Reaching out, Josephine wiped a small dribble of blood from her mother’s mouth, wincing at the sight of the crimson liquid on the white cloth.
“Do you want some water?” she asked, her voice soft.
It was late at night. Josephine wasn’t sure what time, but the sun had gone down hours ago, and it was so dark in the house that she had to light one of her few candles.
“No, thank you, my darling.” Her mother’s voice was just above a whisper, and her words were hoarse.
Josephine’s full lips pursed. She wanted to force her mother to take some water. She’d had a coughing fit for the last few hours, and Josephine could only imagine how raw the inside of her throat felt. But Josephine wasn’t going to push her. If her mother didn’t want water, Josephine would simply make sure she had some when she did.
Sighing, Josephine pressed another cloth to her mother’s face wiping the cool liquid across her forehead. “You don’t have a fever this evening,” Josephine said, trying to keep her voice light and positive for her mother’s sake.
It was difficult because Josephine was barely keeping herself together. Her long, blonde curls were limp and lifeless, and she had dark circles under her blue eyes from lack of sleep.
“You should get some rest,” her mother said. She reached out and grabbed Josephine’s hand with a thin, pale one of her own. Her mother’s skin was dry, and Josephine tried her best not to cry from the amount of weight that her mother had lost in the last two months since her illness had taken hold.
Her mother shook her head. The action was barely discernible, but Josephine could see it in the dark. “Papa will be home soon and then I’ll get some rest.”
Josephine’s father worked nights at the local watering hole, which was why she stayed up with her mother during the evenings. Josephine was the only one here who could care for her mother. As her illness got worse, Josephine and her father were scared to leave her on her own.
“I’m gonna rest,” her mother said.
Josephine reached down and placed a kiss on her mother’s clammy skin. “I’ll be here,” Josephine told her, reassuring her the way that she had once comforted Josephine when she was a girl.
Her mother didn’t respond as her eyelids fluttered shut softly, and thankfully, her breathing began to even out. These days, her mother barely had the strength to get out of bed, and sleep was starting to become scarcer as her coughing became worse.
She sat by her mother’s bedside for what felt like hours, and she must have dozed off at some point because the next thing she remembered was the feeling of her father’s hand on her shoulder.
“Josephine,” he whispered.
“What time is it?” she asked, stifling a yawn.
“Early,” he said. His tired eyes looked over at his wife. Josephine jumped slightly as she recalled the difficulty of the night. She was supposed to be awake in case her mother had another fit, but she must have fallen asleep at some point.
“She’s asleep,” he whispered, as though reading her thoughts.
She nodded and got up from the chair, wincing as her stiff body protested. Josephine had been in the chair for hours taking care of her mother, and she was feeling every inch of those hours as her bones ached.
“You should go to bed,” she told her father. “You look terrible.”
He chuckled and followed her out of the room. “I’ll get some sleep later.”
Josephine nodded. These days, it felt like no one was resting well. Ever since her ma became ill, their whole family struggled with who would look after her. Josephine left her cleaning job to spend most of her time caring for her mother when her mother’s condition worsened.
“Let’s go outside,” her father said.
Josephine nodded. It was late spring and the weather was balmy and cool. Their small home had a wraparound porch, which was a luxury. Some of the homes that they had rented throughout the years had not been as nice as the one they were currently occupying.
As they walked outside, Josephine inhaled deeply, enjoying the lingering scent of lilacs in the air. The sun was beginning to rise, and the sky was awash in pinks and light blues; it looked so much more hopeful than Josephine felt.
“She’s getting worse.” The words felt difficult to say, and even as Josephine said them, she wanted to yank them back. She and her father had been so hopeful for the past month, but it seemed that her mother wasn’t getting any better, and it was becoming harder and harder for them to hope that things would get better.
At first, they thought maybe she was exhausted from working, and then, they thought maybe it was bad food or bad water. But as her mother’s coughing got worse, and her fever came and went, they knew it was more.
Josephine’s father sighed and sat on the stairs. He patted the seat beside him, and she walked over. The steps were filthy with mud and clumps of grass, but Josephine didn’t care. She leaned her head on her father’s shoulder, allowing the smell of tobacco and ale to comfort her.
Josephine was fortunate enough to be close with both her parents. They had traveled the west together. They didn’t have much, but when they moved from place to place looking for stable work, they always had each other.
The idea of not having her mother made Josephine ill with sadness.
“A doctor came into the tavern last night,” Pa said.
She perked up immediately. “Were you able to talk to the doctor?” she asked. “Do you think that he might be able to see her?” A glimmer of hope sparked in her chest. Their town was transient. People stopped there on their way to Denver, or when they were trying to catch the train to California. As such, they didn’t have a local physician. And they couldn’t afford to pay for one to come and see Josephine’s mother. Coin was so tight, especially now that Josephine had left her employment.
Her father sighed. “He was just passing through Silverton.”
The hope in Josephine’s heart immediately deflated, and she bit her lip as she tried her best not to cry in despair. For the past two months, she had been doing everything she could think of to ease her mother’s symptoms, but she wasn’t a doctor. She didn’t know what was ailing her, let alone how to treat it.
“But…” her father said. “If we could pay his travel fees, he would be willing to return to see her.”
That glimmer of hope returned. “He would? What would that cost?”
Her father bit the inside of his lip, and Josephine knew that it was more than they could afford. “It’s more than we have for now.”
She didn’t miss the way that he said for now and she knew that he had thought about what they were going to have to do to get the money they needed, and that worried Josephine. She needed her father. Their lives had been hard, especially the last few months, but she couldn’t imagine the three of them not together.
“I can go back to work,” she said, quickly. “I’m sure that I can find something in town.”
Her father sighed. They’d moved just outside of Silverton so that her father could find employment, but that hadn’t come to fruition. Luckily, he’d been able to find a job at one of the local taverns as well as part-time at the gaming house.
Josephine and her mother had also been able to find employment. For the first time in years, it seemed that they were getting ahead, and for a while, things had been perfect.
“Someone needs to stay with your mother,” he said.
“You are gone nights,” Josephine reminded him. “You can stay with her in the mornings, and I’ll look after her at night.”
Her father shook his head at her. “And when would either of us sleep?”
Josephine wanted to remind her father that she was barely getting any rest these days and yet she was still able to get by. She was spending the night looking after her mother, and during the day, her father slept in her bed while she cleaned up and continued to look after her mother.
“We can make it work,” Josephine said, her tone pleading. “As long as we are able to stick together.”
Her father looked at her with sad eyes. She knew that she was being unfair. Her father adored her mother. Her illness was affecting him greatly. Seeing her prone in bed wracked with coughs so bad that blood was coming up was breaking him apart every day.
“I’m not making enough money here to help your ma.”
It was the truth, but it wasn’t one that Josephine was ready to hear. The idea of splitting up their family did not feel right to her. They could make it through anything so long as they did it together.
“Where would you make that money?” she asked, her tone biting with suppressed anger. In some ways, it felt as though her father were taking the easy way out. He would be able to leave their home and the realities they were living with under the guise of helping her mother, and Josephine would be the one left to care for her. It felt like the thing that would break her. “My whole life, we’ve moved from town to town in an effort to try and find work, and we’ve never been able to find enough work.”
Her father ran a hand through his hair. Josephine noticed that his once dark brown hair was starting to be littered with more and more gray. Her father was a large man, jovial, and always had a large smile on his face. But things had changed in the last few months, and it seemed as though he aged overnight.
“More ranches are popping up in Texas. I’ve got a few leads from people passing through town…”
“Texas!” Josephine exclaimed. “You’d leave to go all the way to Texas? To work on a ranch?”
Her father sighed, and Josephine knew that she wasn’t being fair, but the idea of her father working on a ranch in Texas made her worried. Texas ranch work was notoriously hard, and her father wasn’t as young as he’d once been.
“We don’t have a choice,” he snapped at her. “Your mother is getting worse. She needs a doctor.”
“Maybe we can look around here for work?” Josephine said. “We might look at moving to one of the larger cities. We could go to Denver or Cripple Creek.”
Her father tensed immediately. “Absolutely not. We will not be going to Cripple Creek. Not ever.”
“Why not?” Josephine asked, desperation in her voice. She needed her father, and the thought of him risking his own health in the Texas sun wasn’t something that she could fathom. A Texas ranch was no place for a man his age to be working. It felt terrible to be talking about potentially sacrificing her father in order to get treatment for her mother. “We lived in Cripple Creek when I was younger. They have ranches there, and I might be able to find work, even part time.”
“I said, no, Josephine!” her father retorted. “We are going to get your mother a doctor, even if it means I am going to Texas.”
Josephine’s father rarely yelled at her, so when he was upset with her, she knew that it was serious.
“We can talk more later,” he said, after a few minutes of silence between the two of them. As he got up from the step, he pressed a kiss to the top of her head. “We will find a way out of this.”
Josephine said nothing. She stared out across the plain watching the sun starting to rise. She sent a small prayer up for her mother, father, and even for herself. Things were going to work out, that’s all she could tell herself.
They just had to work out.
Johnnie’s brow furrowed as he scribbled in the leatherbound notebook on his knee. The sound of horses neighing was affecting his concentration as he searched for the perfect word to describe the feel of a woman’s cheek.
“Soft is too common,” he muttered to himself, scratching the word out. Nothing quite felt right to him.
It was hard to think of the delicate nature of a beautiful woman when surrounded by the smell of horse manure and wet hay, but Johnnie wasn’t ready to give up. Inspiration for his serial had struck him swiftly the moment he set about his chores, and he’d dropped everything to attend to his muse.
Naturally, a terrible case of writer’s block caught him at the first sentence, and he was struggling to get the words to flow out the way they normally would.
Johnnie scratched the back of his pen against his forehead. The expensive ballpoint was a gift from his mother, and he probably should have left it inside on his desk instead of risking it out in the elements, but these days, Johnnie found himself working more on his family’s ranch than ever before. His father was getting older, and as the family’s only son, Johnnie was expected to do more. Even if he wasn’t interested.
Sighing, he scratched out the sentence he’d just written, not pleased with the way the words looked on the page. Whenever he thought about his father, writer’s block abounded.
“Johnnie!” a voice interjected, causing him to drop his pen in the hay in surprise. “What are you doing?”
Johnnie looked over at his mother standing at the entrance of the barn, hands on her hips, and eyes narrowed in on him.
Here we go, Johnnie thought with a sigh as he leaned down to retrieve his pen.
“You were supposed to have these stalls mucked out and re-hayed by lunch!” she exclaimed. “It’s an hour past, and it looks like you’ve gotten not a thing done.”
Alta Everly was a small woman. Some might even call her delicate. Though age was starting to encroach on her—adding a few deep wrinkles to her face and spats of gray to her once nearly jet-black hair—she was still a beautiful woman.
She was also the fiercest woman that Johnnie knew.
“Are you out here writing again?” she asked, her voice full of disdain that made Johnnie’s spine stiffen in anger.
He pocketed his notebook. “I can’t help it when inspiration hits,” he told her.
For a moment, he thought that she was going to box his ears, the way she had when he was a child. But instead, she took a deep, calming breath, which almost made things worse.
“Johnnie,” she said, softly, “I thought we agreed that you’d focus on the ranch.”
“I am focusing on the ranch.”
The disappointment in her eyes made Johnnie feel lower than a worm. He loved his mother, and like any other son, he wanted her to be happy with him. Her disappointment felt like a knife in his gut.
“You are giving it a lick and a promise. Your chores are always done late. Last week, it took you two days to repair the fence, and it nearly came crashing down the moment a light breeze hit.”
Johnnie’s cheeks flamed in embarrassment. He wasn’t someone who enjoyed his work being critiqued, especially because he knew that his mother was correct. His heart wasn’t in the work. He’d rather be in his study writing than repairing fences and mucking stalls. But his father wouldn’t hear of that.
“I don’t understand why Pa continues to force this on me,” he said, with a loud exhale. “He knows that I don’t wish to be a rancher.”
Johnnie would never have dared to speak those words to anyone other than his mother. Though she was angry at him for shirking his duties, he knew that she understood. After all, she once defied her family’s expectations by marrying a rancher she’d met one summer and moving out west.
Johnnie was sure that he got his rebellious spirit from her.
His mother placed a small hand on Johnnie’s cheek as she had when he was a boy. “You are your father’s only son,” she reminded him.
Johnnie sighed. He’d been reminded of that his entire life, as though he didn’t know he was the only boy in his family of six girls. “That doesn’t mean that I need to be just like him.”
His mother sighed and dropped her hand. Her lips thinned, a sure sign of her frustration with Johnnie. “You don’t need to be just like your father,” she told him. “He simply wants you to care about your inheritance as much as he does.”
“I do care about the ranch, which is why I think someone who actually wants it should inherit it.” It was the argument Johnnie had been making since he’d become a man and realized that ranching was not for him.
He had six sisters, all married, some even had sons of their own. Johnnie knew that at least three of his sisters were more capable of running the ranch than he was, though his mother and father would never consider such a thing.
“I know that this is not the life you think you want…”
“It’s the life I know I don’t want.”
“It’s a life most people in this town would do anything to have!”
Johnnie released a heavy sigh. He knew her words to be true. Plenty of people in Cripple Creek would have given their right arm to inherit the wealth that Johnnie was in line for. His grandfather had come to Cripple Creek and struck it big with gold, making enough money to last him a few generations if he’d wanted to live comfortably in the town. But Johnnie’s grandfather had been a sensible man who wasn’t content with just a small fortune. So, he took what he made, bought the largest plot of land in the town, and started a successful cattle ranch.
“I know that,” Johnnie said, his tone sheepish. “I’m not ungrateful for what we have. I just…” Johnnie trailed off unsure of how to word what he wanted to say next. He loved his parents, even his father who could sometimes be gruff around the edges. But they didn’t understand him. They’d never really made the effort.
“You want to write,” his mother said.
Johnnie nodded. The words seemed too simple when she said them and so much more complex when he did.
“I want you to be able to follow your dreams, Johnnie,” she said. “Really and truly but…”
Johnnie ran a hand across his tired face. He’s dark curls dropped across his forehead. Despite what his mother thought, he’d been working hard all morning, and the sweat and dirt on his skin were proof that he was doing everything that he could to make his family happy. “But who will take over the ranch if I don’t?”
“Your father is not getting any younger.”
This made Johnnie sigh once more. Lately, his mother had begun to appeal to him by bringing up his father’s age, making Johnnie feel guilty that his Pa was still doing so much work.
The issue was that no one seemed to have told Johnnie’s father that he was becoming an old man. Johnnie’s father was still working on the ranch as if he was twenty-years old.
“I’ve tried taking on more of the work, but Pa isn’t willing to give any of it up. He relegates me to tasks like mucking out stalls instead of teaching me the real mechanism of the business.” Johnnie threw his hands up in frustration. “You both want me to run this place, but I’ve never even seen the books.”
His mother winced. “Your father is just protective of this place.” It was the excuse she always gave, and it was a semi-decent one in that it was half true.
Perry Everly had taken the ranch that his father had given him, already considerably large and successful, and turned it into the best in the west. Men came from all over to work for his father in order to learn how to run their ranches. Perry was almost as big of a draw as the little bit of gold still left in the ground of Cripple Creek.
“Pa doesn’t trust me to do any of this on my own.” It was the truth. In Perry’s eyes, no one could run the ranch better than he could, which is why Johnnie had given up long before he started.
But his mother wasn’t going to let him off that easily. She placed her hands on her hips and leveled him with a piercing gaze. Her blue eyes were stern as she spoke, and once more, Johnnie felt like a little boy being told off rather than a man who was past the point of being grown.
“You say that you do not want the ranch, but then, you complain that your father hasn’t given you enough responsibility on this ranch. Instead, you should be showing him that you are a capable man ready to take on what he needs you to!”
She didn’t allow Johnnie a moment to speak. Instead, she grabbed the rake that he had discarded nearby and thrust it into his hands. “The first step is to start mucking out these stalls.”
Johnnie’s fingers tightened around the wooden shaft of the rake in frustration. He wasn’t angry at his mother, per se. She had a point, and it was one that she had made often.
Johnnie simply wished that either of his parents cared enough to listen to what he wanted for a change.
But today was not the day to make the argument that he should be able to write, so instead, Johnnie nodded. “I’ll be done by supper,” he told her.
“In an hour,” she commanded. “Your father needs that fence you put up fixed.”
Johnnie said nothing at that comment. He knew that his mother was proving a point, which was that by not putting in the effort he was creating more work for himself. He watched her leave, wondering if she ever wished that she had a different son. He shook those thoughts from his mind before he could consider them too deeply.
His parents loved him. He knew it. They’d tried for years to have a son, so when he was born, it was a cause for celebration. Finally, an heir to the cattle kingdom had arrived.
The thought made Johnnie snort with derision. His fate had been decided since before he took his first breath. It wasn’t that Johnnie wasn’t a hard worker. He was, which was likely why his reticence made his family all the more irritated.
But things had changed. He was getting older, and the opportunity to pursue his passion was starting to feel like a dream that would never come to fruition. Johnnie knew that if his family had their way, it wouldn’t.
As he began mucking out the stalls, he tried to focus on the positives in his life, and there were so many. Unlike many who ventured out west, looking for adventure and a better life, Johnnie was fortunate enough to be settled.
One day, he might marry and have children of his own, and he was lucky enough that they would not have to worry about food or shelter as so many did. Johnnie’s parents were still alive and healthy as were all his sisters—something else that was a rarity here.
As he counted his blessings, Johnnie couldn’t help but feel a dark pit of resentment growing in his stomach. Yes, he had more than most, but those things came with strings attached, and as each day passed, he was beginning to feel more and more yoked to a life that didn’t fit him.
“Soulmates Lost in Time” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
When Josephine Graham’s mother grows ill, she confesses to her daughter that she has been deeply ashamed ever since she was falsely accused of theft at her previous job. In a desperate attempt to raise her spirits, Josephine decides to risk everything and return to the Everly’s ranch, hoping to clear her mother’s name and retrieve her long-lost necklace. However, the unexpected and strangely stirring presence of a childhood friend could derail her mission…
Will he stay a friend or become the foe she fears in the end?
Despite being the heir to the largest ranch in Colorado, Johnnie Everly isn’t interested in herding cattle and he gets disheartened by his future prospects. To make things even worse his family forces him into a courtship that he has no intention to accept. His life becomes more meaningful though, after a mysterious woman’s unexpected arrival. The connection between them is instant and Johnnie feels that he’s known her for years, instead of just moments…
Will he be ready to throw caution to the wind for just a moment with her?
Josephine is not willing to jeopardize her life’s purpose and Johnnie cannot seem to trust his own emotions in this game of shadows. Will they be able to escape their past and find love in their present, or will secrets and lies keep them apart forever?
“Soulmates Lost in Time” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.