Littleton, Colorado, 1868
“Whoa there, Bessie, Whoa!”
Ivy, who’d been dozing beside her father, jerked awake.
Bertram Reginald Cray, known simply as “Bertie” to his friends and “Pa” to his only daughter, hauled clumsily on the reins. The tired horse thankfully stopped, bringing the rickety cart to a stop. He leaned forward, peering over his battered old spectacles and eyed the men gathered at the side of the road ahead.
Beside him, his daughter leaned forward, chewing her lip.
“Do you think they’re bandits, Pa?”
“No, I recognize one or two of them. They hang around in the village and look for work. Ought we to go back, Ivy?”
Ivy glanced worriedly at her father. That was the sort of decision she’d prefer her father to make himself, preferably with as much confidence as could be gathered in a situation like this. Colorado – or at least, this part of Colorado – wasn’t much like their old town, where mistakes could be shrugged over and easily fixed. Here, mistakes could cost you your life.
It was too late anyway. Bertie had dithered and dawdled again, and the decision had been made for them. The group of men had noticed them and came swaggering their way.
This was the last stretch of road before they turned onto the dirt track leading to Greenwich Ranch, which Bertie and Ivy still hadn’t gotten around to renaming. The sides of the road sloped sharply upwards, making it difficult for two carriages to pass each other. Turning around was more or less impossible. If they wanted to get home, they’d need to go forward.
Bertie lifted his hat graciously and smiled at the leading man.
“Afternoon, friend. What’s going on?”
Ivy vaguely recognized the leading man, she’d seen him in town a few times. He was a wiry man in his mid-twenties, with thinning dark hair, tanned skin, dark eyes, and a sly smile. What was his name? Daniel or David? Beside him was a slightly shorter man with bad teeth. He looked like he could be the first man’s brother. He had a habit of chewing tobacco, and Ivy could tell he had a wad of it in his cheek.
As if sensing her displeasure, he thoughtfully flexed his jaw and spat a reddish glob of tobacco and spittle onto the ground; missing the horse by a few inches. His brother shot him a glare, cleared his throat, and spoke.
“Evening, folks,” he said languidly. “Deputy Hayworth here. We’re just patrolling these roads in the interest of safety, you understand.”
Bertie raised his eyebrows. “Safety?”
“Well, yes. Indians, you know. Where are you folks coming from?”
“Market,” Ivy spoke up, keen to get the whole conversation over and done with. She instantly regretted speaking. The man’s beady eyes darted in her direction and stayed there. Ivy flushed under his shameless scrutiny, trying desperately to appear unconcerned.
That was something else she couldn’t get used to. Littleton was like a lot of small, remote towns she had encountered so far, in that it was mostly inhabited by men. Men that jeered and laughed at women who wanted to travel for adventure and insisted that only men ought to be settlers or explorers.
They soon realized that women and prospective wives didn’t pop out of the ground. The few single women who had come to these towns could be picky. Correspondence brides were popular, but not all men had the wealth, status, or writing skills to create an advertisement to tempt a woman.
So, they were stuck in their little masculine towns, with dreams of raising families and having beautiful, smiling wives to cook them dinner quickly fading away. Most of the men had an air of bitterness, as if they were almost angry at women in general for not providing them with companionship when they wanted it. Ivy and Yolanda, her closest friend, laughed about it at first, but it wasn’t funny for very long.
It wasn’t funny when every man stared at you, taking in every contour of your face and body, leering openly sometimes. She could see what they were thinking. They were wondering how to tempt her into bed and matrimony and their shabby little shacks. They thought about whether or not they could use honest or dishonest means or if there would be a need to run off other suitors.
Ivy was nineteen, with a pretty face, big blue eyes, and blonde hair made lighter by the sun. She attracted a lot of attention.
Ivy was reminded once again, that no matter how dangerous this place was for men, it was twice as dangerous for women.
She stared into the distance trying to spot the eaves of their house on top of the hill. Ivy knew if she met the man’s unsettling gaze, he’d like it all the more. maybe almost as much as if she fidgeted and whimpered in fear under his stare. She could pretend to be unafraid all she liked, but they both knew she was afraid, and for good reason.
“Indians,” Bertie repeated flatly. “I haven’t seen Indians around here for weeks, have you, Ivy?”
Ivy, who’d waved to an Indian woman with a baby strapped to her back on the other side of the river just this morning, shook her head. “No, Pa.”
The man clicked his tongue, and the horse tossed her head nervously.
“Well, I am surprised at that. It’s Mr. and Miss Cray, ain’t it? You’re the folks that took on old Greenwich Ranch not three months back, aren’t you?”
Bertie smiled weakly, “Yes, that’s us. We’re still getting settled in.”
“I see. Well, you want to be careful, let me tell you. There’s Indians aplenty out here…Apache and the like.”
Bertie cleared his throat. “Thank you for warning us. Mind if we get through?”
The man paused, narrowing his eyes. Obviously, he’d expected Bertie and Ivy to be more visibly harrowed at his mention of Indians and wasn’t pleased with their calm reaction.
“Old Tom Murray, who lived down in the valley never had much trouble with the Indians,” the man continued, his voice low and menacing. “Until they burst into his house and split open his skull while he slept.”
Ivy pressed her lips together. “I heard that it was likely one of his neighbors.”
That earned her glares from all of the men.
“Ivy,” Bertie murmured, his voice low and warning.
“How’d you reckon that, missy?” the tobacco-chewing man asked casually, a note of steel in his voice.
“Because they didn’t burst in, they unlocked the door. Everyone knew he kept a spare latchkey under a rock, but it’s safe to say that the Indians didn’t. He had troubles with his neighbors, so that makes them the likeliest suspects.” Ivy kept her chin up, still staring over the men’s heads.
They burst out laughing.
“Regular little sheriff isn’t she…eh, Cray?” the man chuckled, shaking his head. “It was Indians, girl,” he said, raising his voice as if she was either deaf or stupid. The other man, his brother, shook his head and smiled, waving them along.
“Go on through, sir. Just keep your wits about you and keep an eye on your girl. You have to be sharp to make it out here.”
They were still chuckling when they shuffled to the side, making a gap for the cart to ride through. They hurled comments and half-joking insults after them, which got more pointed and less funny as the cart faded into the distance. Ivy risked a glance back over her shoulder and saw that the lead man was standing in the middle of the road, staring at them. He saw her looking and raised his hand to wave. Ivy hastily turned to face front.
The heat of the day had gone sometime during their conversation, and they’d passed over the line from the warm, sunny afternoon to chilly twilight. Ivy shivered, leaning in toward her father.
“They’re not following us, are they?” Bertie asked quietly.
Ivy glanced behind them, reasonably sure that they were out of sight by now. “No, and I don’t see any horses.”
“Doesn’t mean they aren’t back there though. Damn, that gave me a scare! They’re using Tom’s death as an excuse to hunt for Indians, and they’re using that as an excuse to bully the rest of us. There’s nothing worse than a stupid man with a gun who thinks he has a righteous cause.”
“Talking of stupid, they surely can’t believe Indians killed old Tom.”
Bertie snorted. “Nobody really believes that.”
Ivy blinked up at him. “They don’t?”
“Course not. It’s a convenient excuse. You steal something, damage something, kill someone? Indians did it. No real evidence needed, and it lets you off the hook. You don’t accuse anyone in particular, just the Indians in general, and they won’t come forward to exonerate themselves. Just as well, as they’d be shot as soon as they opened their mouths.”
Ivy could see their house now. It’s perched on the hill with pens and fields spread out around it. They hadn’t left any lanterns burning when they went out earlier, and she wished they’d just left one lit in the window. It was at times like this she missed Chicago. It wasn’t as beautiful, and they didn’t have land like they had out here, but at least neighbors were within shouting distance.
The cart stopped in the courtyard, and they climbed down. “I’ll put the goods away and get supper on, Pa,” Ivy said.
“Good girl. I’ll put the horse and cart away and finish up a few chores. I’ll be about half an hour.”
That was plenty of time. Ivy bent to get through the low doorway. She was tall and slim like her Pa, on eye level with most men around here. They didn’t like that.
The house smelled of home now. Ivy couldn’t have said what home actually smelled like, but she knew it when she smelled it. Right now, it was overlaid with fresh bread and citrus. Not lavender, though. Ivy couldn’t stand that anymore.
Caleb had always brought home great bushels of lavender. At one time, Ivy wouldn’t have thought a house could be a home without that familiar, floral scent. She’d never said anything to Bertie about it, but he didn’t bring home lavender.
Ivy darted up the narrow, rickety stairs to her room, quickly washing her hands and face. She couldn’t get used to the dust here. Even on an ordinary day you came home with it stuck to your clothes, your hands, your face. Every washing day left Ivy with sore, scraped hands from scrubbing the grit off their clothes.
Maybe that was the price of freedom? That was what Littleton felt like, despite all the scares and creepy men. Freedom.
Ivy was determined to make the most of it. She hurried downstairs, lighting candles as she went. She could see Bertie’s lantern bobbing over toward the barn.
If you’d told her a year ago that her father, the businessman, would be working as a ranch owner way out in Colorado, she’d have laughed till she was sick. The whole thing sounded like some kind of living death.
But here they were, alive and well. It turned out that farming a ranch wasn’t as bad as you might think. The work was hard, but not impossible. It wasn’t as if they’d been well off and could afford a maid back in Chicago.
Caleb promised you a maid, a sly voice in the back of Ivy’s head pointed out. She pushed it away. Better get busy. Supper wasn’t going to make itself.
The next day dawned bright and cheery, as if their scare of yesterday evening had never happened. Ivy yawned, blinking bleary eyes and giving herself a few minutes to laze in bed, dreaming of more sleep.
Not today. Today, there was work to be done. She rolled out of bed, stretching and yawning. Bertie was up, she could tell by the way he’d left his bedroom door ajar. This was a cozy little house, but a touch small for a family. There were two bedrooms and more than enough space for the two of them. Ivy had no siblings. She’d always dreamed of having siblings when she was a child, but she knew enough to realize that no Ma meant no siblings, and Bertie showed no inclination to get married again.
Ivy didn’t blame him. Apparently, her mother had been a real angel, and the love of his life. Ivy often wondered if Bertie resented her at first because it was her birth that took his wife from the world. But he always insisted that Ivy had saved him and given him a purpose.
Whether it was true or not, Ivy liked to believe it. She dressed quickly, stopping only for a few bites of bread and butter for breakfast and hurried out of the door.
Bertie was in the middle of loading up the cart. There were tubs of butter and heavy tankards of milk, and the cart creaked under their weight.
“Morning, sleepy-head,” he said with a grin. “I thought I’d have to come up and drag you out of bed myself.”
Ivy chuckled, climbing onto the cart and making herself comfortable. “How rude. I’ve never missed a delivery yet, and I never will.”
“Don’t speak too soon. Now, you know where you’re going, don’t you?”
“Of course I do, Pa.”
“Yes, well, I usually come with you. If only the big heifer wasn’t so ill…”
“I’ll be fine, Pa. Besides, most of them go to the diner, and if I can’t remember where Yolanda lives, then I’m in deep trouble.”
Bertie smiled, shaking his head. Then his smile faded as an unpleasant thought apparently occurred to him.
“If you see any more gangs like we did last night, or you run into that man we spoke to, you’re to avoid them, you understand?”
“Of course, Pa,” Ivy replied, her spirits sinking. She’d almost forgotten about last night. Suddenly, her long morning drive didn’t seem as refreshing and relaxing as before.
“And if you see any Indians, avoid them too.”
“Oh, Pa. The Indians don’t do anything wrong.”
“Well, we took their land and left them with nothing, so they’re angry. Maybe rightly so, but I’d rather you didn’t gamble your life on a principle,” Bertie insisted. “Stay out of trouble today, you understand? Promise me?”
Ivy nodded. “I’ll be careful, Pa.”
“Even that tracker fellow who lives around here. Steer clear of him too.”
Ivy rolled her eyes. “I’ve never even met the man, Pa.”
“Me neither, but I know he’s half-Indian, and times aren’t kind to people like him. Just steer clear, won’t you?”
“Good. Don’t dawdle, either. I know you like to chat with Yolanda, but I’d like you home as soon as possible today.”
Some of Ivy’s worries blew away with the light morning breeze. It was a fine day, still early enough to be cool, and she found herself humming a tune. The old mare plodded on dutifull. She probably knew the way better than Ivy did.
Soon enough Ivy had made her way out of the remote roads and into town. She had a few drop-offs to make first, mostly to large farms that didn’t have cows for whatever reason, but Ivy was looking forward to one drop-off in particular.
Yolanda’s, of course.
The Smiths had run the little restaurant in town for as long as anyone could remember. It was a decent place, with fairly edible food and good coffee. They bought most of Ivy and Bertie’s butter and milk every week, as much as they could spare. Sometimes they bought other things like cheese and baked goods if Ivy was in a mood to make and sell them.
The restaurant was a simple wooden box of a room, with another room tacked onto the back to allow for the kitchen and storage space. There was a well-shaded veranda around the front, and a few early customers lounged there, smoking or chewing tobacco while nursing cups of coffee. The façade hadn’t been changed in years and years. It was part of the appeal now, even though many other stores had removed their façades when they set down roots and built proper houses.
A couple of Yolanda’s younger brothers, Ivy could never remember their names, were doing chores in the backyard, waving to her as she rolled in. Yolanda appeared in the doorway, grinning.
“Angus! Fergus! Go carry in Miss Cray’s things. That’s all the milk and butter she has left. That’s right, isn’t it, Ivy?”
“More or less,” Ivy said, jumping nimbly down from the cart.
“You haven’t had breakfast yet, have you?”
“Come on in, then. I’ve got a pie with your name on it.”
Ivy followed her friend inside, and gave a gurgle of laughter at the pie, which really did have IVY carved on the top. Yolanda had apparently done it simply for that joke and cackled at her own cleverness.
They’d been friends since Ivy arrived, which wasn’t really that long, only a few months. Still, Ivy often felt as though they’d been friends for years.
Despite their differences, the girls had a lot in common. They were the same age, single, and attractive. And, they lived in a town of lonely men who seemed to think it was the personal responsibility of every woman they met to fill that need for company. Both Yolanda and Ivy’s futures stretched out before them, wavering and uncertain.
Yolanda wouldn’t inherit the diner, it would go to her next youngest brother. Maybe she’d be married by then.
Yolanda probably didn’t think about it much though. She didn’t think about what would happen to her when Bertie died, leaving her all alone on Greenwich Hill.
She took a bite of pie to distract herself.
Yolanda leaned her elbows on the counter while Ivy ate, twisting a strand of tightly curled black hair around her fingertip. Ivy personally thought that Yolanda was prettier than her. She had deeply tanned skin, no unsightly sunburn on her skin, and rich chocolate brown eyes. She also had a figure to die for and a mop of untamable black hair.
“I suppose you’ve heard about the patrols,” Yolanda said, almost absently.
“Hm?” Ivy inquired, through a mouthful of pie. “Patrols?”
“Damien’s taken a group of men to patrol for Indians. He says he’s trying to keep us all safe, but I think he just wants an excuse to tell people what to do. He’s not a man I’d trust with any sort of power.”
Damien. That was it. That was his name. Ivy put down her spoon.
“People are saying Indians killed old Tom. I don’t believe that.”
“No one believes that,” Yolanda said, unconsciously echoing Bertie from earlier. “It’s just one of those convenient lies.”
“Maybe so, but it’s a lie that will get a lot of Indians killed.”
“I’m more worried about us getting caught in the crossfire.”
Ivy bit her lip. She imagined things going badly, imagined Damien and his group of vigilantes gunning down all the Indians they could find. She imagined the Indians’ white-hot rage, their retribution.
She imagined Littleton burning and shuddered.
“Isn’t there an Indian who lives here?”
“Oh, you mean Wolf?”
“That’s not his real name,” Yolanda explained. “He’s got an Indian name, but everyone calls him Wolf. His father was some kind of trader, and his mother was an Indian. They live up in a cabin just outside of town. Apparently, it’s difficult to find. Probably just as well, to be honest. I think Damien would try and find him, or maybe they’d just accuse him of killing old Tom. They might as well at this point.”
“I’ve never met him. What’s he like?”
Yolanda frowned. “I’ve only seen him from a distance. It’s not as if he walks in here and orders coffee. He’s tall, dark, you know…Indian-looking.”
“Are his parents still around?”
She shook her head. “Not that I know of. I hope he stays out of town for a bit, people are a little on edge here. Most people know that old Tom wasn’t really killed by Indians, but they’re getting themselves all fired up anyway. It must be better than admitting your neighbors are murderers.”
Ivy swallowed hard, the pie suddenly sticking in her throat.
“Nice pie, Yolanda.”
Yolanda beamed. “Really? You really think so? I’m going to try and enter the competition this year. This will be your first time at the fair, won’t it? Oh, you’re in for a treat. Everyone goes, and it’s so much fun. There’s dancing, toffee apples, bobbing for apples, and pie…”
“Apple pie, by any chance? It feels like there’s a lot of apple-related entertainment at the fair,” Ivy said, laughing.
“Yes, and there’s a pie-judging competition.”
“Do you get to eat the pies when you’re done? I could judge a pie-eating competition.”
“It’s not a pie-eating competition, you idiot. We compete to make the best pie out of the whole of Littleton. And this year,” Yolanda added, lifting her chin and grinning like a lunatic, “I intend to win.”
“How? Are you going to poison your competition?”
“If there wasn’t a counter between us Ivy, I would kick you in the shins so hard your teeth would rattle.” Yolanda’s smile wavered a bit. “Maybe the right man will eat my pie. You never know.”
Ivy’s smile faded too. She knew Yolanda wanted a husband. She’d dreamed of being married for a long time and longed to raise a family of her own. She loved her restaurante, but it would never truly be hers. Not really.
Unfortunately, there were no decent men in Littleton. None that Ivy had seen, anyway. She suspected that half of the men would happily offer to marry Yolanda, but Yolanda wanted to be in love. She wanted to marry for the right reasons, and Ivy respected her for that.
Besides, who’d want to marry some yellow-toothed, scrawny ranch owner with greasy hair and foul breath? Far too many people decided that it wasn’t worth the hassle of bathing regularly, not in the heat of summer, and wore their crust of sweat and grime with pride.
Then they swaggered into the restaurant and tried, although unsuccessfully, to charm Yolanda, all the while blasting stale breath into her face. Ivy wondered whether they really didn’t know, or if they just thought women shouldn’t be so fussy. Probably a mixture of both, really.
“Any man who tastes your pies is bound to fall in love with you,” Ivy said stoutly. Yolanda smiled weakly.
“That’s the problem. Adam Lickel asked me to marry him the other day.”
Ivy pulled a face. Adam was one of the less objectionable men around, but he still stunk to high heaven and had a face like a smug donkey. He would have been nicer if he wasn’t so very convinced of his own attractiveness. He believed that out here, women are desperate for a “civilized” man, as he called himself for some reason. He’d taken a liking to Yolanda early on.
The feeling was not mutual.
“Again. But this time, he talked to Pa first. Well, Pa likes Adam. He’s got a ranch and a decent business, and he’s always properly respectful. Pa gave him permission, and he’s not happy to hear I refused him. Said that I undermined his authority.”
Ivy swallowed hard. “Wait. Yolanda, he’s not going to make you marry him, is he?”
Yolanda shook her head. “No, but we had a long talk about my future and not being a burden on my family. Well, he talked to me about it,” she sighed, looking away. “I think I’m being silly sometimes, Ivy.”
“You aren’t, I promise you. Look, I’ll come back and talk to you later. For now, I’ve got some errands to run in town.”
Yolanda smiled. “That would be nice. Be careful.”
Ivy rolled her eyes. “You sound like my Pa.”
“Ending The Winter In Her Heart” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
After a heartbreak, Ivy Cray is determined to live an idyllic farming life with her loving father. However, her desire to live an ordinary, peaceful life, is abruptly shattered when she meets Wolf, a handsome half-Native American tracker. When her father disappears on a mysterious journey during a blizzard she decides to turn to the one man in town who can help her…
Can Ivy trust the man that stole her heart when the two always hit walls instead of breaking them down?
With a Native American mother and a white rancher father, Wolf Salvatore feels like an outcast who never belonged anywhere. When Ivy comes to him for help, he finds himself conflicted; the trip to find her father is dangerous, but nobody else in town can track like him. To add insult to injury, he must find a way to control the growing feelings he has for this mysterious woman…
Will he find his way to her heart along with her father?
While Wolf and Ivy battle the elements, they must also see past the prejudice of the townsfolk in order to find her father. With a sheriff’s deputy who wants Ivy for his own, and resents Wolf, will they be able to keep their love alive, and unravel a fiendish plot before it’s too late?
“Ending The Winter In Her Heart” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.