Dagan’s Rest, California
Tilda Dalton sat on her cart under the shade of a tree and turned another page. She’d had her nose in the book all morning, and doubtless, many customers had walked by her cart, not bothering to even inspect the vegetables wilting in the California heat. If they had, she hadn’t noticed, only surfacing when someone spoke to her. It was that riveting a read.
“Where is your mother?” a stern voice asked, and Tilda pulled her eyes from the page reluctantly to regard the speaker. “Well, girl? Where is she? She promised me turnips.”
“Oh, Mrs. Ballentine, I have them right here,” Tilda said, pulling a sack of the root vegetables from under her seat. She walked carefully through the baskets, buckets, and sacks of produce to the edge of the cart, where she jumped down in front of Mrs. Ballentine. Opening the sack, she let the old woman inspect the veg.
“The leaves have wilted,” Mrs. Ballentine said. “They aren’t fresh.”
“Sure, they are,” Tilda said. “We picked them last night.”
“Don’t try to fool me,” Mrs. Ballentine snapped, pushing the sack from her. “Those are old. Your mother promised fresh.”
Tilda set her jaw. Did the hook-nosed harpy honestly think she could intimidate Tilda with that poor showing? Ha! She had another thing coming. “It’s hot today,” Tilda said, reaching into the sack and pulling out one of the large white and purple roots. She held it up. “The leaves are going to wilt. However, the actual root vegetable in question is perfectly fine. Feel that smooth, perfect skin. See, not old, not damaged—fresh, and no doubt delicious!”
Thrusting the vegetable at Mrs. Ballentine, she raised her brows and waited.
The old woman brushed a strand of her iron-gray hair from her face and glared at Tilda. Nevertheless, she felt the turnip and inspected it. It was truly blemish free. No snails, centipedes, or other bugs had been anywhere near it; if there was ever a perfect specimen of the species, this was it.
“All right, what are you asking for them?” Mrs. Ballentine asked, taking the sack and depositing the turnip back inside it.
Tilda told her, and the old woman handed over the coin with a sour expression on her face. Then turning, she left.
“It’s a pleasure doing business with you,” Tilda called after her.
“You know, you really shouldn’t be so disrespectful to the elderly,” a gruff voice said. Turning, Tilda saw Robbie Christofferson leaning casually on her cart.
She rolled her eyes at him. What did he want anyway? He leaned in and picked up her book.
“What is this?” he asked.
Tilda knew Robbie from when they were both in school. They had been in the same year, and he was now working at the smithy with his father. Being a large young man with big arms and curly black hair that was always pasted to his forehead with sweat, he always reminded her of a big bear. He wasn’t bright either, even though he thought he was.
And so, Tilda took pleasure in saying, “It’s a book. You know, a thing made of paper that people printed things called words on to. They’re all the rage. You should get one.”
He glared at her and read the cover. “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. What nonsense is this?”
“Robert Louis Stevenson does not write nonsense,” Tilda said, watching the big oaf thumbing through her book. “It’s a great story with an underlying theme of learning to understand the evil within us all. It’s a masterpiece, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it became a classic.”
“You know what that sounded like to me?” Robbie asked. “Blah, blah, blah! You know what your problem is, Dalton? You spend way too much time with your nose in a book. That’s why it’s so long and pointed. Just like a witch’s nose.” He laughed at his truly insipid joke.
Shaking her head, she said, “What do you want?”
“To watch you run,” he said, and suddenly, her book was sailing through the air. It flew in a high arc, and she moved unconsciously to try to intercept it.
A boy, younger than she and Robbie were, ran by, pushed her violently out of the way, caught it, and sped up.
“Hey!” Tilda yelled.
“Go on, go get it,” Jemma Price, who ran the stall beside hers, said. “I’ll keep an eye on the cart.”
“Thanks,” Tilda called, hitching up her skirt and running after the boy.
Robbie had taken off after him, lumbering along. He was not built for speed, and she overtook him in no time. Through years of being bullied at school, Tilda had learned to run. She was gaining on the kid, who ran in a surprisingly straight line. Why was he going this way? There was nothing here but…
Oh darn, she thought and put on a burst of speed.
The creek. The creek was the only thing this way. Fear rose in her gut, and Tilda tried to run faster, but she was already going as swiftly as she could. The boy, who had to be around sixteen or seventeen, was faster than she was, and he remained annoyingly just ahead of her.
Her breath was coming in gasps now, a pain in her side as they reached the creek. The boy stopped running. With a casual jerk of his wrist, he tossed her book into the air, out over the water.
Tilda screamed as she came skidding to a halt. Robbie came up behind her, and before she stopped fully, he planted a hand on her back and pushed her. Unbalanced as she was, she tumbled down the steep bank and came to rest with her hands and face in the mud of the creek bed.
The sound of raucous laughter filled the air. Tilda drew herself up and inspected the damage. She had mud on her cheek and hands. It was all down the front of her dress too. She sighed. What a jerk Robbie Christofferson was and always had been.
“Would have thought he’d have learned some manners by now,” she muttered to herself. “He’s, what, twenty-three now? Behaves like a child.”
She didn’t want to see what had happened to her book, and yet she couldn’t help herself. It was no doubt somewhere downriver by now, ruined and beyond saving. She didn’t see it or its pages floating in the water, and she could see a long way down the creek.
So, where was it?
Something on the far bank caught her eye. It was her book, the brown cover blending quite well with the mud. It had landed open, and no doubt some pages were ruined, but it wasn’t in the water. That was a blessing.
Moving to the water, Tilda washed her face and hands and did what she could for her dress, which wasn’t much. Then, after drying her hands on the back of her dress, she got up. The creek wasn’t deep here, and several stones were breaking the surface. If she was careful, she could make it across.
It was the work of moments to get herself across the creek to the pebbly bank on the other side. The book had landed on the stones and was mostly fine. She let out a sigh of relief. It had been a birthday present two weeks earlier, at the end of April, and she was enjoying it so much. She’d waited to read it, needing to finish The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn first.
With her book in hand, she made her way back to her cart. Jemma Price regarded her with concern. She was a kind lady who sold cheeses.
“Are you all right?” she asked.
“Yes,” Tilda said. “My book is fine.”
“Well, that’s a blessing,” Jemma said. “I made two sales for you while you were away. Here’s the money.” She handed over the coins. Tilda was glad she’d thought of writing the prices of things on cards she had pinned to the sacks and stuck in the buckets and baskets.
“Oh my gosh! What happened to you?”
Tilda sighed and regarded her best friend in the whole world.
Jillian Mason’s green eyes were large and round with shock. “Did you fall?”
“No, I was pushed into the creek,” she said.
Jillian gasped. “Oh no, are you hurt?” She rushed to throw her plump arms around Tilda.
“Look, unless you’d also like to be brown from head to toe, I would suggest you don’t hug me,” Tilda said.
“I don’t care,” Jillian said. “You poor thing.”
Being a natural caregiver, Jillian wouldn’t rest until she had helped Tilda to clean up as much as possible out on the town market green. There wasn’t much they could do there, but after fetching a bucket of water and letting Tilda wash her face and hands properly, Jillian declared her acceptable.
“I don’t suppose now is the time to try and entice you to come to the Summer Festival with me?” Jillian asked.
“Is everyone in town going to be there?” Tilda asked, trying not to sound as exasperated as she felt.
“Probably,” Jillian admitted.
“Then no, thank you, Jill. I would rather handle burning coals than go,” Tilda said.
“But not everyone is like Robbie Christofferson and his friends,” Jillian said, pleading. “I want to go. How else are we ever to meet any eligible young men? Before long we’ll be old maids, and no one will want us as wives.”
“I don’t care,” Tilda said a little more harshly than she meant to. “I want to move to San Francisco and become an actress anyway. Marriage will only stand in my way.”
“You know that’s the same as wishing for a dragon or a unicorn or a faerie, right?” Jillian asked. Her tone wasn’t harsh, but it was a little mocking.
Tilda blinked and sighed, running a hand lovingly over her now slightly damaged book. “I know.”
“Anyway, you can act here,” Jillian said. “Dagan’s Rest has a theatre.”
“And they only do comedic musicals,” Tilda said. “I don’t want to prance and sing across the stage in a play written by Mr. Mendelson. His stories are silly, and the characters are always exaggerated oafs.” She sighed. “I want to act in a real theatre with real professionals.”
Jillian sighed. “Fine. Leave me here. Some best friend you are.” Folding her arms across her chest, she wouldn’t look at or speak to Tilda for a while.
“I’m sorry, Jill,” Tilda said in a much sweeter tone. “I just don’t want to stay in Dagan’s Rest for the rest of my life. There’s a whole world out there, and I don’t want to only hear about it in the papers and in books.”
“But the world out there isn’t safe,” Jillian protested.
“And here is?” Tilda asked, indicating the now-dried mud smears on her dress. She raised her brows.
Jillian sighed and uncrossed her arms. “Okay, fine, you have a point.” She shoved her hands in her skirt pockets, and her eyes went wide again. “Oh, I forgot about this.”
“What?” Tilda asked. It was getting late, and she should be heading home. Jemma was packing up beside her too. Tilda began the process of securing the vegetables she hadn’t sold in the back of the cart. There wasn’t much left. It hadn’t been a record day, but it also hadn’t been the worst she’d had.
Jillian pulled something from her pocket, and at first, Tilda thought it was a note. As her friend handed it to her, she saw it was a letter, one sent by post.
“Where did this come from?” Tilda asked.
“I ran into the postman on his rounds,” Jillian said. “He asked me to give this to you.”
‘Thanks,” Tilda said, noting it was addressed to her mother. The postmark on it said it came from Hub. “That’s odd. Why is Father writing to Mother? They haven’t spoken in two years.”
“Maybe that’s why,” Jillian said. “Can I get a ride home with you? My mother is going to be at the church for a while still.”
“Of course,” Tilda said.
The two girls set off for home, which for both of them were farms. Jillian’s parents owned a goat farm that made and sold cheeses. Tilda’s mother grew vegetables and fruit. The girls had grown up together, running from one farm down the road to the other and having the best time of it.
“So, who do you think the letter is from?” Jillian asked. “Because even I know that envelope was not addressed by your father.”
“That is true,” Tilda said. Her father’s handwriting was unique. It was the way he formed his letters that always made it seem he was angry with someone or something. The pen seemed to stab the page when he dotted his “I’s.” He used a lot of pressure, and often his letters had blotches of ink on them.
Tilda always thought that came from the time when they had lived back East. She’d been a baby then, and her father had worked at a factory making safes for banks and rich people. He had always had to make carbon paper copies of his work reports for his bosses as he tested the locks for their efficiency and sturdiness. He had gotten used to pressing hard.
“Okay, so Father didn’t address the letter, but he most likely wrote what’s inside,” Tilda said. “Who else would want to write to my mother?”
Jillian shrugged. “That’s what is so intriguing about it,” she said. “Who would write to your mother, indeed? She hasn’t given up on your father ever coming home, has she? That would be so sad.”
“Not that she’s mentioned,” Tilda said, suddenly worried that her parents might be thinking of living with other people. What would that mean for her? She was an adult now, so would it affect her? Probably only around the holidays. “We’ll have to wait until we get home.”
It didn’t take long to reach her farm. It was a smaller parcel of land than some of the others in the area, but it yielded good crops year in and out. Tilda’s mother had long been a fan of making something called compost. She had read about it in a book that described how people in places like Japan and China would take all the peels and scraps from their cooking and put it all in a heap with some soil and turn it into plant food. Then she would till all of that rich material back into the ground. By doing so, she could grow more crops with less effort, even in dry years.
Tilda admired her mother, who was a hard worker and a clever thinker. She never gave up. Even when Matthew, Tilda’s older brother, had his accident and died, her mother never stopped. She grieved and moved on, knowing how important it was to keep things working and ticking over so that the family wouldn’t starve.
The same could not be said for her father. After Matthew’s death, he had packed up everything and moved up the mountain to a placer mining camp, and he’d been there for years now with little to no contact with Tilda and her mother. Only the odd letter came down the mountain addressed to Tilda to let her know he was still alive.
Tilda’s mother was out in the yard feeding the sheep. They were a new addition to the farm. Her mother had read in a scientific journal that horse and sheep manure was great for making grass grow. She had decided to give it a try with the vegetables.
“How did it go?” her mother asked as Tilda brought the cart to a halt by her.
“Not bad,” Tilda said. “We made some sales.”
“What happened to you?” her mother asked, taking in her clothes and the mud smear. “Your dress is as brown as your hair.”
“Robbie Christofferson,” Tilda said. “He threw my book in the creek. It’s okay, though. Not damaged much.”
“Oh good, that book was not cheap,” her mother said. Then she sighed. “I thought he would leave you alone since you’re not in school anymore.”
“I thought so too, but….” She shrugged. “That’s not important. You have a letter.”
“Really?” her mother asked, wiping her hands on her apron. “Who from?”
“Someone in Hub,” Jillian said, sliding down from the cart.
“What?” Tilda’s mother asked. Taking the letter from Tilda, she inspected it, slid a finger under the envelope’s flap, and opened it.
Tilda and Jillian waited with bated breath as Tilda’s mother read it quickly. Then she gasped, and her hand rose to her mouth.
“What’s wrong?” Tilda asked. “Mother, what happened?”
Her mother’s brown eyes were large and round, and she looked as though she had just seen a ghost. The letter fell to her side, and without a word, she went into the house.
Placer mining camp near Hub, California
Early morning was always a lovely time along the creek. When the sunlight hit the peaks above his head, Lawrence Chaney always thought about how picturesque they were. He wished he was an artist or a photographer and could capture such beauty with a paintbrush or a camera, but he wasn’t blessed with that kind of skill.
Mostly what he’d been blessed with was a sharp mind and a quick wit. It hadn’t always been a good thing, and that was likely how he had ended up, up a mountain standing in a cold stream all day sifting rock.
It was backbreaking, unforgiving, hard work, largely for nothing. The nuggets he had found in the three months he’d been doing this had been small and not worth a whole lot. Yet, it had seemed like such a good idea when he and his best friend Duncan were talking about it back in New York.
Sure, come out West, they had thought. Be a placer miner. The rivers in California were simply brimming with gold. They’d be millionaires in no time. Funny how inaccurate that was. At first, he thought he was doing something wrong, but it turned out that everyone standing in this particular stream was having a hard time. The gold was hardly more than dust and pebbles, and gathering enough to buy supplies was a lot of work. It seemed that if there were golden rivers in California, this was not one of them.
Not for the first time, Lawrence wondered what his life would be like if he had opted to stay in the city. He’d most likely be married with children, working some dull job. The wife and kids were still on the agenda, but the dull job certainly wasn’t. He wanted something more exciting.
Stretching in his cot, he was alerted to a strange grunting noise coming from outside the tent. Now, that was odd for several reasons. The first was that he was alone. Duncan had set up his camp on the other side of the stream and a little higher up, where the water made a series of natural pools. He figured the gold was likely to get stuck there. Working like this, they thought they would be rolling in riches by now.
The grunting continued. It sounded animalistic. Throwing off the covers and slipping into his pants and boots, Lawrence went to the tent flap and eased it open a hair. He couldn’t see anything, but the grunting was coming from outside and right by his tent.
Opening the flap a little more, Lawrence froze.
Right outside his tent was a tall ponderosa pine. With a thick trunk and branches high up, it was the perfect pole to attach a line to for laundry to dry in the breeze. That is unless you were a bear. If you were a bear, it was the perfect back-scratching post.
A large, brown bear was using it for just that purpose as Lawrence peered out. It grunted in delight as it ran its furry back up and down the trunk.
Fear gripped Lawrence, and he carefully let the flap close again.
A big brown bear in his camp. This was the stuff of nightmares. The other miners, the ones who had been doing this for years, had warned him about leaving food out at night. They had said that bears would come from time to time, and if he didn’t leave anything for them to eat, they would likely sniff around and leave.
Had he left anything out?
He couldn’t remember. He’d had fish for dinner. He always had fish, trout mainly, because that was what lived in the creek. What had he done with the bones, head, and fins? He’d dug a hole and buried them along with the other remains of his meal. It kept the flies down to do it that way.
So, nothing outside for the bear to eat but a lovely scratching post for it. Great. How long could a bear scratch for?
It turned out that it could linger around a campsite for more than an hour. The bear seemed quite at home there. It drank water from the stream and even caught a fish which it sat down to eat right outside his tent. The crunching and munching noises made Lawrence’s hands shake with nerves. A boy from New York shouldn’t be facing a bear. This was all far too much.
Sitting in his tent, feeling the day getting warmer and warmer around him, he contemplated what to do. There wasn’t much he could do. According to the other miners, the only thing to do when a bear came around was wait for it to go away while being as far from it as possible.
It took Lawrence a while to realize that the grunting and sniffing sounds had stopped. Gingerly, he peered out of the crack in the tent flap.
Risking making the opening a little bigger, he looked around his campsite. The bear was nowhere to be seen. He stepped out of his tent and found that he was alone.
“What a way to start my morning,” he said to no one.
Lawrence needed coffee. Despite his heart still pounding, he wanted something comforting and familiar. After all, he had survived his first bear visit without so much as a scratch. That was an accomplishment, wasn’t it? Weren’t some people killed by bears?
He was sure they were, and here he was, not even sniffed out or touched. Yes, coffee to celebrate. He reached into the tent and found the coffee tin. There wasn’t so much as a granule inside. It was spotlessly empty.
“I have to go to the store,” he said to the empty tin. “But to pay for my store visit, I need a nugget, and has the river given me one?” He proceeded to take his boots off.
Wading out into the water where his pan had been propped up to collect and sift the silt that was flowing down, he began the hard work to see if he had anything. In amongst the gravel and silt, he found a couple of tiny, shiny nuggets. They were too small to be worth much, but they were certainly better than nothing. He slipped them into his trouser pockets and went back to put his boots back on.
Casting an eye across the stream, he could just make out Duncan’s pan sitting in the water. He wasn’t there. His actual camp was shielded from view by some bushes and trees that grew thickly on that side of the stream. He didn’t see any movement there, but surely Duncan still had coffee.
Lawrence hesitated to go across the stream and ask Duncan for some because they weren’t currently speaking to each other. He knew it was childish and stupid, but they had disagreed, and now both were waiting for the other to come and apologize.
“I should just do it,” Lawrence said. Sure, he could. Being right wouldn’t change just because he apologized. He could also get some coffee, and that was the real reason he was so keen to go to Duncan. What he really wanted was for Duncan to apologize to him. But he was kind of desperate.
Sighing, he decided to go for it. He walked down the path that led to the section of the stream where it became so shallow that several rocks stuck out of its surface. They made an excellent bridge to get across without getting his feet wet.
He had just stepped onto one of the rocks when he had a thought. Was he really going to do this? Was he going to go to Duncan just to mooch coffee off him? That was not the right thing to do. Of course, he wanted to see his friend, but he also wanted the coffee, which made this whole thing feel wrong.
The moral dilemma was what had kept Lawrence away for four days so far, and it seemed it would do so for another day. Maybe he could think clearly after his morning cup of coffee. But for that to happen, he needed the core ingredient.
He decided to take a walk along the creek to another miner’s camp, an old man named Donald Greer. Donald was partial to cans of beans, and he might trade some coffee for a can. Lawrence took one from his precious supply and headed upstream.
Donald’s camp wasn’t far. It was just around a turn in the river where the stream opened up wide, and a lot of other miners had their stakes.
Lawrence found the old man sitting on a rock in the shallows with his pan, sorting through what lay in it. He had another pan, a large round contraption with a metal mesh strung across it, wedged in the water, catching whatever came down.
“Morning, Don,” Lawrence called, waving.
The old man looked up from his work and nodded. “Morning, Laurie. What’s got you doing the rounds so early? Your pan being unfriendly?”
Lawrence laughed. “Something like that.” Approaching the old man, he took a seat on a rock nearby. “I had an unexpected friend this morning.” He told the tale of his bear encounter.
Donald listened and laughed with great appreciation for the tale. He liked a good story when told right. With long gray hair tied back with a piece of leather thong, he was still strong and sturdy. His teeth were yellow, his fingers gnarled, and his back had a permanent stoop, but he was one of the most experienced miners on the river, and Lawrence had learned a lot from him.
“So, your first bear, and all before your coffee,” Donald said.
“Yup,” Lawrence agreed, nodding. “It’s actually on that topic that I have come to see you. Do you have some coffee to spare? I can trade.”
Donald regarded Lawrence with his faded blue eyes. He smiled. “Sure, sonny, it’s in the can. Of course, if you fancy a mug and a chat, you can pour for us both from that pot on the fire, and we can be all kind of sociable.”
That sounded great.
Lawrence set to work pouring the coffee and adding sugar to it as he liked it. Donald took it black and as bitter as his wife’s soul. Those were his words, and Lawrence guessed there was a heck of a story there, but Donald never shared it.
For a while, they sat companionably on their rocks, the stream gurgling by them.
“So, you gonna tell me what happened between you and Duncan?” Donald asked. “Or should I guess?”
“What do you mean?” Lawrence asked, wondering if Duncan had been by here and if he’d told Donald anything.
Donald laughed and put his mug down on his rock before leaning forward closer to the younger man.
“All these camps along the river are like a small town,” Donald said. “And every single panner is like an old lady with nothing but her knitting to keep her occupied. We all keep an eye on each other, and it’s not just to see who the river is blessing with gifts, either. So, what happened?”
For a moment, Lawrence didn’t want to say anything. What had happened was between him and Duncan, and the last thing he wanted was to stir up trouble. What if someone called the Hub’s sheriff and Duncan was locked away for stealing? That would be all Lawrence’s fault. He couldn’t do that.
“It was nothing, just a dumb misunderstanding,” Lawrence said, trying to keep his tone light. The pause had been too long. Lawrence had taken too much time to answer, and Donald’s expression told him he knew anyway.
Lawrence sighed. “Duncan told you, huh?”
“Sure, he came over here three nights ago and wanted to talk,” Donald said. “He told me how he found that locket in his pan and that you said he ought to take it into Hub to the sheriff and see if anyone reported it missing.” The old man’s eyes were twinkling with mirth and incredulity.
“It might belong to someone. You never know,” Lawrence said, feeling defensive. He took a sip of his coffee and tried not to look as though he wanted to leave. “There might be a woman out there pining over the thing. Keeping it is wrong.”
Donald sighed. “You aren’t designed for this life, are you, Laurie?”
“What do you mean?” Lawrence asked.
Donald shifted, and a frown knitted his brow. “Well, I mean what I said. You have the wrong temperament, the wrong view of how things are done out here along the river. Whatever the river brings you is yours. That’s how it works here. Think about it. If it didn’t, then every time you pull a nugget from the muck, some bozo higher up could take it from you, saying it was his to begin with.”
“How? There would be no way to prove that the nugget was his,” Lawrence protested.
“True,” Donald said. “But there is no way to prove the owner of the locket either. There are no pictures inside it, no inscription on its back, nothing. It could have been bought at any jewelry store anywhere between here and New York City. Am I right?”
“Yes,” Lawrence conceded, seeing where Donald was going with this. “But I didn’t think it would hurt to ask.”
Donald nodded. “But you know Duncan, you know he’s special. You still thought staying on your high horse was a good idea? You’re his only real friend here, and you’re supposed to be taking care of him. Now he’s over there at his camp, alone and confused. What do you think will happen?”
Swallowing hard, Lawrence stood. “Thanks for the coffee,” he said, backing away, a sudden urgency filling him. “The beans are by the rest of your stores. I’ll see you later.”
“See ya,” Donald said, turning back to his panning.
Lawrence ran back to his camp. Donald was right. Duncan was special. He wasn’t stupid, but he was very slow, and that often made people who didn’t know him well think he was dumb. Duncan was quite smart. It just took his brain a while to process things. Lawrence knew all this, having grown up with Duncan, and despite that, he had left him to stew on his own for four days.
For four days, Lawrence had sat there on his side of the river thinking he was doing the right thing, being the moral one, when the code of ethics he was trying to enforce didn’t work here. What a dummy he’d been. Maybe everyone had been wrong all these years. Maybe Lawrence was the slow one.
No, he wasn’t. He knew that for a fact, and that was why it was so hard to admit when Duncan was right.
Well, he would go and make up for it now.
Heading downstream, Lawrence made his way across the river, hopping from stone to stone until he reached the other side. Spying Duncan’s pan in the water, he noticed that it hadn’t been moved from where he’d wedged it between a couple of rocks. It wasn’t even at the right angle to catch much. Surely, Duncan could see that.
Perhaps he could, but because of the fight with Lawrence, he might not care. That was a worse thought, and Lawrence hurried around the clump of bushes and trees to where his best friend’s camp was.
The tent was the same kind of white one Lawrence slept in. It and the fireplace, marked off with stones around it, were all that designated this as a campsite. There was no laundry on the line strung between two trees, no kettle on the tripod over the fire, and no boots beside the tent.
At first, Lawrence took this all in but didn’t understand what it meant until he pulled the tent flap back and peered inside. The cot was there, and the extra mining pan, Duncan’s fishing pole, and his toolbox were all there. What was missing were his clothes, his rucksack, and his food.
Duncan wasn’t there.
For a moment, Lawrence panicked. Where could his best friend have gone without telling him? Well, anywhere. They hadn’t been speaking to each other. Why had he left it this long to come over here? Pride, that was why, and now look. Duncan was gone.
Taking a couple of breaths, Lawrence went back outside and tried to think calmly about the situation. Duncan was a grown man. And a grown man needed supplies. It was likely that his friend had simply taken a walk into town.
Hub was half a day’s walk away. Perhaps, Duncan had left later than he intended, and so had taken his clothes and food with him to keep them safe from bears, raccoons, and other wild things that could wander into the tent while he was away. That would make sense.
Lawrence decided he would take some time and wait for his friend to get back. Taking off his boots, he waded out into the stream and began to catch the river’s gifts in Duncan’s sieve.
“A Match Of Wild Hearts” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Tilda Dalton’s heart is shattered when her brother passes away in a tragic accident. Her father abandons their family soon after, leaving Tilda and her mother to pick up the pieces of their broken lives. When a cryptic letter arrives, Tilda must confront her deepest fears and set out to find her father. Little does she know that her journey will lead her to Lawrence, a man with a heart of gold…
Will they find him in time, or is it too late for Tilda to discover true love along the way?
Lawrence Chaney is haunted by his past, tormented by memories of the tragedies that have befallen him. When his best friend goes missing, he embarks on a perilous quest to find him, hoping to put his demons to rest. Along the way, he meets Tilda, a brave and determined young woman who captivates his heart at once, despite the dangers that surround them…
Will he be able to confront his own fears and leave his traumatic past behind?
As Tilda and Lawrence follow the trail of clues, their love is tested at every turn. With each passing moment, their bond deepens, but they must decide how far they are willing to go to protect each other. Will their love be strong enough to withstand the challenges ahead? Can they run against the clock and uncover the truth before it’s too late?
“A Match Of Wild Hearts” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.