mr. Chaffee said thoughtfully. “I reckon I know someone who’s looking for a physician. You could come with me.”
“You do?” Lucille stared at him, flooded with delight. Unexpectedly, terror instantly followed. Nobody would accept her; she was a woman. People didn’t go to women physicians—not usually. She could work as a nurse, though. “I suppose I could help a physician if he’d—”
“Come, now!” he chuckled. “Miss Newbury, you could be a physician. Why not? Your pa would say so.”
“But…” Lucille sighed. She had always wanted to be a physician, but even her papa acknowledged that it was hard for a woman. Anyone else would say it was impossible. Her father was the only person she knew of—besides Mr. Chaffee, though she hadn’t realized before—who would accept the idea. “But Mr. Chaffee…I’m not, well…” She gestured toward herself.
“You’re not a man. Is that what you meant?”
She nodded, glad he hadn’t made her explain further. Women could not become doctors. It was as well-known as fire could burn you or that it was cold at night.
He chuckled. “Honey! It’s time people forgot about that. There was that lady…you know…” He flapped a hand, frowning as though the name refused to come to mind.
“Elizabeth Blackwell.” Lucille nodded. Elizabeth Blackwell had practiced, but she was the only example she could name. A few years earlier, Elizabeth Blackwell had graduated as a physician in Geneva, New York. Lucille only knew because a late peer of her father’s met her. Though Papa highly admired Dr. Blackwell, Lucille knew how terrible an ordeal studying had been for her—even her colleagues had laughed and scoffed.
“That’s the one,” Mr. Chaffee grinned. “So, you see… It could be done. And anyone who says not is outdated.”
Lucille swallowed. It was what she’d dreamed of her whole life. If someone asked her what her deepest longing was, she would hesitate to name it as being all too unlikely. She was no Elizabeth Blackwell, ready to defy all norms. People would ridicule and laugh at her. Lucille gazed at the tea forgotten on the table and tried to voice her feelings.
“I’m not certain…” She coughed, her throat tight.
He shook his head. “I don’t believe that. Not for a second. I know you, Miss Newbury. You’re like Gerard, so like him, I can barely believe it sometimes. And he would think it was no bad thought.” He paused. “I knew him. He would say that the Lord works in mysterious ways.”
Her eyes went misty, and for the first time in weeks, she thought she would genuinely weep. She hadn’t mourned her father—she’d barely been able to feel. But now, talking with his friend, he seemed so vividly present, as if, for a moment, he stooped down from Heaven, and she could almost see him.
“He would,” she agreed. “That’s so typical of him, somehow.”
“It is,” he said. “And he would have said this was your divine calling. I know he would.”
“Maybe,” Lucille said carefully. Her father suggested that once, long ago, when she helped him. It was the highest praise he ever gave, and she kept that treasured memory a secret. She wondered about it now, hearing Mr. Chaffee’s words.
They both sat silently for a moment while Lucille was lost in her father’s memory. Across the table, she knew his friend was also wandering in his memory.
“If I can travel with you,” she said. “Then I would be ready to do so. But I will need time to decide about the… other consideration.” She couldn’t even say that she was thinking about being a physician. It was too huge.
“Well, then!” he said, laughing. He clasped her hand and something thawed inside her. “I’d be delighted if you came with me. And you can take all the time you need.” He paused. “I’m going to Oxplains tomorrow, but I’ll be back in a week. You can let me know your decision then. Will you be safe until then? Will you be able to negotiate with the bank for another week?”
Unable to speak, she nodded. She hoped Mr. Longford could be convinced to give her that time, especially if she had the possibility of work. A mix of nerves and excitement filled her, flowing through and uplifting her.
For the first time in weeks, there was a glimmer of warmth within, and she was ready to take the step placed for her. Deep down, she knew that the Lord provided the opportunity. It was a terrifying yet exciting start to a new journey.
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