“You be careful, Mr. Smyth,” Corinna said, addressing one of her longtime customers as she slid a whiskey over to him. The amber liquid sloshed around the glass but luckily stayed inside and off the bar. “Last time I served you whiskey, your wife nearly had my head.”
Mr. Smyth was a successful merchant who enjoyed a drink every now and then, but when he started with whiskey, everyone knew to watch out. Last time, he’d started a brawl that had cost him enough coin to catch his wife’s ire.
“Just one tonight, Miss Corrina,” he said as he took a large drink. “Just to cool off.”
Corinna chuckled at the lie but said nothing further. She wasn’t going to argue with a regular, especially one who spent as much money at her father’s tavern as Mr. Smyth.
Corrina took her time when wiping down the bar, making sure to soak up every speck of spilled ale and dust. She prided herself on their tavern being one of the cleanest in the area.
Corrina adored the little slice of heaven she and her father had carved out for themselves. It wasn’t perfect by any means, but it was theirs.
“Miss Corrina!” a voice hollered at the end of the bar. “Bring me another ale, will ya?”
Corrina smiled, but before she could respond, the sound of a high-pitched scream interrupted.
“What on the lord’s Earth is all that hollering about?” one of the patrons asked.
Rosalie, one of the waitresses, ran up to Corrina, her face as white as a sheet and her hands trembling as she grabbed for Corrina. “What is it?” Corrina asked.
Rosalie was one of their toughest girls. She’d come out west from New York and never tolerated the patrons’ foolishness. The men would paw at her, and she’d put them right in their place with a barbed word. So, Corrina knew that whatever had happened was bad if Rosalie was so shaken.
“You’ve gotta come with me,” she said, pulling Corrina. But Rosalie was a small, slip of a woman, barely heavier than a mouse, and she couldn’t move Corrina’s much sturdier frame.
“What is it?” Corrina asked. “I’ve got customers.” Corrina was used to things going awry. She ran a tavern, after all. Someone was always drawing a pistol after too much ale or a wife looking to catch her husband doing something untoward. Years ago, they’d even had a bandit issue that forced them all to carry pistols. Nothing could be so bad that Corrina would leave thirsty, paying customers unattended.
“It’s your father,” Rosalie said with a whisper. The hollering had stopped, but there was an unease in the air, and as Corrina looked at the patrons, she realized that they were feeling it as well.
“Is he alright?” she whispered, not wanting anyone to panic.
Rosalie’s nails dug into Corrina’s arm as she shook her head. “No,” she said. “He’s dead.”
Corrina was in a fog as she stared at her father’s body. Someone had had the good sense to cover him with a sheet, for which she would always be grateful. She’d taken one look at him and crumpled to the ground as her grief overcame her.
“It appears that your father suffered a fall,” the medical examiner said.
“Was he pushed?” the sheriff asked.
Corrina sighed. She wished that no one had called the sheriff. He was more of a hindrance than a help, and he’d been hovering over her all evening long, peppering her with questions. “Who would push my father down the stairs?” Corrina asked, frustrated.
“This place is a tavern. There’s no telling what men of ill repute frequent this place.”
Corrina felt her hackles rising at the sheriff’s words. He pretended to be someone who did not want any untoward activities in town, but he’d happily look the other way when such things were going on, as long as he was getting a cut of the action.
Corrina’s father, Harry, had never allowed the sheriff a piece of their profits. Instead, he ensured their business was above board, which infuriated the sheriff more than anything else.
“My father’s business is all above board,” she said. “You should know that. You’ve tried to raid us often enough.”
The sheriff scowled, but the medical examiner stepped forward before he could say anything. “I don’t believe anyone else was involved,” he said. “I’m not sure what caused the fall–it may have been that your father had a dizzy spell or that he simply tripped.”
“It doesn’t matter,” Corrina said. “He’s dead all the same.”
Corrina watched Rosalie wince. She knew that her friend thought her cold, but she needed to try and protect herself from the grief that threatened to bubble over if she thought too deeply about her father. Even now, she could see his face as his empty eyes looked up into the ceiling.
“We can have someone come for the body,” the medical examiner said. He was a kind man, and Corrina was grateful for his presence. Corrina was sure she would have spent the time arguing with the sheriff if he wasn’t there. “I’m sorry for your loss.”
Corrina nodded. “Thank you, sir.”
The medical examiner gave her a sad smile before he walked out of the door.
“I should take my leave as well,” the sheriff said. “Since it doesn’t seem there’s anything more for me to do.”
Corrina said nothing as she watched the sheriff tip his hat at her and Rosalie before he walked out of the tavern.
“Do you think some of the men would be willing to help us move him?” Corrina asked. “I know we sent everyone away but perhaps….” She trailed off. Corrina felt numb as she continued looking at her father.
She’d been too hysterical at first to do more than cry in Rosalie’s arms when she heard that her father was dead.
“You must leave town at once,” Rosalie said, jumping from the seat she’d taken next to Corrina.
Corrina looked at her friend. Her blue eyes were wide as she reached down to grab Corrina’s hands. Rosalie’s pale skin was a stark contrast against Corrina’s caramel tones, and Corrina found herself thinking that their coloring would make a lovely painting.
It made no sense, but in her grief, Corrina’s thoughts were jumbled, and nothing seemed to make sense.
“Corrina!” Rosalie yelled and shook her slightly.
“Why would I leave town?” Corrina asked as Rosalie’s words started to sink into her mind. “My father has just died. I need to stay and see to the tavern. I need to put Pa to rest.”
Rosalie shook her head as more tears formed in her eyes. “It’s only a matter of time before news of your father’s passing makes its way through the town. When it does, Wesley will come for you. Your father was the only thing standing between you and him.”
Corrina’s heart sank to her feet as she thought about Wesley Truman. Rosalie was right. With her father dead, she was in danger of Wesley finally coming to collect what he believed was owed.
“I can’t just leave,” Corrina said. Her eyes strayed over to her father’s body. For so long, it had been just the two of them. It sunk in that she was alone now.
“I can see to your father,” Rosalie said. “I know it’s not ideal, but I promise you I’ll make sure he’s laid to rest properly.”
“And what about the tavern?” Corrina asked.
“They’ll never let a woman run this place,” Rosalie said. “If you stay, they’d run you out anyway.”
Corrina shook her head. “I could find a way around that. The patrons know that I’ve basically been running this place for years, and the sheriff doesn’t know a black hat from a vicar.”
“Wesley is dangerous, Corrina.”
“I’m more than aware of what Wesley Truman is capable of,” she said, her tone more biting than she meant it to be.
Rosalie heard it, but she said nothing. “You need to get out of here, Corrina. I know it’s not fair, but if you have any hope for your future….”
Corrina sniffled. It wasn’t fair. She was now an orphan, and instead of grieving her father’s death, she faced the insurmountable task of deciding if she should run and save herself. Or stay in her home and face certain doom.
“Where will I go?” Corrina asked, her voice thick with grief. Now that she could think a little more clearly, she was fearful of what would happen to her if she were to leave her home.
“Whatever is waiting for you out there,” Rosalie said. “It’s better than what is here.”
Corrina nodded. Rosalie was right.
“I need to say goodbye,” she told her friend.
For a moment, Corrina thought that Rosalie would argue with her, but she must have seen the grief on her friend’s face. “I’ll go to your rooms and pack some things,” Rosalie said. Corrina reached out and grabbed her friend’s hand. She gave her a tight squeeze. “Thank you,” she said.
Rosalie nodded. “Be quick. We don’t know how much time we have.”
Corrina said nothing as she watched Rosalie spring up the stairs. She hesitated for only a moment when she stepped over Corrina’s father.
For her part, Corrina got up from her seat and walked slowly toward her father. She kneeled down and pulled back the sheet with a shaking hand just enough to see his face. She released a heavy sigh. Someone had closed his eyes, so it looked like he was simply resting. Corrina was grateful. She didn’t think she could have said goodbye with her father’s lifeless eyes looking back at her. Now, it simply looked as though her father were sleeping.
She wanted to remember him as he’d always been. A man with gentle, green eyes that reminded her of the grass in spring. One who would laugh easily at a joke and whose hair had turned thin and gray over the years but remained dark at his temple.
She smiled as she recalled how surprised people were to learn he was her father. Corrina had inherited her mother’s looks with her caramel-colored skin and copper-colored eyes. The only thing she had of her fathers was her dark, brown hair.
Corrina would cherish that image of her father for the remainder of her life and do her best to never think of his broken body as it was before her.
“I’m so sorry, Papa,” she whispered, placing a hand on his cheek. His skin was cold to the touch signaling that there was no more life in his body. “I promise that one day I will do right by you.”
Corrina knew that her father wouldn’t be angry with her for leaving. In fact, he would likely have been hollering for her to go. That didn’t matter, though. For so long, he’d been the only person she had, and now, she couldn’t even honor him properly. The thought made her grief all the more painful.
“I love you, Papa,” she said.
Those were the last words she spoke to her father. She reached for the sheet and pulled it back over her father’s face.
She resolved to leave her home as quickly as she could. She would not allow Wesley Truman to get what he wanted. Never.
“Look, Pa! Look at me!”
Rex bit back a laugh as he turned his attention toward his daughter. Maxie was using one of her dolls as a puppet, mocking the act currently being rehearsed on the stage.
“Very clever, sweetheart,” he said. “But perhaps, you can show me later? We don’t want to be rude to our friends.” He pointed to the stage.
Maxie pouted. “But Pa,” she said. “I need to show you my act. If I don’t, I’ll never be able to be part of the show.”
Rex bit his lip to stop himself from releasing a groan. He hated to disappoint his daughter, but he needed to work, and though the members of his company would never say anything about Maxie’s presence, he knew that having an eight-year-old girl under foot made rehearsal difficult.
“Would you like to show me your act?” Elsie asked. “I would love to see what you’ve been working on. It may help me improve myself.”
Maxie lit up. The only thing that could make her smile like she was was attention from one of the theater’s women. Though Rex was always the person Maxie went to first, she craved a maternal figure in her life, which meant that she sometimes clung to the women in their lives.
“Are you sure?” Rex asked Elsie. “I know that you have your own part to work through.” Elsie was a skilled dancer in Rex’s theater company, and they were in the process of preparing for a show. Just like everyone else, she needed the extra time to rehearse.
But Elsie was the kindest woman Rex had ever known, and all she did was smile at the question and reach her hand out to Maxie. “Maxie can watch me rehearse.” She turned her attention to Rex’s daughter, who looked up at her with wide eyes and a happy smile. “Perhaps, you can give me some pointers.”
Elsie took Maxie’s hands and walked her to the back of the theater. Rex sighed and turned his attention back to those who were performing. But Rex’s mind was drifting away as he thought about his daughter.
Maxie was getting older, and he could see more and more of her mother in her each year. Rex reached inside his shirt and felt the ring he kept close to his heart. He turns the piece over and over in his fingers.
“Let’s take a break,” he hollered as he snapped to attention. The actors on the stage stopped mid-sentence.
“Is everything alright, boss?” Phillipe asked. He was one half of the comedy duo in the theater, and his partner Freddy was looking at Rex equally incredulous. “Did you not like what we were doing? I know we changed a few things….”
Rex shook his head. “I just think we should all take a few minutes. We’ve been at it all morning, and I’m sure that you are all hungry and tired.”
Freddy snorted before he jumped off the stage. “You don’t have to tell me twice,” he muttered. “I’ve been thinking about ham during the entire act. It was throwing off my performance.”
This made Rex roll his eyes, but he kept his lips sealed together as the rest of the crew muttered their agreement. Rex was a demanding boss but paid fairly, and his theater brought in good money.
“Everything alright, boss?” Phillipe asked.
Rex nodded. “Why would something be wrong?” he responded.
Phillipe’s brow rose. “You’re not one to cut rehearsals short, especially considering we’ve got a show coming up.”
Rex sighed. Phillipe had been working at the theater for several years. He and Freddy were one of the first acts that Rex hired; over time, the two had become friends. Phillipe was easy to talk to, and though he sometimes had a problem with the drink, he wasn’t a bad person.
“You’ve not been yourself these days,” Phillipe said. “People are beginning to notice.”
“I didn’t think you were one to participate in theater gossip, especially since it’s usually about you,” Rex said with a chuckle. But his friend did not laugh. Phillipe had been having a rough go of it lately, and though Rex himself didn’t listen to half of the tales his actors spun, he had heard something about Phillipe and his wife Elsie being on the rocks. “Perhaps, I should be asking you if everything is alright.”
“Everything is well,” Phillipe said, though his tight voice indicated that it was not. Rex said nothing more. He didn’t wish to pry into his friend’s marriage, partially because he hoped it would keep Phillipe from asking more questions about where Rex’s head was these days.
“That’s good to hear,” Rex said, slapping a hand on Phillipe’s shoulder. “I can’t have my star act in less than top shape.”
“One half of your star act,” Freddy said as he came upon them.
Rex laughed. Though both Phillipe and Freddy performed a comedy act, Phillipe was the more serious of the two. Freddy was a happy, fun-loving guy who appreciated making people laugh. Rex always envied Freddy’s ability to find joy in all situations.
“Of course,” Rex said.
Freddy looked at him, his brows furrowed. “Everyone’s wondering what is wrong with you?”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re normally barking orders at us this close to a show.”
“You two are making me sound like a terrible boss. It’s a wonder that anyone wishes to work here.”
This made Freddy laugh, and Phillipe shook his head. “You keep this place running,” he said. “If it weren’t for you, who knows where the rest of us would be.”
“As much as it pains me to agree,” Freddy said, a large smile on his face, “he’s right. You keep us all employed, which is why everyone’s so worried. They think that your heart might not be in it.”
Rex cursed under his breath. His mind had been elsewhere lately. As Maxie was getting older, he couldn’t stop his mind from wandering to her mother. She got her curls and freckles from his late wife, and sometimes when Rex heard her giggle, he felt as though he were transported to the past.
It was difficult to realize that Maxie was growing up, and now that she was about to enter the schoolhouse, Rex missed his late wife even more as it became clear that Maxie needed a female influence in her life.
“My heart is very much in it,” Rex said. “Which is why everyone needs to get back to rehearsal!” he yelled.
Freddy laughed. “That’s more like it,” he said as he bounded towards the stage.
Rex needed to put his thoughts away. He was responsible for the well-being of his daughter. He was the only person she had, and he would never allow something to happen to her. His theater was her inheritance, and he would ensure it was running smoothly.
“Everyone back on the stage!” he yelled. “We’ve got a play to put on.”
“A Love Song to Heal Old Wounds” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
In the wake of the devastating loss of her father, Corrina Mayfield is forced to follow a life on the run, looking for work while avoiding old demons. When she stumbles upon a theater, she takes the opportunity and auditions for the singer’s position. Though she has no experience, this new world and especially the kind and charming man who manages the theater, might prove to be her way out of a terrible situation.
Will the past catch up on her before building a new life?
Rex Armstrong is a distrusting widower who is trying his best to raise his young, precious daughter. He’s not interested in adding another act to his theater, but Corrina is the most talented person he has ever met. As their days become more entangled, his young daughter is not the only one left enamored with her gentle presence. However, the memory of his wife’s passing forces him to keep Corrina at arm’s length.
Will their slow connection be enough for him to question his decision to stay alone forever?
Even though both Corrina and Rex begin to find happiness in the theater and in each other, the thought of their traumatic past closing in doesn’t allow them to feel carefree. Can they overcome tragedy and especially themselves and find love? Do they have what it takes to exceed expectations and confess their longing?
“A Love Song to Heal Old Wounds” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.