Amelia Gregory sat on the hard wooden chair next to her mother’s bed and picked up the older woman’s hand. Tears threatened to fall, but she took a deep breath and forced them away. One thing she had learned in her twelve years on this Earth was that crying didn’t fix anything.
“How are you doing?” she asked, although she was almost afraid to hear the answer.
Her mother slowly turned her head and looked at Amelia with a small smile.
“I’m fine.” She whispered the words so softly, Amelia could barely hear them.
She wanted to shout at her mother, “You aren’t fine! Look how weak you are. You can’t get out of bed. You can’t even lift your head!” But she stuffed the words down deep inside. Speaking what was in her heart wasn’t going to change what was happening.
“That’s good,” she said instead. “Would you like a drink of water?”
“That… sounds nice.”
Glad that there was something she could do, Amelia picked up the glass that sat on a nearby table and carefully helped her mother to lift her head so she could take a drink. But all she would take in was a small sip before she turned her head away.
Amelia’s heart fell as she set the glass aside. Ma hadn’t eaten anything for the last two days, and now she didn’t seem to want to drink. Amelia was sure that these signs weren’t good. A moment later, her mother fell into a deep sleep. Amelia again leaned against the back of her chair and watched as her mother took a small breath, and then another. It seemed to her that her mother’s breathing was slowing down, but she wasn’t sure. Should she say something to Pa? The doctor had been by earlier, and she had overheard him tell her father that it wouldn’t be long now.
Amelia knew exactly what the doctor meant, even though no one had explained anything to her. Her mother was dying. Tears filled her eyes and, again, she wiped them away angrily. Crying wasn’t going to make her mother well again.
She closed her eyes and tried to think about how things used to be, before her mother had taken ill. It was only last summer when everything was normal.
Amelia lived on a farm near a small town called Willow Creek near the Colorado River. They had moved to the farm when she was only three years old.
She had heard the story many times from her mother, how her father had saved every penny he could so that he could purchase some land to call his own. He had wanted to settle in the Montana territory but couldn’t afford the land, so he was thrilled when he found this little farm for sale in Colorado. He began to raise sheep and bought a few cows for milk. They also grew a large vegetable garden that her mother had taken care of, before she became ill. If Amelia had wanted to find Ma, all she had to do was go and look in the garden.
She could still remember the day her mother started not to feel well. To her, it almost happened overnight. Ma had woken up one morning and began to complain of some pain in her stomach area. Her father had ignored the complaints until she couldn’t get out of bed because of the pain, and he finally sent for the doctor from Willow Creek.
From what Amelia understood, the doctor didn’t know what was making Ma so sick. He gave her mother some laudanum for the pain and promised that she would be better in a few days. But that hadn’t happened. Instead, Ma had become more and more ill, until she couldn’t get out of bed at all. The doctor then diagnosed her as having wasting disease, whatever that meant.
Amelia knew that she should go out and help her father with the sheep. They had to move them from one field to another almost daily to keep the grass from being overgrazed. But she couldn’t make herself leave her mother’s side.
Three days later, Amelia stood next to her father and younger sister at the grave of her mother. This time, she couldn’t stop the tears that ran down her cheeks. Like the doctor had promised, the end of her mother’s life had happened quickly. She had been gone that same evening. But before she took her final breath, she had asked to talk to each of them separately. When it was Amelia’s turn, she had tried to focus on her mother’s words when what she wanted to do was throw herself into her arms and sob like she had when she was a young child.
“Promise me that you will look after your sister,” her mother had said weakly. “Your father is going to need your help a lot from now on.”
Amelia had nodded dutifully. She had already known that she was going to need to help around the farm more than she ever had before. Her sister, Amie, was having an awful time accepting that their mother was dying. She spent most of her days crying, pleading with their mother to not go. Sometimes, their father would have to drag her away from her mother’s bedside so that she could get some rest. Amelia knew that Amie really didn’t understand what was happening.
“You are a wonderful daughter. I couldn’t ask for anyone better. Be good and don’t be angry at God. This is His will.”
Now, as Amelia stared at the pine box that sat near the hole that had been dug for it, she thought of her mother’s words. She couldn’t help it, but she was very angry at God for taking her mother from them. She knew that if He had wanted to, He could have made her well. She had prayed for such a thing to happen every night for months. God must know how much they needed her mother to stay. Instead, He had allowed her to die. Ma had always told her that God answered prayers, but He definitely hadn’t answered this one.
“Let’s go home,” Pa said as he stumbled away from the grave. He walked off, not bothering to turn and see if his daughters were following.
After one last look at her mother’s final resting place, Amelia took Amie’s hand and followed her father. She didn’t know what was going to happen to them now that Ma was gone. All she knew was that she was expected to carry on, to do everything her mother had done around the farm, and she didn’t know how she was going to take her mother’s place.
She watched her father as he slowly climbed into the wagon. She got in the back and sat next to Amie. Pa sat on the bench and didn’t move for a long time.
“Pa, we can go,” Amelia finally called out.
Pa jerked and slowly looked around as if he wasn’t sure where he was. He sighed and then got the horses moving. As they traveled back to the farm, she studied her father. He seemed like a broken man and pity flooded through her. He hadn’t left his room after Ma’s death and her body had been taken away, not until it was time to attend the funeral. Amelia had started bringing him trays of food, or she was sure he wouldn’t have eaten. Part of her was afraid that he was going to die, too.
One thing she had never questioned in her young life was whether her parents loved each other. Pa always did things to make Ma smile. Ma had liked to talk about how Pa was her soulmate. They held hands whenever they had the opportunity to do so, even in church. She remembered one time when an older woman had stopped Ma one Sunday.
“It really isn’t seemly to be touching one’s spouse in public,” the woman, Mrs. Cramer, had said with a sniff, her nose in the air.
Amelia had been puzzled at Mrs. Cramer ‘s comment and had asked her mother about it later that day.
“Some people have never been blessed to find someone to love, like I have with your father. She doesn’t understand. But I hope that when the time comes, you will be able to find a wonderful man to marry, just like I did. Don’t ever settle for something less. Life is too short to marry someone you don’t love.”
Amelia had nodded, trying to pretend that she understood her mother’s wise words. But now, she had to wonder, was her mother wrong? Yes, her parents had deeply loved each other, but seeing how broken Pa was, she couldn’t help but think that it would have been easier on him, now that Ma was gone, if they hadn’t loved each other so much.
Fear gripped her heart, and she could only pray that Pa would be able to pull out of his grief soon. She didn’t know what was going to happen to them if he didn’t.
Ten Years Later, Mid-Summer, 1882
“Do you have a moment?”
Duncan tried not to groan when he saw who had just come into the sheriff’s office. It was Bernard Sawyer, Willow Creek’s only newspaper reporter. He put out the newspaper once a week and always did his best to include any information he could find out about anything that happened around town. If someone moved in, or left town, Bernard was usually one of the first to know about it.
He made sure he spoke with Duncan at least once a week to get details on who was arrested, what their charges were, and if other, smaller crimes had been committed. Whatever Duncan told him was printed in the paper. Duncan sometimes felt that Bernard was worse than a gossiping old woman, and he had quickly learned not to give the man too much information.
Bernard always annoyed Duncan with his probing questions and sometimes thoughtless comments, but he was aware that Bernard was just doing his job—something Duncan understood. Sometimes, he had to make decisions as sheriff of Willow Creek that made other people upset or angry.
“Sure, come on in,” Duncan said with a wave of his hand.
Bernard stepped inside the office and took his usual place in front of Duncan’s desk. “Is there anything new happening around Willow Creek that I should know about?”
He asked the question the same way every week. While Duncan wanted to send the man on his way, he made himself think for a moment, trying to come up with something. Willow Creek was small, as most towns were, but it was growing.
When he had first moved to the town after agreeing to take the job as sheriff, there had only been a few hundred people living within its borders. The town had boasted of one general store, a small church that also had been used as a school during the weekdays, and one saloon, along with a few other smaller businesses. Now, the town had three saloons and two churches, along with a number of other businesses that were all doing well. A large school had also been built for the town’s children. But even though Willow Creek was growing, Duncan was proud that the crime level was low.
“I did have to use one of the cells this week,” Duncan said finally. To him, the reason why he’d had to make the arrest was not important, but maybe it would satisfy Bernard’s curiosity and he would leave.
Bernard’s eyes lit up has he picked up the pad of paper and began to scribble. “Can you tell me what happened and who it was?”
“Just a couple of out-of-towners getting into a fight just outside of the Silver Dollar Saloon. Neither of ’em would stop, so I had to arrest them. They spent the night in jail and were very eager to get out of our town the next morning, so I let them go.”
Bernard looked a little disappointed that the story wasn’t more exciting. “Did you get their names?”
Duncan shrugged. “There was no reason to get their names since they aren’t from around here.”
Of course, he had asked for their names, but he wasn’t going to tell Bernard that. Duncan was secretly glad that nothing had come from the fight. Both men had been drunk after a night of cardplaying and enjoying the beer in one of the saloons. A lot of men would have caused more problems than these two had.
“Anything else that you want to report?”
Just as Duncan was ready to reply, the door opened again. This time, he smiled in welcome as the only blacksmith of Willow Creek and his good friend, Mike Stevens, stepped through the door.
“Am I interrupting anything?” Mike asked, his eyes laughing when he saw Bernard. He was aware that Duncan didn’t like talking to the man.
“Nope. Bernard was just leaving,” Duncan said, hoping that his words were true.
“Hey, I thought you had something else to tell me,” Bernard said with a slight whine in his voice.
Duncan thought hard for a moment, trying to come up with something that he could tell Bernard to get rid of him.
“I know of something that you can put in the paper,” Mike spoke up as he made himself comfortable in another chair.
Bernard turned eagerly to him. “What do you have?”
“The old building next to mine was sold. It looks like we’re going to be getting a new business in Willow Creek.”
Bernard nodded in satisfaction. “It’s about time someone bought that building. I can’t believe I haven’t heard about it, though.”
“You wouldn’t have because it just happened an hour ago,” Mike said a bit dryly.
Bernard studied him for a moment and then shrugged. “Do you know what kind of business it’s going to be?”
“Sure do,” Mike said with a drawl.
Duncan laughed to himself as his friend didn’t immediately come forth with the information Bernard desperately wanted. He knew Mike liked to toy with the newspaper man.
“Well, are you going to tell us or just keep us in suspense?” Bernard finally asked, his voice laced with frustration.
Mike exchanged a glance with Duncan, laughter in his eyes. “It’s going to be a shop where they sell ready-made clothing and hats for women.”
Bernard looked a little disappointed at this news, as if he could think of a better business to add to Willow Creek than a women’s clothing store. He scribbled a few more things down on his pad and left, but not before trying once more to get any additional information that Duncan had. It took him a few minutes to convince Bernard that it had been a slow week and that he had nothing else to report.
“I’m sorry to cut your meeting short,” Mike commented as the door shut behind Bernard.
“I’m not. In fact, I think your appearance was timely,” Duncan replied with a grin.
“I wanted to check on those new locks that I installed on the jail cells last week,” Mike said as he held up a leather pouch that had tools in them.
“They are working fine. I had a chance to try them out last night when I put two out-of-towners in them to dry up after they started a fight.”
“I want to check them anyway,” Mike said as he headed to the back of the sheriff’s office and began to look the locks over carefully. Duncan followed him.
“Do you want to meet at the Dustwater Saloon this evening?” Mike asked. They met at one of the saloons every Friday night. Mike never cared where they went, so Duncan liked to alternate between all three of them. He enjoyed a break with his good friend, but he liked to still keep an eye on things. It was the Dustwater Saloon’s turn that evening.
“Sure.” Duncan shrugged. “Same time?”
“Sounds good,” Mike answered. “I have an idea that I want to run by you this evening.”
After Mike left, Duncan settled behind his desk and began to do some paperwork. He was glad that his two deputies, Jim and George, weren’t in the office at the moment. It was nice to have a few minutes to himself. He absolutely loved his job, but sometimes it seemed like all he did was paperwork rather than helping wherever he was needed.
But he also prided himself that in the five years he had been sheriff of Willow Creek, he had been able to turn the town around. Before he had arrived, it hadn’t been safe for any woman to walk down the street without a male chaperone. It hadn’t been unusual to wake up and hear that someone had been killed during the night. Fights were common because nothing was usually done about them.
Now, he couldn’t remember the last time he’d had to deal with anything serious. Most of the crimes he took care of were disturbing-the-peace-type crimes, like the two men he’d had to jail the night before. As he filled out the paperwork, his mind drifted to his childhood. He had grown up in a large town in Kansas and had had an easy childhood, for the most part. His parents had been one of the more well-to-do families in the town, mainly because they had owned a large mercantile that most of the townspeople frequented. But his ideal childhood had ended abruptly when his parents were killed in cold blood during a botched robbery.
Two men had held them at gunpoint while one of them demanded that they hand over their money. Since his father had just deposited most of their earnings for that day in the bank only a few hours before, he hadn’t been able to give the outlaws very much. This had made the robbers angry and they had shot them both, but not before roughing up Duncan’s father. The men then had quickly left the town.
It had happened so fast, no one had seen anything. Duncan had been in school during the entire event. The sheriff of his town never found the robbers. Duncan’s uncle, his father’s brother, had come to take over the store and to finish raising him.
Duncan had spent the next few years doing what he could to find the robbers himself, but he’d had youth against him. In his opinion, his uncle hadn’t done enough to find the men, and the sheriff had given up too soon. He’d finally vowed that he would bring the men who had killed his parents to justice, someday.
When he was old enough, he had applied for a position as a deputy in another town. He’d learned all he could on how to be a good deputy, but also the best ways to find murderers. It had taken seven long years, but he was finally able to find the two men who had killed his parents. In his search for them, he had discovered that they had killed four other people over the years and were finally secured in a Texas jail. After their trial was over and the judge had ordered that they be kept in prison for the rest of their lives, Duncan had moved out of the state and had taken the job in Willow Creek.
Now, as sheriff, he was known as a man who was firm but fair. He did whatever he could to keep the people in his town safe, and his reputation had begun to spread around the area—he was a tough sheriff who wasn’t afraid to do what needed to be done.
When he was almost done with the reports, the door burst open again and one of his deputies, Jim, entered.
“Mrs. Johnson is wandering the streets again. You told me to tell you if she starts doing that,” Jim reported.
Duncan tried not to chuckle. Mrs. Esther Johnson was a sweet elderly woman who was beginning to deal with extreme confusion. She lived alone in a small house at the edge of Willow Creek and was one of the first people who had settled in the area, along with her husband who had died two years ago. Her daughter lived on the other side of town, with her family, and had been trying to get her mother to agree to move in with her without success. Mrs. Johnson didn’t always leave her house to wander around town. She spent most of her time working in her flower gardens, but she was beginning to wander more often. Duncan seemed to be the only one she would listen to and allow to bring her home. If anyone else tried to help, she would refuse to move.
“I’ll see if I can get her back home. Can you send a message to her daughter, Mary Anne, and let her know what’s happened?”
“Sure thing, Sheriff,” Jim agreed before leaving again.
Duncan followed Jim outside and a wave of heat hit his face. It was warm for the end of June, and he knew it was a sign that it was going to be a very hot summer. Dust swirled around his boots as he walked down the street, a distinct reminder that they had received very little rain that spring.
He heard a commotion up ahead and saw Mrs. Johnson trying to leave the mercantile with some items in her arms. Duncan guessed that she had walked inside, picked up whatever caught her eye, and was trying to leave without paying. The store owner, Mr. Lyle, was doing his best to get her to go back inside. Duncan hurried in that direction. Mr. Lyle wasn’t the most patient of men.
“What seems to be the problem?” he asked when he reached them.
Mrs. Johnson looked at him with confusion in her eyes, but she didn’t say anything.
“Mrs. Johnson is up to her old tricks again,” Mr. Lyle grumbled. “She wants those items, but she won’t pay for them.”
Duncan tried not to glare at the man. He had explained to Mr. Lyle many times what Mrs. Johnson was dealing with, but either Mr. Lyle didn’t understand or he didn’t care. Duncan turned his attention to the elderly lady who clutched a skein of gray yarn, a can of peaches, and a loaf of bread that was almost smashed flat against her chest.
“Why don’t you put these items on her daughter’s account?” Duncan suggested.
“Mary Anne has asked me not to do that. She is getting tired of paying for things that her mother can’t use.”
“Do it anyway, and I’ll talk to her.”
Mr. Lyle gave a curt nod and disappeared into the store, muttering under his breath.
“Mrs. Johnson, can I escort you home?”
Mrs. Johnson looked at him and her eyes cleared. “Oh, yes.” She shifted her purchases into one arm, smashing the bread even further.
“Let me carry those for you,” Duncan offered, and quickly took the items from her.
“You are such a fine young man,” Mrs. Johnson said as she linked her arm through his. “I just don’t understand why that other man yells so much. I’ve told him that he’s going to lose customers if he keeps doing that.”
Duncan chuckled. “I’m sure that you are right, Mrs. Johnson. How have you been doing today?”
“Just fine, Sheriff,” she answered, letting him know that she wasn’t as confused at the moment as she sometimes was. “I worked in my flower garden this morning and then decided that it’s a fine day for a walk.”
“Remember that you should wait for Mary Anne to come and visit? She told you she would take you for walks.”
Mrs. Johnson waved a hand in the air. “Oh, pff. Mary Anne worries too much. I am perfectly capable of going on a walk on my own. And I was able to find that beautiful yarn. I think I’ll make a hat for Jerry. Winter is coming soon, you know.”
“That’s a great idea,” Duncan said, knowing that her young grandson would enjoy another hat… in about five months.
Mrs. Johnson continued to chat and in no time at all, they made it to her house. He helped her up the steps to the porch and stepped back as she opened the door.
“Would you like some refreshments, Sheriff?” Mrs. Johnson asked.
“No, thank you, ma’am. I have some other things I need to check out.” He also tried not to cringe. Among the many things she was forgetting how to do, cooking was one of them. The last time she had offered him something to eat, it had been all he could to do get it down, and he’d ended up with a stomachache later. “Why don’t you sit in your rocking chair and get started on that hat for Jerry.”
Mrs. Johnson looked at him in confusion until he handed her the yarn she had picked out. Then, her eyes cleared. “What a great idea, although I think I will make a scarf for him, instead. He has too many hats.”
Duncan made sure she was sitting in her chair, knitting needles in hand, before he felt that he could leave her alone. He made a mental note to talk with Mary Anne again in the next few days. Something really needed to be done about her mother’s living situation. He was beginning to worry that her times of confusion and forgetfulness were happening more often, and he didn’t want something bad to happen to her.
That evening, Duncan locked the office door securely behind him and headed down the street to meet with Mike like they had planned. A few minutes later, he ran into his friend, who was just shutting down his blacksmith shop for the night. They updated each other about their days as they continued down the street towards the Dustwater Saloon.
As they passed the mercantile, he saw two young ladies, Amelia Gregory and her younger sister Amie, sitting in a wagon. He could tell that Amelia had driven their wagon from the farm that was located just outside of Willow Creek. Duncan headed in their direction.
“Hello, ladies, would you like some help down?” he asked as he held out a hand to Amelia.
Amelia’s face flushed in the evening light. “That would be nice, thank you.” She placed her hand in his and he helped her down from the wagon. He noticed that Mike did the same with Amie. “What brings you into town this evening?”
“Just doing our monthly shopping,” Amelia informed him.
“How—” Duncan was interrupted by someone else calling his name.
“Sheriff! Oh, Sheriff.”
He did his best to not groan. He knew who was calling him without even turning around. Evidently, he was right, as Amelia’s hand stiffened in his grip and she quickly pulled it away. He forced a smile on his face and turned around.
“Good evening, Miss Lilly. How are you doing?”
“Just fine, Sheriff. I am so glad I ran into you. I have something that I absolutely must ask you,” Lilly squealed as she offered her hand to him. He knew that she expected him to kiss it, but he gave it a slight shake instead before quickly moving a few steps away from her.
“What do you need?” he asked dutifully.
Lilly began to talk, telling him all about a play that she was involved in. A small theater had opened that winter, and evidently, she had been chosen for one of the roles.
“I was hoping that you, as the good sheriff of this town, would be willing to help me learn my lines, as well as critique the songs I have been asked to sing,” Lilly gushed, her high voice grating on Duncan’s nerves.
He had never been interested in Lilly and had done everything he could to let her politely know that. She either didn’t get the message or she didn’t care. He wasn’t sure why she thought that helping her learning lines to a play he wasn’t even remotely interested in seeing was part of his responsibilities as sheriff. As she talked, Duncan watched as Amelia and Amie walked around them and went into the store. He had wanted to ask them about how their father was doing, but he didn’t get a chance because of Lilly’s interruption.
It took almost ten minutes to convince Lilly to move on, without promising her anything. Mike had given up on him, and after telling Duncan that he would get them a table, headed to the Dustwater Saloon which happened to be across the street. When Lilly finally left, he turned to cross the street toward the saloon when he realized that Amelia hadn’t left the store yet; their wagon was still right where they had left it. Making an instant decision, he went inside the store. Mr. Lyle was behind the counter, talking to another customer. He gave a short nod of greeting, and then he looked around for Amelia. He finally found her in the back of the store, looking at fabric with her sister. He was pleased to see that no one else was around them. Maybe this time he would be able to talk to Amelia without someone interrupting.
“Trusting her Loving Heart” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Amelia Gregory’s days are filled with hard work on the ranch and concern about the amount of time her father spends in the saloon. Nevertheless, she’s determined to honor a promise to her dying mother to take care of her younger sister. When the unthinkable happens and her father is accused of murder though, Amelia’s whole world crumbles. After the charming young sheriff arrests him, she sets off into town to protest his innocence. Upon his frustrating refusal to release her father, she resolves to move heaven and earth to prove he isn’t a murderer. Will she be able to pursue the truth alongside the very man who arrested her father, especially when her anger towards him starts to turn into bewildering love?
After losing his parents to the actions of a murderer, Duncan Jennings has spent most of his adult life trying to keep people safe. Having settled in Willow Creek, he enjoys the perks of living in a small, quiet town. When the shocking killing of a man disrupts this peaceful community, all evidence points to a local rancher being the culprit. Even though he quickly arrests the suspect, he can’t help but be affected by his beautiful daughter’s impassioned pleas and is unsure if this man is the type to kill out of anger. Compelled to solve the case for her sake, he allows her to tag along in his investigation. In the process, will he also manage to prove himself to this captivating young woman he can’t seem to stop thinking about?
As Amelia and Duncan work together to free her father, they begin to see each other in a different light. Amelia discovers that Duncan is a fair sheriff that only wants justice to be served, while he is impressed by her deep love and loyalty for her family. As the chase for the real killer escalates, their feelings grow and can no longer be denied. When life-changing decisions have to be made, can they learn to trust in each other and maybe discover a real future, and love, together?
“Trusting her Loving Heart” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.