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Redeeming their Love in a Newfound Family

He is the man that broke her heart years ago, but they need to work together for the good of their nieces. How can they give this love a second chance when the past is hunting them?

“He had never stopped caring for her in the years since she was gone, but now he felt the love between them as something potent—possible.”

After her sister’s and her brother-in-law’s sudden death in a stagecoach accident, Laura needs to return to her hometown and take care of their three little daughters. She didn’t expect to find her childhood crush, who broke her heart years ago when he rejected her, but now she is not the fragile girl he remembers. How can she put her feelings aside and work with him to care for her nieces?

Joe has always lived a carefree life, enjoying his freedom. But when he receives the devastating news of his brother’s and sister-in-law’s death, he knows he must step up and look after his three nieces. The determined woman that comes to his rescue is not the little girl he remembers as Laura. As they work together, he can’t help but wonder if he made a mistake all those years ago. How can he make her see that they deserve a second chance at love?

As Joe and Laura work together, they must put their past behind them and focus on what’s best for the family. But just when they start to make things work, the past comes back to haunt them. Can they overcome their differences and fight for their newfound happiness?

Written by:

Western Historical Romance Author


Fulton, Arkansas



“Frizzle-frazzle, frizzle-frazzle!”

The taunting, sing-song voices of the students surrounding the young girl overwhelmed her. All she wanted to do at that moment was to disappear. Laura wiped the tear that had slipped free from the corner of her eye before it traveled all the way down her cheek. She didn’t want to give the kids another reason to laugh at her expense. There were six of them, most of them older than her seven years, all standing around her in a circle. She had no choice but to stay put and endure the abuse they directed at her.

All this had started because of the fateful choice she had made by asking her sister, Gloria, about a change in hairstyle that morning. Since their mother’s passing during Laura’s childbirth, Gloria had helped raise Laura, and each morning helped her get ready for school. Today, Laura had asked if she could wear her wavy brown hair down instead of pulled-back into the braids she had worn since she was old enough to decide. She had seen a girl in town while she was at the market with Gloria the day before and had admired how her blonde hair cascaded down her back.

When Laura had asked Gloria if she could style her hair like that, her sister had heartily agreed and helped Laura wrap a thin, red ribbon from the nape of her neck to the top of her head and tie it off in a bright bow complimenting her curls. Both had marveled at the hairstyle and Laura had bounced her way to school that morning, excited and feeling her best.

But her joy had quickly been quelled by the chorus of whispers that greeted her in the classroom. Now, with the circle of children out on the lawn in front of the school calling her nicknames like ‘Frizzle Frazzle,’ and ‘Miss. Frizz,’ Laura wished she had never gotten that foolish idea.

She knew her brown hair wasn’t partitioned in perfect ringlets like the ones she had seen on that girl in the market, but she had thought it looked better than it had in braids. Laura’s heart ached at the meanness of her classmates, and although she fought the tears, they were already starting to fall and were surely to be followed by others.

“Frizzle-frazzle, frizzle-frazzle!”

The sound of singsong voices enveloped her from every direction, and Laura felt her knees trembling with emotion. She just wanted to run away, run back home, beg Gloria to pull her hair back into braids and wash away every memory of this moment. But she was trapped in the circle her classmates had formed around her and there was no way out.

She kept spinning, hoping that at least one of them would see exactly how much harm they were doing. But the spinning soon caused her to grow dizzy. And just moments before she thought she’d collapse onto her feet from nausea, a redheaded boy stepped into the circle with her.

At first, Laura thought he would just join in with the others, but instead, he stepped further toward her until he reached out a hand to touch her arm. His light brown eyes locked on hers and she saw a kindness in them that she hadn’t found from anyone else at the school.

Joe Hatcher.

She remembered the schoolteacher calling his name during a lesson they had shared with the students that were one year old ahead of her. Nothing had stood out about him except his bright red hair—well, nothing until now.

He turned but kept his hand on her , tucking Laura close behind him as he addressed the other children who had stopped their taunting.

“Leave her alone,” Joe said confidently, his shoulders wide enough for her whole body to hide behind. She hid her face in his flannel shirt, squinting her eyes closed as she awaited their responses.

All she heard was a few snickers, a groan of boredom, and someone saying, “We were just having some fun.”

“Well, have your fun somewhere else,” Joe retorted and shortly after the sound of feet padding across dirt receded and the stillness of the afternoon engulfed them both. Still fearful of a lingering tormentor, Laura stayed put until she felt him move to face her.

“They’re gone, you can open your eyes now,” he said softly, a gentleness in his tone that rivaled the commanding voice from moments before.

Laura slowly let her eyes open, blinking briefly to clear the fog from her gaze. His brown eyes were vivid up close, and his face was handsome, causing her cheeks to flush immediately and look away. He was tall for his age, a head of fiery red hair made everything he did appear wild. She quickly realized the state that she was in, tear-stained cheeks and frizzy hair in every direction.

“Thank you,” she said quickly. She planned to thank him and run home, but as she turned to flee, he stopped her with a gentle hand on hers.

“Wait. Do you want to come play with me? My family’s ranch is right down the street. I could show you the animals, or we could pick fresh berries right out of the patch,” he offered with bright, hopeful eyes. Despite feeling like he was still just being nice, she decided it might be worth it to go with him—if only to pick some berries, which were her favorite.

She eventually nodded in agreement, and allowed him to collect her two school books and pile them on top of his. They walked together down the dusty road for a few minutes until they arrived at a fence with a sign that wrote Hatcher Ranch.

“Race you!” Joe called as he jumped over the fence. Laura took off after him, even though she thought it was quite unfair to race to somewhere she had never been before. She ran off after him, circling around a worn farmhouse on a dirt path that had been run over many times. Reaching the back of the house, Joe veered to the left to a thick patch of berries tucked away along the side of a large red barn.

Joe stopped short of the berry bushes and leaned over, resting his palms on his knees and letting out deep breaths. Laura was close behind; she stopped next to him and took up the same stance—out of breath, but energized by the excitement.

She reached up to tame the flyaway hairs that had come free, and her heart lurched as she remembered her hair was down instead of braided in their usual braids. She frantically began to pat it down, but Joe reached out a hand to stop her.

“Don’t worry about it. I think it looks good. Now let’s get some of these berries!” His excited expression distracted her long enough to push thoughts of her hair and the bullies from earlier out of her mind. When Joe knelt down in between two berry bushes and began picking dark, fat blackberries with his fingers, she followed suit. Taking the berry that he offered, she slipped it into her mouth and reluctantly chewed.

A sour sensation caused her face to contort in an expression she assumed matched the silly one on Joe’s face, but it soon dulled as sweet juice whirled around in her mouth. She swallowed the berry and gladly accepted the next one.

“These big soft ones are ready for picking. You see the smaller ones that are firm or have a lighter color?”

“Yes,” Laura said.

“Avoid those, they’re still sour.”

Joe wiped the back of his hand across his forehead, leaving a bright blue streak across his skin, and Laura couldn’t hold back her laugh at the sight. The two giggled, and a feeling of pure freedom flowed over Laura. It was unlike anything she had ever felt before—and surely something she had never felt among the rest of her classmates.

That feeling was short-lived though, as the sound of footsteps and an angry voice reached her ears.

“Joe Hatcher! What are you doing in that blackberry bush? I’ve told you time and time again, I’m saving those for a cobbler. I swear there won’t be any left by the time I get around to making that!” The voice was gruff, and Laura looked up to meet the angry eyes of an older woman. She had a head of thick black hair with signs of gray and a dark set of eyes under her bushy eyebrows. Everything about her was cold and heartless at first glance.

“I know, Aunt Silvia! But I was hoping just this once it would be okay. This is my new friend, Laura,” Joe offered up as reasoning, but the look on the woman’s slightly wrinkled face told Laura it didn’t matter much.

Regardless, there was something about Joe calling her his friend that sent a warm feeling across her cheeks. It had been a long time since she one, after her childhood friend had moved out west a year ago. Laura wanted to believe that she and Joe could be friends, and then the next day at school no one would dare make fun of her. It was almost as if the idea of facing the bullies beside Joe had helped her draw strength.

She took away what she was sure were silly thoughts as his Aunt Silvia grew more annoyed in front of her. “I don’t care if you brought the sheriff over here himself to share those berries, I told you no. Now get up,” she pressed. The woman was momentarily distracted by the sound of a carriage pulling into the backyard, so Joe wasted no time grabbing Laura’s hand and tugging her toward the barn door. Laura could hear the woman yelling outside, calling for Joe, but he didn’t seem too worried about it. So, she followed him into the back of the barn and they both disappeared inside

There was a pallet of blankets on a soft layer of hay near one of the small stalls that sat empty. She took a seat next to Joe on the blankets, and waited. She felt like she was on a never-ending adventure, even though she knew the sun had hardly moved in the sky. Taking in the space around her, she could tell he spent a lot of time there, even though there were no toys or books in sight. She saw patterns drawn in the dirt and a stack of sticks next to it. Joe must have used it to draw the small shapes of trees, houses, and horses on the ground before her.

“Do you have anything to play with in here?” she asked curiously.

He shrugged simply. “Not really. I usually just come here to get away. There aren’t any toys in the barn, just the horses and the occasional mouse.” Joe made a hand motion like a scurrying creature across the floor, and it made Laura giggle.

“Well, that’s okay—we don’t need anything as long as we have each other. We can keep each other company,” she offered. They sat in companionable silence for a while until Laura came up with a game that she remembered playing with her sister. “Let’s play ‘yes or no’!”

“What’s that?” Joe asked, excitement in his tone.

“It’s a game where you choose a thing in your head and the other person asks yes or no questions to guess what it is,” she explained. “It’s fun, I promise.”

He smiled at her, considering it for a moment before speaking. “I think as long as we’re together, I’ll have fun doing just about anything.” His words brought warmth to her cheeks, and she quickly glanced away but didn’t fight the smile that grew on her face. She had been thinking the same thing; something about this boy was special, and she really liked the way he treated her.

He went first, taking a moment to come up with an item, and letting Laura ask the questions.

While they played together, she let herself relax into their quickly growing bond. There was something so easy about spending time with him that made Laura want to spend more days like this in the future.

She couldn’t have been more wrong.

Chapter One

Little Rock, Arkansas


Laura swiped the eraser across the chalkboard. Even after so many years in the classroom, she never could get used to the unfortunate squeaking sensation of the chalk and the erasers as they slid across the black material. She also hated the cloud of dust she would soon be covered in after tapping off her sponges like she did at the end of every day.

A small head of brown hair tied into two pigtails ran into her line of sight. “Miss. Maddox! Can I stay here until my Pa comes to get me?” Tara said with a sweet smile on her face.

The girl would often spend extra time with Laura or the other teacher while she waited for her father to leave the market and get her home every afternoon. Laura never minded; in fact, she loved the company. “Of course, sweetheart. Come sit with me,” Laura answered.

It had been twelve years since she had left Fulton and moved to the big city of Little Rock to teach. She loved her students, and loved watching as their minds grew right in front of her—but she never could shake the feeling of loneliness that accompanied her at all times. It was almost like a piece of her had stayed in Fulton. Even though her sister was married with children now, she still longed for the days when the two of them would spend all their time together.

The sound of Tara’s humming brought Laura’s attention to where the girl had started to scribble on the blackboard. Laura’s instinct was to scold her after she had just spent time cleaning it, but she knew that reaction was only spurred by her own misery. Tara was enjoying herself—and she shouldn’t take that away.

“Miss. Maddox?” the girl suddenly asked.


“Did you always like school?” The question came as a surprise.

“Not really,” she said so matter-of-factly that the girl stopped drawing and turned toward her, intrigued. “In fact, there was a time where I disliked it quite a bit.”

“Why?” Tara asked.

Laura stopped to think for a second, unsure of how much information to include. The truth was that she had hated school when she was Tara’s age because of the children there. She had always loved learning, the feeling of understanding and conquering something new. But the students around her—most of them, at least—had been cruel enough to make her school years a nightmare.

“Well, I wanted to like it, but I didn’t get along with most of the students at my school so it made it hard for me to learn.” She thought back to the days of boys tugging at her hair and the girls laughing at her in hushed insults.

She remembered Joe, how she thought he’d be her savior—how he had, for a while…

Until he turned out to be the worst of them all.

“The other students make fun of me too sometimes,” Tara said quietly.

Laura’s heart sank at the poor girl’s defeated expression. She moved and knelt in front of her, taking her little hands in hers.

“Tara, I know how that feels. They don’t understand what they’re doing and how hurtful it can be. Find something that you love, and focus on that. Ignore them as best you can. I promise if you find something to excel in and pay no mind to their mocking, they’ll grow bored,” she offered up the only advice she had.

Tara smiled from the corner of her mouth and nodded.

“Run along now. I think that’s your father’s wagon I hear pulling up the front,” Laura said with a smile. The girl hugged her briefly and ran off toward the door as Laura watched her go.

She smiled to herself as she debated on wiping away Tara’s latest creation on the blackboard. Laura admired the cute drawing of a family of ducks on a river and eventually decided to leave it there.


Laura took off down the path towards her home—a bedroom rented at the back of an elderly couple’s home. At first, she had fallen in love with the small space. It was something to call her own until she could meet someone to start a real home with. But over time, as her dream of finding a new place and having it grow full with a husband and children, Laura became lonelier. She had made a few friends in town, but had yet to find someone to keep her company. She longed for the love their parents had shared, from the stories her sister had told her—the love she read about to her students in poems and novels.

Laura’s steps were halted on the cobblestone sidewalk outside upon hearing the soft voice of Mrs. Ledrow. The old woman lived nearby but was rarely found lingering on the sidewalk like she did today. She had once lived in Fulton and even knew her parents. Fulton was a small place after all.

“Oh, my poor sweetheart!” Mrs. Ledrow exclaimed the moment she saw her. Laura had to brace herself as the woman, heavyset and dressed in a gaudy purple gown, practically charged her and wrapped her in an intense embrace. The smell of her perfume enveloped Laura, who fought not to choke in Mrs. Ledrow’s ear. Laura’s brow furrowed in confusion, as this wasn’t the reaction she normally received from the woman who was generally very calm and collected.

She pulled back and looked directly in Laura’s eyes, her face contorting into a look of anguish, her wrinkled skin and unfocused eyes making her look really old. “My darling, I am so sorry for your loss. I can only imagine how you must feel, dealing with this while so far from home,” she said with heartbreaking kindness that Laura didn’t understand.

Laura hesitated, trying to put the words together to ask for an explanation.

“My loss?” she uttered.

She had a sinking feeling in her gut—the seriousness of whatever had happened loomed over her. Her throat tightened.

Mrs. Ledrow continued. “I was in Fulton visiting my brother and his family yesterday. Everyone is talking about the tragedy. I’m surprised you’re not there right now. You’re planning to leave soon, aren’t you?”

The cloud over her grew, and finally she found the words. “Mrs. Ledrow, I don’t know what you’re talking about. I haven’t received word about anything. What tragedy?” Laura begged.

Mrs. Ledrow hesitated, and a look of horror crossed her face. “You haven’t heard? Oh Laura, my child I am so sorry. You shouldn’t have to hear it from me like this.”

“Please, I need to know!” Laura insisted.

The woman pulled her aside and guided her over to a bench down the sidewalk, making Laura sit next to her. Laura decided not to argue since suddenly her legs felt weak anyway.

“It’s Gloria and Scott. There’s been a terrible accident,” she began, but Laura’s ears were already buzzing with a whirring sensation. She didn’t want to hear the words that came next. She wished she was dreaming, that whatever reality had already passed without her knowing was a terrible nightmare her mind had made up in a fitful night of sleep. “I heard it was a carriage accident. The bridge was slippery from the rain and the horses took a spill, causing the carriage to fall over into the river. Neither of them made it. The girls are still at school but now they’re staying with family. I assumed someone would’ve written to you immediately. I’m so sorry.”

Panic, desperation and anger welled inside of her at the woman’s words.

No, this cannot be, echoed in her mind over and over.

Not Gloria, not her only sister who had always been there for her when she was a child. Not her only friend in this world.

“When… when did this happen?” Laura blurted, her mind whirling with the woman’s words. Surely, it was all a mistake.

“Four or five days ago,” Mrs. Ledrow offered, a grimace on her face. The anger rushed in at the man who hadn’t had the decency to pen a letter or a telegraph and send it in her direction. The one man who knew that she would need to know, that she would be devastated at this information. For him to have let her find out on a Monday afternoon on the sidewalk by a woman she only talked to in passing—she couldn’t bear it.

Mrs. Ledrow looked worried when Laura was finally able to notice her again. “Thank you, Mrs. Ledrow, for telling me and for your kind words. I must go now.” Her tears where already threatening to spill as if the very words made it official. Her sister was gone.

Laura leapt up from the bench and hastily moved across the sidewalk and around her home. The tears came quickly but she managed to hold them back until she had shut the door to her room and pressed her back against the cold wood.

Her chest ached and her whole body shook as she began to cry her heart out. They were loud racking sobs that grew into wails. She let them go on for a few minutes before she forced herself to ease them and breathe. She recalled the way her sister would rub her back on a gentle circular motion when she would cry as a child.

The memory of her sister hurt like a physical wound, gaping in her chest. Her head felt fuzzy, like she couldn’t contain all the thoughts and emotions that attacked her all at once.

How can Gloria be gone?

And then, quite suddenly, Laura came to the realization that she was now completely alone. Having lost her father a few years back, Gloria, Scott and her nieces were her only remaining family. The overwhelming sense of loneliness washed over her so potently that she had to grip the wall to keep from falling. Laura let her back slide down against the wall and fell on the ground.

She stayed that way for a while, just letting herself cave to her grief. The sun from the window shifted toward the horizon and she suddenly realized, hours later, that it was dark out.

She needed to pack her bag and head out on the first train in the morning to Fulton. She slowly got off the ground and found her carpet bag and began to pull clothes out of the drawer. Her mind shifted to Joe. Her heart ached at the thought of him, and grew angry that he hadn’t found the time to send a telegraph. What was the point of these newfangled fast modes of sending messages if the one person that you had once been so close to wouldn’t send a single word to tell you your sister had passed?

Laura couldn’t believe she had ever loved Joe. She remembered the last words he had said to her like it were yesterday.

“I’m sorry Laura, I just don’t feel the same. I care about you greatly, but I don’t know that I see our lives together…”

She remembered the cold panic that washed over her and sent shivers over her skin. She recalled wanting to escape from her own body and mind, so she didn’t have to feel the pain of his rejection at her confession of the feelings she had for him.

Because of Joe, she hadn’t visited home as much as she should have, finding it too heartbreaking to be in his vicinity. And since her sister had married his brother, he was never far away and impossible to avoid.

Her thoughts drifted to the girls, knowing the feeling of losing parents all too well. They needed a mother figure, but Laura wasn’t sure that could ever be her; she at least needed to visit and make sure they were okay. It was the least she could do.

Genevieve, Charlotte—or Lottie, as they called her—and Rosalie were twelve, eight and ten years old, too young to have lost both parents so tragically. She had visited the girls many times, but now it felt like it still hadn’t been enough. Would they feel like she was a stranger visiting them? Would she remind them too much of their mother? The questions in her mind made her nervous. What if they didn’t want to see her? Maybe that was why Joe hadn’t written.


It was her duty as Gloria’s sister to be there for her children for as long as they needed her. Laura pushed away the doubts; it didn’t matter if they or Joe didn’t want to see her. She would go and make things right.

Or at the very least she would try. For Gloria.

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  • Very interesting and. Will keep me deeply wanting more to see what happens with them in every step too work it out or not.

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