“How long are you at home this time, Dad?” Harmony Benson asked her father. The seafaring captain picked up his coffee cup and looked at his two daughters sitting at the table with him.
“Do the two of you want me out of the house?” he asked with a twinkle in his eye. Maggie, the older sister by twelve years, shook her head.
“The opposite. We love you to be at home.” She paused and smiled back at him. “Plus, I need you to help me move some furniture. Harmony and I have decided to change things around a little bit and cheer the place up.”
The man looked around and agreed with his older daughter.
“You are right, girls. Tell me what you need moving and where it has to go. This place needs some bringing up to date.” He told them he had seen some lovely small tables unloaded at the port he was returning to on his next voyage. “They had lovely designs painted onto them. I’ll bring two back and see if they fit in with the new look.”
“That sounds great,” Harmony told him. “I think we should have more color in the house. We need some blankets to make the chairs more comfortable and warm looking. I’ve nearly finished the crochet blanket I am making, and it’s like a rainbow going from light to dark.”
“You are so good at those that you could sell them and make some money.”
“I quite like my job at the bakery, though,” Harmony answered as she found two colorful blankets she had made and shook them out.
“A bit of money would buy you some extra things,” her dad pointed out, “and they’re really good. He laughed. “I do have one on my bunk in the ship. It reminds me of home.”
She went and hugged him.
“You run a very smart ship, Dad. We’ll come and give you a helping hand to sort it out tomorrow. I have a day off from the bakery.”
“I will be away longer the next trip. Sorry, it will be about three months before I return home.” Then he added that part of the cargo coming back was silk and satin. You could use some of those in your dressmaking and sewing.”
“We do miss you, Dad,” Harmony added.
“My two best girls. Your mom would have been so proud of you.”
“And you still miss her even after nineteen years of my life,” Harmony said.
“Wouldn’t be without you though, Harmony,” her dad told her, and Maggie stood up to clear the table and wash the dishes. Harmony helped her sister. They worked well together and were very close. Their dad had hired help when Harmony was a baby, but as they had grown up, Maggie had become Harmony’s mom as well as her sister. They chattered about the changes they wanted to make to the house and went to find their dad to move the heavy furniture when the place was cleared.
Seafaring men always found unusual and wonderful things when they traveled the world, and the sideboard was heavy, solid mahogany that the girls made to gleam with polish. The dining table, that was very rarely used as they always ate in the kitchen, was moved to where the sideboard had been, and Maggie brought out a pretty chenille cloth that covered the whole table, and then they added ornaments, a plant in a brass pot, and some pretty pieces of porcelain.
“That does look good girls,” their dad told them. “The sideboard is still in the middle of the floor.”
Maggie laughed and pulled the desk out of the way.
“Sideboard there, and the desk can go in the next room. That is your study anyway.” They moved the desk and the sideboard, shuffled the armchairs into a more comfortable place by the fire, and stood back to survey their handiwork.
“Sit with a glass of beer, Dad,” Maggie said and went for the drink.
“We’ll help you to stock your cabin tomorrow. We have both been baking.”
“Wonderful,” her dad said and took the beer from Maggie. “Here’s to us. My marvelous family.” He raised the glass and toasted his two girls. “I’m glad you found out, Harmony, how awful that Oscar man was and showed him the door. The right man will come along for both of you in the end. No need to rush into things.”
“You are right there,” Maggie said and poured herself a sarsaparilla. “Handsome but crooked.”
“He was spoiled as a child and had everything handed to him on a plate,” Harmony remarked. “His father, the mayor, had lots of money, and Oscar wanted more and more, but he didn’t want to work for it.” She paused and thought back. “He knows how to be charming, and it gets him what he wants, but I think even his dad has stopped believing him now.”
“You’re better off without him, that’s for sure,” Maggie said.
“Hard though, to find out that he was seeing other girls as well,” Harmony said with a touch of sadness.
“But they sent him packing as well,” Maggie said with a grin. “He was rejected by all of you.”
“You are right, Sis, as usual. It is quite satisfying to know that he was found out and lost all of us.”
“Change the subject,” their dad suggested. “Shall we walk down to the ship and see if you would like some of the things the crew spotted while we were away? They are good at seeing things I miss, and if we all buy them for a reduced price, it keeps everybody happy.”
“That’s why the crew are so loyal to you,” Maggie told him. “You make them work hard, and the ship is spotlessly clean, but they know you will look after them as well.”
“Some of the crews on other ships are happy to turn a blind eye when things are stolen. Keep them happy, is what I say.” Joshua Benson was very aware of what could go wrong when you were at sea or in a strange port. Over the years, he found that making the crew a team worked well for all of them.
The family went down to the harbor and walked the wooden swinging bridge that led to the ship. It swayed and wobbled, but they were all used to it.
“Afternoon, ladies,” the man at the deck entrance said cordially.
“Hello, Martin,” Maggie replied. “It looks smart and ready to go.”
“I let the men go ashore because we are ready to leave again when the cargo is loaded tomorrow.”
Harmony walked across the deck and gazed out across the harbor.
“Boston has such a lovely wide harbor,” she remarked as Maggie came and stood beside her. There were lots of sailing ships tied up around the bay, but there was so much space that the place still seemed quiet and peaceful. The girls left the scene and went to see what their father needed in his cabin for the next journey. They were familiar with the ship and the way that sailors worked.
“You need lots of fruit cake that will keep well and hard cheese to go along with it,” Maggie observed.
“We’ll bring those tomorrow and your clean clothes,” Harmony added, and they left their dad to see that everything was ready. The sisters negotiated the walkway again and set off arm in arm for a little stroll along the harbor wall. Then Maggie stopped.
“Just stay here a minute. I forgot to bring the things he needed mending.” She left her sister standing on the harbor wall and ran back to her father’s ship. There was an area of water with no ships tied up, and Harmony walked on very slowly, looking out over the bay. The harbor wall turned at an angle, and another large ship was tied up, using the shelter of the harbor to shield it from the winds that came in from the open sea.
Harmony looked back, and there was no sign of Maggie. A movement caught her eye below the harbor wall and at the foot of the stone steps that led down to the water. Three men were handing down large bags from the big ship to the man standing in a small boat. It took her a few moments to realize that she was watching something that was not meant to be seen. The bags were marked with the sign of the bank in the city, and she knew there had been a robbery. People had talked about little else for days.
“Well, howdy, Harmony Benson,” a male voice startled her and made her jump. She felt an arm go around her waist and turned her head to see Oscar Cooke. His silver-blond hair was covered with a soft cap and he was wearing traveling clothes.
“Oscar,” she exclaimed. “What are you doing here”
“Watching you watching my friends and employees.”
“Employees?” she queried and had still not felt any alarm.
“Dad has given me the ship, I wanted to start a business in New Orleans.” He tightened his grip on her waist and stopped her moving away from him. For the first time she felt a flicker of fear and craned her neck to see if her sister was in sight.
“Very quiet today,” he observed conversationally, “but you’ve seen too much.” The flicker of fear became a real panic, and she tried to pull herself free. “I’m bigger and stronger than you, Harmony. You’ll have to come with me until we are well away from the law here.”
He pulled her roughly to the stone steps and held her by her hair as she went down the steps in front of him. She was used to boats and stepping from the land to a moving raft in the water. One of the men took her hand and pulled her on board.
“Harmony Benson,” he said. “I thought you had enough of Oscar.” Oscar’s friend, Rafe held her in a tight grip until his friend joined them.
“Cast off and get out of here before someone comes looking for her,” Oscar told him. “She saw the bags being loaded.”
“Oh,” Rafe said and untied the rope from the iron peg in the stone wall. He pulled it on board and two sailors rowed the small craft away from the big ship. They rounded the ship’s bows and felt the blow and pull of the water coming from the open sea. The two rowers had expected it and pulled hard towards another large ship further down the harbor wall. Harmony looked around, but there was no help at hand. Oscar kept a firm grip on her arm as they approached another craft that seemed quite well looked after.
“This is mine,” Oscar hissed in her ear. “You’ll come with us and cause no trouble. Right?” The small boat was tucked in behind the large one, and they were out of sight again. She knew she had no choice and just nodded as Oscar pushed her to the rope ladder up the side of the bigger vessel. She climbed, and he followed behind, where a man waited at the top of the ladder.
“Hold onto her,” Oscar’s voice came from behind. “We’ll haul up the bags and set sail before the tide turns.”
He took Harmony to a cabin and tied her hands with a piece of rope.
“Stay there and stay quiet,” he told her and locked the door behind him.
Harmony sat on the bunk and felt the tears start to form in her eyes.
“What a fool I am to be caught like that,” she said out loud. Then the thoughts of what might happen to her started to flood her mind, and she sat on the bunk and shivered. Then she felt the ship start to move and knew they were underway. There was nothing she could do.
Some considerable distance away, Stefan Dawson closed the office door behind him and headed home.
“All quiet, Sheriff?” Jenny Wilson called as she carried her shopping basket past him.
“It is, indeed, Jenny. Thank goodness for that.” He started to walk alongside her and took the basket. “Let me carry that for you.” He was going where the woman lived anyway.
“You are a good boy, Stefan. Trinity is lucky to have you as sheriff.”
“I like the job,” he told her. “Especially on quiet days like this one. The cells are empty, and so far, nobody has got drunk enough to be thrown out of the saloon.”
Jenny laughed and commented that it would change later on. She stopped at her gate, and he handed over the basket.
“Thank you,” she said and went into her house. Stefan carried on down the street, turned off to his mother’s house, and went inside. The smell of her home baking was a delight, and he went to wash his hands.
Then the peace was interrupted as his two young brothers burst into the house and chased each other around the table.
“Stefan, get them out of here until they calm down,” his mom said, and the sheriff took each of his brothers by the scruff of their shirts and propelled them outside into the yard. The floppy and large brown dog they loved saw a chance for a game and jumped up at them. Stefan let them go and said he would race them to the corral. He set off before he had finished talking, and the two youngsters shouted that he had cheated. They set off in hot pursuit, and the dog tried to trip them up. Consequently, they ended up in a laughing heap at the corral, with the dog pouncing in and out to enjoy the fun.
Stefan sat on the ground and petted the dog, who calmed down and panted happily. Lewis and Benny, fourteen and sixteen, lay back on the dusty ground and asked if Stefan had arrested anyone.
“Nope, been a quiet day.” He looked at them. “Walk back, wash your hands, and sit at the table. Mom works hard to keep us all fed.”
The two boys stood up, and both offered a hand to their brother. They pulled the sheriff to his feet, and he dusted himself down. The dog trotted alongside them and stayed at the door as the three brothers went inside to sit and eat.
“That’s better,” Kathie Dawson said. “It is stew and dumplings. I guess you are all hungry.”
“Are they ever anything else?” Maya, the eighteen-year-old sister, said as she joined the group at the table. Kathie smiled and ladled out the dinner. She was proud of her family. Her eldest daughter was married with two children, and she wondered when Maya would find someone to be happy with as well.
“Where’s Dad?” Maya asked.
“Just sorting out the wagon. I think he wants to take you boys fishing to help with the nets.”
“We would need to camp out because it is quite a journey,” Benny observed. He was sixteen now and starting to think about looking for a job. “Takes most of the day to get to the harbor and then a day fishing and a day to come back,” Benny added. “I quite like fishing.”
“Not for me,” Lewis added. “I don’t like being wet and smelling of fish.”
“I can understand that,” Maya said, “but all jobs have bits you do not like.”
“Your job is okay,” Benny said to his sister.
“Baking all day puts you off food,” she told him. “People say what a lovely smell when they come into the shop, but you stop smelling it after a while.”
“Stefan’s job is dangerous,” their mother pointed out.
“Fishing is dangerous,” Stefan countered. “I would not like Dad to go out on the sea every day.”
“I guess you could walk across the street and be knocked down by a runaway horse,” Benny said with a serious expression that made his mother smile.
“Who is for fruit pie and cream?” she asked and got a chorus of acceptance. Jimmy Dawson came in from outside and washed his hands. The stew and dumplings appeared before him, and he did it justice. They finished the fruit pie and took a drink of some sort. Lemonade boys?” their mom asked, and they went to pour some for themselves.
“Coffee for me, please,” Jimmy said as he ate his dessert. Stefan poured coffee for himself and his dad, and Kathie sat down with a sigh to sip a sarsaparilla.
Stefan had left his deputy in charge of the office and, by rights, should have finished for the day, but Jenny was right, and soon someone came to ask the sheriff to help with a fight at the saloon. He put on his gun belt and took his Stetson and a jacket.
“Take care,” his mom called as he went away. When he came back, the boys and Maya were in bed, and his mother had stayed up to make sure he came home safely. He kissed her cheek.
“I’m still in the land of the living,” he told her. “You can go to bed. That daft lump, Col Jellicoe fell off the table when he tried to prove he could dance and knocked over a glass. The drinker started a fight, and it just tumbled out onto the street.”
“One of them could still pull a gun,” she answered but went off to bed, satisfied that he was home. He sank into his own bed with a sigh and was asleep before his head hit the pillow. When he awoke, it was daylight, and his dad and two brothers had already left in the wagon.
On the open sea, the ship taking Harmony away from her home and family sailed on. She was given food and could be untied because they were miles away from land and there was nowhere she could go. Oscar came and stood beside her at the rail.
“You’re used to ships because of your dad.”
“Yes, he is away a lot. He will be worried about me and will still have to sail away.”
Oscar looked at the woman beside him. She did not know that he had always liked and quite admired Harmony Benson but found it hard to resist other women at the same time. He cleared his throat.
“You know that dad gave me this ship because I said that Rafe and I were going to New Orleans to start a business carrying freight up and down the coast.”
“And he fell for it again,” Harmony answered, and Oscar nodded.
“If we were to be married as we planned months ago, you would be safe. The secrets of what you saw would be safe, and we would have lots of money and a new business.”
“And if I say no?” she asked quietly.
“I will dump you at some point where it will take you a very long time to return to your family.”
He said that with a finality that chilled Harmony, and she glared at him. The man was serious. She could see that he would make either choice with a determination to get what he wanted. Harmony was just a problem to be solved.
“You know that a few months ago, I would have loved you to propose marriage to me.” He actually smiled at her at that point, but it was a cover-up smile. She had seen it before, and he had admitted to seeing two other girls. “This proposal has more honesty about it, but I don’t want to be a criminal, Oscar.” Then she had a slight panic run through her veins because she knew that she had defied him, and he would have his own way, and the bags of money from the bank were in the very ship where she was held captive.
“While we are at sea, you can move around, but when we reach a port, I will tie you up. We have to get the money put away safely and then set up a new business.”
Harmony could think of no reply to this, and he left her in the cabin and closed the door. She sat down on the bed and shivered. Oscar Cooke had a coldness about him that said he would get what he wanted one way or another. She knew she was a stumbling block to his plans and started to think seriously about escaping.
The next day, the ship turned and headed for a harbor. Harmony was on deck and saw the land ahead. She had no idea how far they had traveled or in what direction, but land seemed a good idea when you were held captive on a ship. Her hands had been tied several times since she had been brought aboard, and she was not surprised when Oscar took her below decks and did the same thing again. She said nothing as he left her in the cabin, and she noted he did not lock the door.
He thinks his knot-tying is good, she thought as she wriggled her hands. She had not grown up in a seafaring family without knowing her way around tying lines and untying them. She had crewed in small boats for her dad many times when she was a youngster. She liked sailing and understood each type of knot. Her fingers wriggled, and she found the piece of rope that would simply pull and make the whole thing fall apart. She tugged and felt the rope fall away.
“Thanks, Dad,” she whispered out loud and sat still until she was sure they had docked and the ship was no longer in motion. She heard the gangplank with its handrails dropping onto the quayside, and there was no sound of voices or movement on board.
Harmony opened the cabin door a crack and saw no one. A quiet tiptoe to the doorway told her a man was beside the gangway to the shore. She backed off quietly, made her way to the other side of the ship, and climbed over the rail. Nobody was looking, and the ship seemed deserted. There were no other vessels, and she wondered if she could make it to the shore without being seen.
“Got to give it a try,” she said through gritted teeth, took a breath, and jumped into the water. The deep dark-looking tide swirled around the stern of the ship, and she was swept around by the tide’s pull. A large wave came in from the sea, lifted her into the air, and dropped her against the rocks that supported the harbor wall. Harmony knew nothing more.
When she opened her eyes, she saw the eyes of an older and concerned man looking back at her and behind him were two young boys.
“She’s alive, Dad,” one of them said.
“Can you speak, young lady?” the older man asked. Harmony coughed, and they pushed her into a sitting position. She coughed again and leaned over to spit out the water in her mouth.
“I can speak,” she croaked eventually. “Where am I?”
“Billings, Alabama,” the second boy obliged. “What is your name?”
Harmony opened her mouth to speak, and there was nothing in her mind or her memory. She looked at them, and tears came into her eyes.
“I don’t know,” she whispered, letting the tears flow.
“Love in the Shadow of her Past” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Harmony Benson has no idea what her life looked like before she ends up stranded on a beach and with her memories lost… The new town she enters luckily welcomes her and while she tries to figure her life out, the sheriff’s family takes her in and cares for her. Her kind and talented nature make them feel close to her and her struggles from the start, but she cannot rest until she can regain her identity…
Will this kind and charming sheriff be the key to uncovering her past?
Sheriff Stefan Dawson has always put his job first, caring for his town’s safety until a girl arrives lost and in need of his help, forcing him to change his priorities. Even though Harmony seems like a strong-willed and charming young lady, it’s his attempts to jolt her memory that work, and bring him closer to her…
Would he risk his heart and let himself fall for her, despite the uncertainty of her past?
Amidst the growing affection between them, the truth of Harmony’s past is still unknown and whatever lies behind it could prove to be a threat. Will the truth be more than either of them expected or can they survive the secrets that lay hidden in Harmony’s forgotten memories?
“Love in the Shadow of her Past” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.