“If I can’t be lucky, then at least you are,” Harmony Roth mumbled to the little dog she had just pulled out from the water.
The mutt nuzzled her as she scratched behind his ears and glanced back out to the Mississippi River. It was looking rather muddy today. This was not helped by the overcast skies and strong winds that now tugged at her clothes and hair.
She brushed a strand of her dark hair from her eyes with her free hand before sighing.
Now her skirt was wet. She could feel the mud squishing in her boots. Though her father had tried to gift her new shoes the other day, Harmony had refused to accept them. She couldn’t think about accepting anything new from him these days, not after what she had learned last year.
How could she ever accept stolen boots?
She could hear him in her head trying to claim it was all well. But she’d had to refuse the gift on principal. And yet she could really use them.
Of course, her father would have told her it wasn’t worth saving a dog drowning in the river. Her belongings would never be the same. That argument would have gone even worse with her father because she could never leave the poor thing to die there. If she had anything to say about it, no one––animal or human––would ever step foot in the Mississippi River again.
“I can’t keep you, Lucky.” Harmony glanced at the dog. He stank from the water and was missing one of his front legs. “I don’t think my father would let me.”
He didn’t like dogs. He hardly liked horses.
She sighed again before dropping her forehead to her knees. This was yet another day where she felt much older than her nineteen years—and yet younger at the same time. All she wanted was to curl up into a ball so she might disappear from the world for a short time.
As usual, she tried not to look at the small post set beside her. It wasn’t as though the marker actually had her brother’s body buried under there. Not when there was no body to find.
She sniffled and a tear fell free. Before it could trail down her cheek, a soft tongue licked it away. The touch made her jump. Harmony lifted her head to look at the dog who stared back with expressive eyes.
It was a boy dog. She could tell that much. And the leg he was missing, she supposed he had not been born with since there was no scarring. Most likely, he’d been tossed into the water to drown. People did that with things they didn’t want. She wrinkled her nose at the thought. Everyone, she believed, deserved to be wanted.
“I can’t keep you,” Harmony started to tell the dog.
Except he interrupted to lick her face again. When he put his front paw on her chest to get closer, she giggled and fell back in the grass. The little bit of resistance she had been clinging to faded away as she hugged him, dirty and damp and all.
“All right, all right. We should be going.” Harmony scratched his head. “Father will be coming home soon. We need to get cleaned up and see what he says about this.”
She stood up and stretched. The blustery spring day felt a little better now than the way it had started out. The dog’s head was hardly to her knees, scampering about as she paused to kiss her hand.
Then she touched her hand to the name she had carved into the marker. Luis. Blinking back tears, Harmony inhaled deeply and started walking away.
Although she talked to the dog she had just named Lucky on their way back home, her voice faded the closer they got. She grew wary, eyeing the tall grass that surrounded her home on the outskirts of Quincy, Illinois. There were trees that provided good cover for all sorts of things. People, too, which made her nervous these days.
It had been a year since her father had confessed to his gang-related dealings. She had grown up thinking he was a merchant. But things her brother had said through the years had left her wondering, especially after Luis was gone.
Two years since his death. One year since she had known the truth. And here she was, trapped in a life she didn’t understand or even want.
They stopped before the small house half-hidden by a large tree. She looked down at Lucky and bit her lip. Did she really think that her father was going to let her keep a dog?
Lucky looked back up and tilted his head. One of his ears was damaged. Chewed on, it looked like. It needed some care. He needed a very good scrub overall. This would be a lot of work. On top of that, Harmony didn’t know how to keep or train a dog.
“You’re going to be a lot of work,” she said. “And that’s only if my father lets me. Can you learn to behave yourself?”
He snapped his teeth at a dragonfly fluttering past. Before he could race off after it, Harmony scooped up the wiggling dog in her arms. He was too cute and too innocent to leave to the elements. Finding him felt like a new purpose. Especially on this painful anniversary.
Maybe he would help her become lucky, too.
Harmony got to work at once. She pulled water from the nearby well and brought out the tub to give Lucky a good washing. He had fun splashing in the water. The only problem was that when she let him out, he immediately went to run and roll in the dirt.
“No!” Harmony ran to catch him. “I can’t believe you just did that! I have to wash you all over again.”
Once he was clean the second time, Harmony pulled a towel off the clothing line to keep Lucky on the porch. He didn’t object. Sleepy now from all this fun, the dog slumped on the steps and napped while she cleaned herself and her clothes as much as she could manage.
The sun was beginning to set by the time she was done. This made her panic as she hurriedly put everything away and ran inside. Lucky was brought into her room in the attic, where he once more fell asleep.
In the meantime, Harmony had to prepare supper. And she was behind schedule. Muttering under her breath, she tried not to panic as she cut the vegetables and put them in the pot.
“Why isn’t dinner ready?”
She gasped and whirled around just as her father stalked in, wearing a curt expression. His narrowed eyes passed over her before focusing on the barely boiling pot.
“I… You’re home early,” Harmony managed to say.
His gaze returned to her. “Early? Harmony, this is the time I expect supper to be every day.” He tapped his watch. “If you were better at telling time, then you would know. Now, where is my supper?”
Glancing over her shoulder at the pot, she admitted, “It’s not ready yet.”
The pot was hardly steaming. Anxiety gripped her insides with discomfort; she knew she was meant to have supper ready by now. She had been preparing supper at this time for as long as she could remember, since Luis had helped teach her.
“I swear it will be ready soon.” Harmony hastily went on, seeing the way her father’s mood soured. “I made a mess earlier and wanted the house to be clean for you. It slowed me down. But it won’t happen again, I promise!”
He grunted. Running a hand through his hair, he grumbled, “Luis would never be so irresponsible.”
There was nothing she could say to that. He was right. They both knew it. Luis had been perfect. He was organized, kind, and helpful. He always knew what to do. Without him, both of them were lost.
And yet they had never had a chance to turn to each other since losing him.
Harmony had tried. She braved a look up at her father, wishing she wasn’t so afraid of him after all these years. Wishing they got along, and wishing she understood him better. Just wishing he would try to connect with her. But for some reason, he had never really tried. All he wanted was the house cared for and his meals to be timely even if she didn’t know when he might return home.
The last time she had tried to connect with him had brought out the truth about his work. Any goodwill she had clung to for Elias Roth had dissipated a little more every day over the past year.
Still, Harmony wasn’t sure if she was meant to give up on him or if she should try to meet him in the middle. All they had was each other now. Could they live together as both family and strangers? She bit her lip and watched him shuck off his coat.
“Father?” Never one to give up, she decided to try. “Father, I was thinking…”
He jerked his head up. “What was that?”
She froze. “What was what?”
“Shh!” He threw her a hard look before craning his head to one side. It put his dark lank hair over his collar. Although she had offered to cut it for him countless times, he never let her. He listened attentively for a good minute before pulling out a knife.
Seeing the firelight reflect off it, Harmony flinched and moved closer to the fireplace. “What’s that for? What is it?”
“Be quiet,” he growled through gritted teeth. “There’s someone upstairs.”
“Someone…” Her eyes widened as he started out of the room, realizing what he heard. She could hear it now as well—scratching on the wood floors just overhead.
There was no intruder. Just Lucky.
Harmony feared she had made a deadly mistake. She couldn’t very well hide a dog from her father. This was no way to introduce the two of them. Bile rose in her throat. Panicking, she hurriedly left the food behind and hurried after him up the stairs.
“Father,” she hissed.
He told her to be quiet again, but in ruder terms. “Stay back,” he added. “Don’t be foolish enough to get hurt. They could have weapons.”
“No, that’s not it,” she attempted to reassure him.
“I won’t have you disobeying me in my house. Now, get your hide down those stairs and get yourself a weapon. Go!”
She shook her head. Trying to move past him, Harmony gathered the courage to explain herself. “That’s not what’s happening. When you see, you’ll understand. I just need you to––”
Except he ignored her. Growling under his breath, he shot her a look of annoyance before letting out a loud shout. Then he was racing toward her closed bedroom door before she knew what was happening.
It was a small attic space she kept, but enough that it could apparently hide a dog. Her father stormed into the room with a howl and waved his knife around. As Harmony followed frantically, pushing back his outstretched arm, it both took them a moment to locate the sound of the scratching.
Her father cursed. “What is that thing doing here? Harmony, get out of the way!”
“No!” She dove forward, banging her knees in her hasty attempt to save the dog a second time that day. As she tried to catch her breath, she grabbed the rope that she had tied Lucky to and used that to reel him in.
“What are you doing?” her father shouted at her.
Lucky let out a whiny howl and she held him tighter to her chest. “You’re scaring him!”
“What is a dog doing in this house? Let go so I can get rid of him! He’s filthy!”
“No! No, please. Please, please, please,” Harmony cried out, wincing as she went back onto her knees. “I found him today. I want to keep him. His name is Lucky and he’s a good dog, I swear. He’s well-behaved and he won’t get in your way. Please don’t take him from me, Father. Please, please, please, don’t take him.”
Standing over her, Elias growled. “I never said you could have a dog!”
She blinked back tears. When Lucky started to lick her cheeks, she jumped and pushed him down, trying to meet her father’s gaze. “I know, but I… I found him. I saved him from the river.”
His eyes narrowed. “Then someone wanted him dead. What, is he missing a leg? He’s a gimp.”
“Don’t call him that!” Harmony took a shuddering breath. “Please, Father. He’s just a puppy. I’ll take care of him, and he won’t get in your way.”
“Animals are nothing but trouble. I can’t believe you brought him in here without my permission! That thing will make messes and track in dirt all over the place. You know I don’t like animals. What were you thinking?”
She sniffled. “I don’t know. I don’t know, but I… I can’t just let him go, Father. Please. Please, I’ll do anything. Just let me keep him. Please?”
When she managed to meet his gaze, all she saw was darkness in those eyes. She held Lucky so tight to keep the shuddering away that the puppy let out a whimper. Immediately, Harmony loosened up and stroked his back with a whispered apology. Now that he was clean, his fur was very soft. The warm little body pressed against hers kept Harmony from completely falling apart.
Still, she had to wait for her father’s permission.
“Fine.” He grunted. “But if he chews on anything of mine, he’s out of here at once. I’ll throw him back into the river if I have to.”
Harmony caught her breath. “He won’t! He won’t, I swear it!”
Her father knelt down to meet her at eye level. In his hand, he still held his knife when he pointed at her. Harmony told herself he wasn’t doing that on purpose. “And I’m going to hold you to that promise, girl. When I ask you for something, you’re going to help me.”
Something crawled around her insides when he said that. But the promise was made, and she couldn’t go back on it. Holding Lucky in her lap left Harmony certain of that.
She met his gaze. What could he possibly want from her? Most of the time, Harmony felt like she was more trouble to him than anything else.
Except she couldn’t leave. Nothing had been said between her and her father, not directly, but she could sense the tension and she knew. He would hold anything he needed to over her head to keep her there. And the man was a good tracker. Wherever she went, he would find her.
Harmony tried to find courage by reminding herself that now, at least, she wouldn’t be lonely. She would have Lucky at her side.
“Well?” her father demanded.
Mustering up her courage, Harmony nodded. “I… I know. Thank you, Father. I won’t let you down.”
“Hearts’ Hide and Seek” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
In the aftermath of tragedy, nineteen-year-old Harmony Roth’s world is filled with secrets. The weight of her brother’s untimely departure and her father’s hidden past has left her longing for a fresh start, so she implores her father to abandon the outlaw gang that holds them captive in darkness. With a glimmer of hope, he offers her a pact: if she can persuade the enigmatic deputy to aid them in one final heist, he will renounce his life of crime forever. Drawn into a dangerous game, Harmony finds herself entangled in a web of conflicting desires when she encounters the irresistible allure of the captivating she be able to do as her father asks and betray an innocent man?
As Aiden Watson, the dedicated guardian of his family’s legacy, grapples with the enduring pain of losing his beloved sister, his steadfast commitment to maintaining law and order drives him forward. Presented with an opportunity to delve into a potential connection between the outlaws responsible for his sister’s demise, Aiden seizes the chance for justice. However, his plans crumble upon meeting Harmony, as an unexpected surge of emotions clouds his once-clear happens when his heart gets pulled into the mess of duty and heartache?
Amidst a world tainted by falsehoods, their shared moments illuminate a truth that cannot be denied. Can Aiden navigate the treacherous path to justice while resisting the magnetic pull of his yearning heart? Will their quest to aid their fathers truly bring resolution to their troubled lives? And, ultimately, can love prevail and forge a path to deliverance for them all?
“Hearts’ Hide and Seek” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.