Welcome to a sneak-peek of my newest release,
From Chapter 5:
A day later, Joel was strong enough to travel.
And to send word to Ruth of his whereabouts.
He tapped the pencil on the Western Union form, trying to determine how much to write. He believed it a safe assumption his wife did not care where he was so long as he was not in her presence.
His time away with the cavalry had changed Ruth. Her letters had grown colder, her thoughts more succinct. Coming home minus a limb had only served to deepen the divide between them.
What exactly was the state of their relationship now? Dead? Dying? How did one resuscitate a marriage in this condition? Prayer. Ask God for a miracle to revive their love?
He had prayed for revival, but without any passion behind the request. He knew he should care, be desperate to save their marriage. Yet, desperation had died with every brief, emotionless letter from her, every repulsed look she had revealed, and every touch from which she had recoiled. The guilt of his growing apathy weighed on him. He suspected Ruth had reasons for some guilt as well, but Joel had no proof. Without proof, suspicions were merely that—suspicions.
Finally, tired of debating, he wrote, Delayed in Evergreen, Wy. Will notify you when I proceed to South Dak. He pondered adding love, Joel. In the end, he didn’t and slid the paper over to the clerk.
The Bar FB sat in a long, flat valley, ringed with hills that alternated between open pastures thigh-high with brittle, fall grass, and deep, dark-green forests of Scotch and Blue spruces. White-faced Hereford cattle milled about everywhere.
Various log buildings such as the barn and bunkhouse surrounded the imposing main house at strategic distances. Surprising Joel, the home was a white-washed antebellum structure with a cupola on the top. From it, he imagined a man could sit up there and see the whole valley in any direction.
King of all he surveys, eh?
“You could still back out,” Angela said from beside him, hunching her shoulders and rubbing her arms. Joel assumed she was cold, but the action could have also just as easily expressed her fears at this homecoming.
He tapped the reins across the horses’ rear ends to maintain their speed. “Not much of an option right now.”
“You could drop me off and keep riding.”
A cowardly act he couldn’t fathom. He was here now and he was committed to the cause.
“You’re an honorable man, aren’t you, Captain Chapman?”
“I used to think so.”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t like lying. Normally I wouldn’t have fallen into something like this. I believe almost any man can be reasoned with.” He cut his eyes at her. “You’ve made me believe your father may be the exception and this subterfuge is necessary. I hope I have not misjudged.”
She heaved a great sigh. “I understand your concern. Two seconds with my father, though, and you’ll understand mine.”
They rolled beneath the gate that proudly displayed the Bar FB encircled in barbed wire, and then into the main yard. A few ranch hands nodded and tipped their hats. One, a large fellow with a silvery-yellow beard, paused, allowed his smile to widen, and approached the buggy. Joel pulled it to a stop.
“Miss Angela.” The cowboy swiped his hat off. “What a surprise. Your father said you was back East in school. He didn’t say anything about you coming for a visit.”
“Howdy, Glenn, it’s nice to see you. I’ve missed your saucy jokes.”
The man blushed from his neck up, the color disappearing into his beard, then stole a quick glance at Joel. A glint of disapproval flashed across Glenn’s face but disappeared quickly.
“Oh.” Angela squared her shoulders. “Glenn, this is my husband, Joel Chapman. Joel, my father’s foreman, Glenn Leary.”
Joel reached across Angela and the two shook hands. Glenn was clearly shocked by the news, judging from his slack jaw. “Husband, huh? Yeah, your father didn’t mention that either.”
“I imagine there’s a lot he hasn’t mentioned about me since I left.”
The man pursed his lips as if acknowledging a secret. “Yeah, he hasn’t said too much since you’ve been gone.” He replaced the Stetson. “And he has been in one continual sour mood. Now that you’re back, maybe he’ll quit yellin’ so much.”
“Maybe.” She didn’t sound like she believed it. “We’ll see you soon.”
Angela touched Joel’s arm and he drove the rig up to the front of the house. “Well, here goes nothing.” Her voice wiggled and Joel wished he could give her a reassuring hug.
In lieu of that, he said, “I’ve faced a hundred screaming Indians, dodged a hailstorm of fiery arrows, and a blizzard of bullets. I’m not afraid of your father.” He smiled, hoping he had reassured her some.
Instead, her smile was pitying. “That doesn’t mean he can’t hurt you.”
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