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A Rugged Cowboy to Love Her

A job offer from the rugged rancher sparks a heartwarming journey to love amidst the untamed Wild West…

For Eleanor, life in her step-family’s home was a constant struggle for acceptance. An unexpected offer from the most handsome yet rugged man in town presents her with a choice she can’t refuse.

Haunted by past tragedies, Ethan has grown cynical about love. Running his family’s ranch brings comfort until a spirited young woman enters his life, challenging his beliefs and stirring his heart.

With danger lurking in the shadows, Eleanor and Ethan must stand united against a relentless foe. Will their love and determination withstand the trials ahead?

Written by:

Western Historical Romance Author

4.3/5

4.3/5 (97 ratings)

Prologue

Mistwood, Tennessee

September 1888

 

“My, haven’t you blossomed into the finest rose,” Eleanor’s mother Sandra sighed wistfully, watching as the birthday girl twirled in her party dress, skirts dancing around her. “I can hardly believe you are already 18 today.”

Phoebe beamed in response to her stepmother’s praise, her eyes and teeth seeming to sharpen as her gaze slid to Eleanor. “I am the most beautiful, aren’t I?” Phoebe’s laughter trilled like a mockingbird as she twirled once more, the silk of her gown whispering against the worn floorboards, golden hair that matched her new necklace, every inch of her glittering.

Eleanor had never been more conscious of every patch in her skirt and apron than at that moment, watching her mother beam at her viciously beautiful stepsister. Dropping her green-eyed gaze to the floor, her brief moment of self-pity was interrupted by the footfalls of heavy booted feet in the hall. She scurried to tend her duties in the kitchen, though hearing her stepfather Daniel’s voice booming, “Happy birthday, my precious,” followed by Phoebe’s elated squeals was somehow worse than the scolding she would have gotten.

In no time, the echoes of laughter and lively music drifted along the weathered walls as Phoebe’s birthday celebration carried on. Eleanor hurried through the bustling kitchen, balancing a laden tray of savory dishes. The scent of roasted venison and freshly baked pastries intermingled, teasing her senses with a longing she could not indulge. The sinful raspberry pastries were especially tempting.

Within the Harper home, guests adorned in their finest attire filled the dining hall, exchanging animated conversations and clinking glasses in celebration. Phoebe, radiant in her embroidered gown and craning her neck to show off the sparkling gold necklace her father had presented her, held court from the head of the table. Eleanor observed from a distance, her chestnut hair worn in a severe knot as she diligently served the guests. Phoebe’s golden locks had been brushed by Eleanor’s mother… Eleanor’s crooked braid was her own handiwork, rushed in the predawn light before she hurried to bake the very pastries she now served.

As Eleanor placed a raspberry pastry down in front of one of Phoebe’s friends, the girl smiled and thanked Eleanor, who began to smile in reply just as Phoebe’s voice cut through the kindness.

“Ida, don’t acknowledge the help.” Phoebe snapped, then smiled at Eleanor. “If she were worth anything as a maid, you would not even notice her.” She turned to her friends, tittering, and they followed suit, their mirth blending into the symphony of conversations and the clatter of cutlery.

Eleanor gave no sigh, no blink, no outward sign of hearing the words her stepsister crowed at every opportunity. At first, years ago, such remarks had flayed her raw. Now, she felt like a stone too long in a river, worn so smooth the current could not catch her. The faint twist of her heart was so familiar, so faint, that Eleanor barely noticed it.

The jubilant symphony of the party grated against Eleanor’s insides, a stark counterpoint to the discordant melody of her memories. Five years ago, on her own eighteenth birthday, there was no music, no merriment, no mother whispering “beautiful.” Just a hollow ache where joy should have been.

With a practiced flick of her wrist, Eleanor banished the memory, and stilled her trembling hands. The plate of pastries was cleared, her duty done. In the warm haven of the kitchen, Emma, the senior maid, met her with a knowing smile.

“You did well, dear,” her voice a soothing balm as her warm hands squeezed Eleanor’s shoulders. “Take a moment. You deserve it.”

Eleanor slumped onto a worn stool, the aroma of tea and crackling fire a comforting embrace. The phantom scent of raspberry pastries lingered, a cruel reminder of the feast she wasn’t part of. Phoebe and her guests had devoured everything, leaving not a crumb to spare. But Emma, bless her, had saved some stew.

“Thank you,” Eleanor whispered, the simple meal a comfort against the bitter aftertaste of envy. Candlelight danced on the kitchen’s timeworn walls, a stark contrast to the revelry beyond. Her gaze traced familiar cracks and chipped paint, each a silent testament to celebrations since her father’s passing.

A sigh escaped her lips, the stew cooling on her spoon. The world blurred, then snapped back into focus, the corners of her eyes threatening to overflow. She scrunched her nose in a futile attempt to hold back tears.

“Is the stew so bad it makes you cry, child?” Emma’s voice startled her. Glancing around, Eleanor realized more time had passed than she thought, leaving Emma nearly finished cleaning alone. “Now, is my stew so bad you need to go making those kinds of faces?” Emma teased gently, anchoring Eleanor back to reality.

“Never, Emma. Your stew is so delicious it moves me to tears,” Eleanor replied with a distant smile. She stood up and wiped her hands on her apron as she began to reach for the broom.

Emma’s frown deepened, her storm-grey eyes boring into Eleanor. “Sit, child. That stew won’t swallow itself.” She stacked plates with a huff. You’ve gone paler than a winter moon, barely more than a whisper. It’s no use sweeping dust bunnies when the wind might snatch you away.”

Eleanor’s sigh was barely a whisper itself. “That’s the only reason I’d be missed,” she mumbled, sinking back onto the stool.

“The only reason? Don’t be daft,” Emma scoffed, turning to face her. “I’d miss you because I care. You’re not just a pair of hands, Eleanor.”

Emma Foster was not one to coddle. Her eyes, the color of a brewing tempest, held a strength that could weather any storm. The lines etched around them and the callouses on her hands spoke of battles won and burdens borne.

Under her gaze, the heat of shame crept up Eleanor’s neck. “I know, Emma,” she mumbled apologetically, her cheeks coloring as she picked at her stew. “I didn’t mean that.”

Emma’s lips twitched, fighting a smile. “Twenty-three you may be, but you wear your age like a borrowed gown, Eleanor. One part a girl with dreams too big for the room she’s in, the other a woman burdened with a weight no child should bear.” Eleanor dropped Emma’s gaze, shoulders slumping as she waited for answers to float to the surface in her nearly empty bowl of stew. “Ma never calls me beautiful, only Phoebe. Ma never wishes me happy birthday, only Phoebe. Didn’t she swear that she had to remarry to give me a better life?” Eleanor looked up at Emma again, tears pricking the corners of her eyes once more, now burning trails along her cheeks like falling stars.

“And now I’m just a maid in my own home.” Eleanor continued, accepting the handkerchief Emma offered and blotting at her eyes with it. “I never dreamed that losing my Pa also meant losing my Ma.”

Emma listened, her expression softening as Eleanor poured out her heart. Placing a comforting hand on Eleanor’s, she spoke gently. “You’re worth more than they see, my dear. Your father saw the beauty in you, and he fanned your spark, knowing how you’d blaze into a fine young woman.”

Eleanor sniffled, her eyes meeting Emma’s with a glimmer of hope. “Do you truly believe that?” She dabbed at her cheeks again.

“With every breath,” Emma affirmed without hesitation. “You’ve a spirit as resilient as the mountains, Eleanor. Your heart’s been tested by storms, but it has not weakened you. It’s molded you into someone kind, compassionate, and far stronger than you realize.”

Eleanor managed a faint smile, eyes and heart overflowing. “Thank you for always seeing the good in me, Emma. I don’t know where I’d be without you.”

Emma squeezed Eleanor’s hand reassuringly. “You’re not alone in this world, dear. You’ve friends who cherish you, and you’ve a spirit that refuses to be crushed. Remember, even in the darkest of nights, the stars still shine.”

Eleanor nodded, a newfound resolve flickering in her gaze. “Thank you, Emma. I won’t forget your words or your kindness.”

After more kindness and stew, Eleanor finally retreated to her humble room. The flickering candle cast dancing shadows across the timeworn walls, weaving intricate patterns amid the rustic charm. The soft fragrance of leather-bound books intermingled with the delicate hint of lavender oil embraced the room in a soothing ambiance.

Cradled by the worn but familiar embrace of her cot, Eleanor laid down slowly, feeling the exhaustion in every aching bone in her body, chest rising and falling in sync with the subtle cadence of her breathing. She gazed up at the patched ceiling, the irregular patterns resembling an intricate quilt woven by time and tribulations, each patch a silent witness to her life’s tapestry.

In the hushed stillness of the night, nature’s orchestra played a symphony outside her window. The gentle rustling of leaves, orchestrated by the nocturnal breeze, harmonized secrets in the moonlit darkness. An owl’s distant hoot reverberated in the tranquil air, a solitary melody that echoed Eleanor’s solitude within the confines of her room.

Alone in the quiet sanctuary of her room, Eleanor surrendered to the realm of slumber. Her dreams, a refuge from the harsh reality, carried her away to a world where her memories were more vivid than in the daylight, and she could recall truly feeling loved.

Chapter One

Mistwood, Tennessee

April 1890

 

The rooster crowed, a rude alarm against the dusty pink dawn breaking through Eleanor’s tiny window. But it was the rustle of silk, not the rooster, that truly stole her breath. “Emma, what’s this?” Eleanor choked, green eyes wide as the words snagged in her throat. The dress, light as a whisper and the color of high mountain lakes, was a world away from her scratchy calicoes and calloused hands.’

“It’s for you,” Emma’s smile crinkled the corners of her storm-grey eyes. “For the Spring fair. And for your birthday.”

Eleanor’s heart skipped a beat. “You remembered?” She whispered. A dizzying rush filled Eleanor… birthday. A word she hadn’t dared let echo in her head since… since Papa and his dusty poetry book, since the tumble from the stallion that stole her childhood like a rogue twister. Wracking her brain, Eleanor was unable to place a memory of ever having had a birthday gift before. Or any gift, really. She was sure that, before Papa died in her sixth summer, she must have had one… possibly.

Eleanor wasn’t one for tears. Eighteen years with her stepfamily she had squeezed the desire for public emotion from her like water from a stone. So the unexpected sting in her eyes surprised her, mingling with the bittersweet joy that threatened to overwhelm her.

The dress whispered freedom in the sunlit room, a silk banner against the drab canvas of Eleanor’s days. The Spring Fair, a kaleidoscope of color and laughter, had always been a distant dream, a mirage shimmering on the horizon of her servitude.

“Of course, sweetheart.” Emma’s encouraging gaze mirrored the dress’s promise of a day of liberation from her eighteen years of servitude, urging Eleanor to break free from the mundane routine of chores that usually defined her days.

“What if I get caught?” Eleanor’s voice quivered with both anticipation and fear. She hadn’t exactly been forbidden to go to the Spring Fair, but it had been made very clear when Daniel helped Sandra and Phoebe into the carriage. Sandra hadn’t looked up at Eleanor once as they left, but Phoebe hadn’t stopped sharpening her cruel smile.

Emma chuckled, a warm gust blowing away the uncertainty. “Caught? You sound like a startled rabbit, my girl. It’s the Spring Fair, not a dragon’s den. Have some fun, I can handle a day without you.” With a conspiratorial wink, she retreated, leaving Eleanor alone with the dress and her decision. With Emma’s contagious determination fueling her spirit, Eleanor made her decision. Fingers trembling with excitement, she slipped into the dress, feeling its soft fabric cascading around her like a newfound sense of freedom.

The dress felt like donning armor, a new protective skin that would keep her safe. The golden crocheted details on the dress felt like a shield of beauty, a prayer for just one breath before returning to her suffocating servitude. Eleanor had never worn a dress so fine, had never pinned her hair so delicately, had never basked in the sun while strolling the fairgrounds. Just one day, just one taste, and she could rekindle the optimism that she was only biding her time with her stepfamily.

In the kitchen, Eleanor found Emma, her face beaming with encouragement and mischief.

Eleanor hesitated, worry gnawing at her like a persistent mouse. “I don’t know, Emma,” she mumbled.

Emma’s laughter, rich and warm, filled the room, chasing away the shadows. But seeing the worry etched around Eleanor’s eyes, her smile softened like butter melting in the sun. “Come on, girl,” she coaxed, “give me a twirl.”

Eleanor didn’t need further urging. The dress seemed to take over, pulling her into a slow, hesitant spin. The fabric whispered against her skin, a symphony of rustle and swish as the skirt danced around her ankles. A smile, tentative at first, bloomed on her face. Then, the music in the silk took hold, and she twirled faster, arms flung wide, head thrown back to capture the morning sun.

When she whirled back to face Emma, breathless and cheeks flushed, the argument died in her throat. For in that moment, she felt as free as the birds outside, worry replaced by a joy that sparkled in her eyes.

“There you go,” Emma chuckled, her hand landing gently on Eleanor’s shoulder. “Let the fair bring you that sunshine today. Leave the shadows behind.”

***

Eleanor ventured into the lively fairgrounds, immediately enveloped by the vibrant colors, and animated voices. The fair bustled with activity, stalls selling colorful ribbons, bountiful harvest produce, and crafts that added a vibrant charm to the atmosphere. The air was thick with the scent of freshly baked pies, roasting meats, and the earthy aroma of the livestock nearby. Children giggled and ran around playing games, their laughter a melodious backdrop to the jovial ambiance.

As Eleanor explored, her eyes wide with wonder, her chestnut curls swayed with each purposeful step, kissed by the gentle sunlight that cast a soft, honeyed glow upon her. She felt as if the sunlight matched the glow emanating from within as she savored the sense of freedom and beauty that came from waltzing to the fair in her new dress.

The azure dress swished around her ankles as if the sky danced around her, the golden crochet of the borders sparkling like sunlight. As she moved through the bustling crowd, the hushed whispers of admiration and fleeting glances from fairgoers followed in her wake. A quiet warmth stirred inside Eleanor, a rare sensation breaking through the chilly reserve that had settled within her over time.

“Well, if it isn’t young Miss Eleanor Harper! My, don’t you look like the fairest flower in this whole bloomin’ garden today!”

Eleanor’s eyes widened as she turned to see Father Raymond, a close friend of her late Papa, sporting a wide grin that crinkled the corners of his eyes. His presence amid the swirling crowds brought a surge of comfort to Eleanor’s heart as she pushed down the nagging notion that the more people who knew about her secret excursion, the less likely it was to stay secret.

“Father Raymond!” Eleanor beamed, feeling a rush of warmth at his greeting. She refused to allow her nerves to curb the joy of her birthday gift, this wonderful masquerade as a carefree young woman. “What brings you to the fair today?”

“Why, the same as you, my dear,” the pastor chuckled, “to revel in the joys of spring and witness the spirit of our beloved town. And, might I add, to stumble upon delightful surprises, such as seeing a young lady as charming as yourself. Your father would be so proud of how you’ve grown, though he would be cross at how little I see you every week.”

Eleanor’s cheeks flushed with a mixture of shyness, chagrin, and delight. “Oh, Father, you flatter me too much. I really am ashamed to have been missing your weekly sermon, but I must say, seeing you here today brings me such joy.” Guilt twisted like a serpent in Eleanor’s gut at the thought of how her Sundays doing chores while her family was off at mass had become her selfish Eden.

“Well, then, consider me your guide for today’s festivities!” the pastor declared with a twinkle in his eye, offering his arm in a gentlemanly manner.

As they strolled through the bustling fairgrounds, Father Raymond regaled Eleanor with stories of her father’s younger days, tales that painted a vivid picture of his adventurous spirit. Eleanor hung onto his every word, relishing the memories of her father that the pastor conjured with his anecdotes. “And look at you! His spittin’ image!”

Raymond stopped suddenly in front of a vendor, a twinkle in his eye as he pointed to a display of trinkets. “Ah, look here, Eleanor! I remember the time your father tried to juggle some of these! Turned the market square into a comedy show, he did!”

Eleanor chuckled, imagining her father’s jovial antics. “I wish I could have seen that! Father always did have a knack for turning any mundane day into a grand spectacle.”

The fairgrounds buzzed with excitement, and Eleanor found herself immersed in the vibrant atmosphere. She and Father Raymond were stopped by various townsfolk, each expressing their fondness for her late father and remarking on her striking appearance that day.

Hearing Father Raymond reminiscing about her father ignited the same fluttering in her heart and prick in her eyes as Emma’s gift had. The crush and squeeze of her heart was a strange, welcome agony that brought a smile to her face. Eleanor’s mother refused to ever speak of her father, and sharing that familiar grief with someone lightened its weight considerably.

As the sun reached its zenith, Eleanor felt a pang of gratitude for Father Raymond’s company. “Thank you for being my companion today, Father Raymond. Your stories and your presence here have truly made this day special.”

“Ah, my dear Eleanor,” Father Raymond said warmly, “your father was a dear friend to me, and seeing you embrace life’s joys makes my heart glad. Always remember, you carry his spirit within you, and that is a beautiful thing.”

Eleanor’s eyes shimmered with unshed tears at his heartfelt words. “Thank you, Father Raymond. I shall cherish your wisdom and today’s memories forever.”

Gliding through the lively Spring fair, Eleanor felt as if she were floating on the air filled with the buoyant symphony of joyous laughter and lilting melodies. The afternoon sun kissed her skin, and the vivid array of colors from bustling stalls and fluttering banners cast a spell of delight around her.

The happiness did not last forever. Amid the animated crowd, Phoebe’s face seemed to appear from nowhere, her pale face puckering at the sight of Eleanor, though the sour expression disappeared suspiciously swiftly. With a sly smile, Phoebe approached, her friends Susanna and Ida in tow.

“Eleanor!” Phoebe’s voice, dripping with honeyed venom, cut through the din. “Fancy meeting you here, dressed up like a Sunday saint.” Her eyes, cold as a winter moon, flicked to the simple azure gown Eleanor wore, the one Emma had painstakingly stitched for her.

Susanna, ever Phoebe’s shadow, chimed in, her voice sweet as molasses. “Such a lovely dress, Eleanor. Almost makes you forget the, uh, lack of… flair.” Her eyes, a muddy brown, darted between Phoebe and Eleanor, searching for approval.

Eleanor, her cheeks already burning with a slow, simmering heat, held her tongue. Words seemed to stick in her throat, choked by the rising tide of humiliation. But before she could find her voice, Phoebe struck.

Her cup, filled with a crimson punch that matched the anger blooming in Eleanor’s chest, tipped. A wave of scarlet crashed against the azure fabric, staining it with blotches of shame. The gasp that ripped through the crowd was a punch to the gut, echoing the hollowness that spread through Eleanor.

Phoebe’s laughter, like the crackle of dry leaves underfoot, grated on Eleanor’s nerves. “Oh, dear,” she cooed, her voice dripping with mock concern. “I thought the punch might go well with your… ensemble.” Her eyes narrowed, a glint of malice glinting in their depths. “The punch suits you, Eleanor, but a dress like that? Only someone like me could do it justice.”

Eleanor’s fists clenched, her nails digging into her palms. The air crackled with the unspoken challenge and the echo of Phoebe’s barbed words. Laughter, like a pack of hungry wolves, circled them, each snicker a fresh wound.

Eleanor spun on her heel, the gesture imbued with a fierce finality. Her steps, brisk and nimble, were a silent act of resistance to the jeering crowd. She snatched up her skirts and ran, the fabric billowing behind her like a banner of rebellion. Each titter, each choked gasp, spurred her on, her feet pounding a rhythm of anger against the dusty path.

Tears welled in her eyes, blurring the familiar landscape, but her chin stayed high. Shame gnawed at her, but it was overshadowed by a fierce, burning determination. She wouldn’t let Phoebe, or anyone else, dim her light. This stain, this humiliation, would be washed away, not just from her dress, but from her soul.

Home beckoned a sanctuary from the scornful eyes and cruel whispers. As she ran, the melody of the fiddle faded, replaced by the pounding of her own heart, a war drum beating out a defiant rhythm. She was Eleanor Harper, and she wouldn’t be broken. Emma, her back to the stove, stirred a pot that gurgled with the promise of supper. She turned, eyes like sparks of flint, and the warmth in their depths collided with the storm brewing in Eleanor’s own.

“Eleanor? You look like the wind just spat you out,” Emma knit her brow, her voice soft as the down of a chick. “Come, sit, child. This stew won’t mind itself.” She gestured to a stool, her words laced with a concern that softened the edges of her gaze.

Eleanor slumped onto the stool, the weight of the day settling on her shoulders like a stone. Her voice, when she spoke, was a mere rustle of leaves.

“Emma,” she choked out, “I need to hide.”

Emma’s brows furrowed, carving deeper canyons into the landscape of her face. “Hide from what, girl? Spit it out before the stew burns.”

The tears finally broke free, tracing rivulets down Eleanor’s soot-smudged face. She fumbled with the once-azure fabric of her dress, now marred by ugly brown stains, each blotch a fresh torment. “I just can’t stay anymore,” she spat, defiance mingling with the despair in her voice. “The sneers, the whispers, they cling like cobwebs, choking me.”

Emma, etched with the maps of her own battles, felt her gut twist. She shepherded Eleanor towards a window seat, her touch rough but steady. “Sit,” she rumbled, voice like gravel coated in honey. “Spit it out, child.”

Sniffling, Eleanor told her the story, each word a flint shard scraping against her raw heart. “Phoebe’s pack,” she hissed, gesturing at the stains like accusing scars, “drowned my dress in punch, but it’s deeper than that, Emma. It’s all of them, their noses like snouts, their words viper stings. I don’t belong here, not one bit.”

Emma’s eyes, storm clouds gathering, held both anger and sorrow. “Hell’s bells, Eleanor, I’m sorry. I never… the fair, your birthday… I thought…” her voice trailed off, guilt gnawing at her like a hungry beast.

Eleanor’s grip on Emma’s hand tightened, knuckles white against the rough skin. “Don’t saddle yourself with guilt, Emma,” she rasped, a flicker of defiance sparking in her storm-wracked eyes. “You’ve always been so kind to me. You have been more family than I ever dreamed to find, but… I can’t stay. I can’t bear another day of this.”

Emma’s voice hitched, a tremor of fear echoing in the silence. “Leave?” she whispered, the word a fragile moth fluttering against the wind of her dread. “Where, Eleanor? What will you do?”

Uncertainty flickered across Eleanor’s face, a shadow dimming the fiery resolve. “I don’t know. Anywhere but here. Any place they don’t…” she trailed off, her gaze falling to the stained fabric, shame burning a hole in her chest.

Emma saw the despair in Eleanor’s tear-streaked eyes and let out a sigh, raw and honest like wind through rusted hinges. “Alright then,” she rasped, wiping away a stray tear with a rough thumb. “Pack. Quick, before they get back.” A ghost of a smirk touched her lips, dry and determined. “Together, like always.”

Eleanor’s lips twitched, a flicker of defiance chasing away the tremor. “Together,” she echoed, her voice a whisper forged in steel. They rose, a silent pact etched by the storm. Emma’s hand, strong as weathered oak, clasped Eleanor’s, two souls hardened by the wind, ready to face the horizon, stained dress and all.

But as their fingers brushed the bedroom door, Emma’s grip tightened. Her voice, gravelly and laced with years of dust and resilience, held a quiet thunder. “I’ll help pack your bags, honey, but you fly solo this time. This isn’t my dust storm, it’s yours. Spread your wings, girl. This nest isn’t big enough for you to soar.”

Eleanor’s heart ached, but respect replaced the rebellion in her eyes. She knew Emma was right. This was her path, paved with thorns and dusty dreams, but hers alone.

Moving in step like a tandem team leading a buggy, the two women hurriedly gathered Eleanor’s belongings, packing them into a modest leather case. It had been her father’s, and Sandra had made to dispose of it shortly after remarrying. With every item packed, Eleanor realized her stepfamily would never be content until the home was purged of every reminder of her father—and she had been the biggest one of all.

That epiphany stilled Eleanor for a moment as Emma continued buzzing about the room, chattering about job ads in the paper. For the first time, possibly in her life, Eleanor felt no fear. This escape was different from her jaunt at the fair, and she was almost surprised that it did not feel joyful. But neither was her heart thundering with anxiety nor was she tense, bracing for the next blow of cruelty to land. Eleanor realized she was standing there, holding her father’s watch, and worn book of poems, with her chin held high and shoulders square… steadfast.

As they worked, Emma rambled to Eleanor, trying to come up with a solution. “Perhaps I can write to my sister in Birmingham,” she suggested tentatively. “She has connections, and maybe there’s an opportunity for you there.” Eleanor knew what it meant when she chattered like an incensed squirrel; her friend was worried about her.

Eleanor glanced up from her packing, a glimmer of hope in her eyes despite the pain. “That… that might work,” she replied, a hint of uncertainty lingering in her voice. “Thank you, Emma, for everything. You’ve been my only friend and solace in this house.”

The leather case packed and ready, Eleanor’s heart felt both heavy with sorrow yet bolstered by newfound determination. She glanced around the room, and realized the only affection she felt for it were in memories of Emma. With a deep breath, she hoisted the valise onto her shoulder, her gaze lingering on her friend.

“Take care of yourself, Eleanor,” Emma pleaded, the desperate crush of her embrace palpably infusing Eleanor’s very bones with love and concern in that one final hug. “Please stay safe, and write to me once you’ve settled.”

With a nod and a final watery smile, Eleanor bid a tearful goodbye to Emma and the only home she had known, hurrying to the front door to make her escape into uncertainty.

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    • I’m thrilled to hear that Patricia! More to come soon! Really looking forward reading your overall opinion 😊

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