“Oh, my sweet Lord in the mornin’, you’ve got your nose stuck between the pages of a book
again? I vow, you’re gonna end up with printer’s ink etched permanently onto that pretty complexion of yours.”
“I’m busy, Heidi; go away.”
“No, come on, Anisa, put that ole thing aside and let’s go for a ride out to the creek. It’s a beautiful day and I’m just perishin’ for somethin’ to do.”
“Then, for heaven’s sake, go cut some collard greens out of the garden,” ordered Anisa, brushing off the plea as if she were flicking away a determined gnat. “Or help Mama bake those three rhubarb pies she’s planning. I’m right at the most exciting part, and I want to finish this chapter.”
“Aw, Anisa, I am truly bored right out of my mind, and you are no fun a’tall.”
A stamped foot in its soft leather slipper finally drew attention. With a martyred sigh, Anisa put down her novel and looked up, ready to do battle.
The freedom from scholarly responsibility on a lovely March Saturday was not to be sniffed at, while the luxury of reading for pure pleasure rather than necessity was lagniappe. Anisa Stein had brought her glass of lemonade, an extra fluffy pillow, and the newest edition by her favorite author out to the front porch’s wide wooden swing to enjoy a couple of hours to herself. Clearly, however, that was not to be.
“I really wanna ride my new filly,” Heidi went on. Tossing back her cascade of sun-bright curls as if she were in the company of some newly smitten suitor rather than a mere critical sister, she stamped her foot again. “And I can’t go out by myself again after—um—well, after what happened last time, you know. And Mama said.”
Mama said, Mama said, thought Anisa with a touch of exasperation. Much as she loved her sister, on occasion the girl played her role of sweet-talking flirtatious demoiselle with too much drama for anyone’s taste.
And Heidi’s most recent solitary adventure, guarded by no one, had involved a far-distant romp into the woods and an encounter with a hungry cougar, from whose claws and teeth she had barely escaped without harm. Now she was forbidden to ride out unless she were accompanied by someone with maturity. And a handy weapon.
Instead, Anisa suggested dryly, “Do refresh my memory, if you will, Heidi, as to your age.”
The girl poked her cute little nose into the air. “You know very well. I’m nineteen, but one year younger than you, so you don’t have to put on airs and act like you’re some evil-minded old spinster. Now, do come with me, Anisa, dear. Pretty please, with sugar and cream on it.”
A moment for consideration passed before Anisa conceded. “Very well. Just a half hour or so, then I’ll change. Will that suit?”
“Oh, Annie, you know it will!” A creature of mercurial moods, Heidi swooped down like a butterfly with powder-blue wings to embrace her sister. “Thank you, thank you. I’ll just run down to the stable and ask Buckwell to saddle our horses shortly.” And off she dashed.
During the respite, Anisa had intended to return to her book.
Instead, she looked up with a sigh of contentment to take in her surroundings.
The house itself at the Arrowhead Ranch was a sprawling, two-story affair. Built of limestone blocks and a green tile roof, its low welcoming front porch and wide upstairs veranda, supported by four strong cypress wood and block posts, stood open to the breezes. A wing on each side of the main building provided added—if not necessarily needed—living space, such as a spacious library-slash-men’s retreat, on one, and a summer kitchen, pantry, and work quarters on the other.
Baskets of bountiful ferns hung overhead, spilling out and down with gracious fronds; and lush gardens of greenery and wildflowers surrounded the entire front to edge the flagstone walk leading from roadway to house. A lush grove of Southern Red Spanish oak and sycamore stood all around, like sentinels. Dappled shade was provided by the profusion of leaves, and towering branches protected anyone beneath them from the worst of the summer sun’s heat.
Farther on stretched the rolling, munificent acres of land claimed and owned by the Hill Country ranch. Some parts fenced, some not, some open to the rambling curves and cliffs and shallows of Redbud River.
To Anisa, who carried with her far too many unhappy memories of her childhood before adoption into a wealthy family, this was the most beautiful spot in the world. An Eden. A Paradise. She had torn up every tenuous root of herself from that bleak Chicago Mission of Hope Orphan Home and, with patience and growing love provided by Walter and Cecily Stein, transferred her being to a new life, a new environment, a new location.
And a new sister.
When she arrived, in tow with her new parents, she found eight-year-old Heidi waiting for her.
Other than the privacy and the enjoyment of each residing in their own individual room, the two had been almost inseparable ever since. Heidi has felt no jealousy or anger at the change in status; she had seen only a playmate brought to the slightly lonely environs of the ranch, one with whom she could share, in whom she could confide.
Pretty, flirtatious Heidi thought of little more than how to squeeze the last ounce of amusement and pleasure from every moment. She was thrilled by any kind of ball or tea dance, with its endless supply of eager young males; she was charmed by any box social or church picnic, where those same males flitted and buzzed around her like bees to a honey pot. Her only goal for the present was merrymaking and entertainment—along with, of course, a bevy of suitable frivolous gowns which, lined up in her wardrobe, held all the colors of a flower garden. Her goal for the future was, quite honestly and with no bones about it, marriage.
Hence all those impetuous would-be suitors.
Miss Heidi Stein was a most marketable commodity.
Especially now, since that bloody conflagration known as the War Between the States was fifteen years in the past. Luckily, the ranch had escaped serious harm during those tumultuous years, and a new crop of boys had grown into manhood with little experience of what the earlier generation had suffered.
Anisa was made of sterner stuff, probably due to those nine years spent feeling alone and unloved in a dormitory full of similar lonely and unloved children. Some were bullies, as if that were their only way to fight back against the world; some were fearful and withdrawn, hiding from loud noise or the threat of a switching; some wore a mask of indifference, often the sign of supreme neglect.
Even then, she had realized how the extremely fortunate change of circumstances had affected her very existence. Possibly superstitiously fearing that any uncertainties would ruin the beneficial happenstance taking her away, she had never questioned the reason for her adoption by the Steins. She knew only that she would feel everlastingly grateful to them till the end of her days.
With a good, solid, safe family home as her support system, she could revel in the educational advantages now at her fingertips. Graduation from the local elementary and high school with honors had earned her enrollment at a small academy, from which, after two years, she had proudly emerged to take on the position of assistant at Chaseburg Public Library.
Which, in a town—a small city, actually—of nearly five thousand residents, was no mean accomplishment.
Rising now, Anisa yawned and luxuriously stretched dormant muscles.
She considered herself the most blessed of women.
She had been taken from a cold, clinical, sterile, frightening environment to one filled with love and caring, where she could flourish and develop her talents, in whichever direction she might choose.
The fact was that her personality, bolstered by all these pillars of wise guidance and encouragement, had developed into generosity of spirit, kindness and compassion, and a winsome sense of humor.
There was her appearance, as well.
From a skinny, gangly girl with freckles and reddish hair which had earned her the nickname of Ginger tossed about by teasing schoolmates, she had grown into a curvy young woman of impressive presence. The hair was a rich dark auburn, the color of copper, shining in the sun; the freckles had melded into a smooth, creamy complexion. The hue of her long-lashed eyes might have been taken straight from Mother Nature’s palette, combining the green of an Irish shamrock with a slightly darker shade of cypress, which predominated depending upon her mood.
It was true her moods did vary, but not to any great extent. She walked through life remarkably untroubled and unbothered by the little stresses which could upset the average person.
A hair-trigger temper was so often attributed to many redheads. Anisa, however, threw no conniption fit, engaged in few stormy arguments, crossed swords with no one undeserving of combat. Truly, an easygoing, equable outlook on life can be a great gift.
She could hear the foot stamp from here, on the shady veranda, all the way back to the kitchen.
“Anisa, are you about ready?”
Footsteps approached; the screen door’s hinges creaked and Heidi stood clucking her tongue like a metronome gone awry in the entranceway.
“Oh, have patience, sister, dear, I pray you. I’m just enjoying the beauty of the day.”
“My stars and garters, you can enjoy it just as much from the back of your mare as from here on the porch. Come along and change. This day is surely just a-wastin’ away!”
During their growing-up years, the sisters, happily congenial, had explored every inch of the Arrowhead. Walking, riding, taking the surrey where convenient, they had wandered through the barn and stable and every outbuilding on the place, climbed over corral fences, made friends with the bunkhouse dog and a few hand-fed calves, waded into and tumbled along the waters of Redbud River, hiked up trees and run races.
Along with ensuring attendance at the Chaseburg School, both Walter and Cecily Stein had encouraged their girls in physical activity, even that possibly considered unladylike by outsiders. Two hoydens, in other words, who could stick to feminine ways when necessary but disregard when preferred.
Now, as they took a well-worn trail to one of their favorite spots by the river, Heidi was crooning to her new filly, purchased as a gift for no reason at all.
“Lollipop,” she said, patting the butterscotch ears and the flossy mane. “Don’t you think that’s perfect, Nisa?”
Anisa, resting comfortably in the saddle of her own mare, laughed. “Just as perfect as all the other names you’ve chosen over the years. Many of which you didn’t even know the meaning.”
“Really? Such as?”
“Hmmm. Well. Let’s see.” Anisa pondered as they trundled along up a slight incline from the stable. “There was Euphoria, that stray dog who turned up when you were ten and continued living with us until he went on to his great reward.”
“Dear Euphoria,” murmured Heidi fondly.
“And then Magnesium. Remember, that heifer with the twisted horn?”
“Dear Magnesium.” She chuckled. “Imagine my bestowin’ these magnificent names right and left without havin’ a clue what I was doin’.”
“Well, I’ll never forget Controversy, our rooster who ruled over his harem of hens for a number of years. Actually, considering the crazy times we heard crowing from all around the house, I suppose the moniker fit.”
Sunlight peeped down upon them through scattered branches and leaves of grand live oak. It was certainly a warm enough day, a pleasant enough day, for late March, with spring just busting its buttons to display every color of wildflower known to man. As they reached the crest of hill, below which flowed the gurgling waters of Redbud River, Anisa paused the spritely steed appropriately named Dancer for her brown coat and four white stockings.
“Look, Heidi, there—the eagles. I wonder how many chicks they’ll be hatching soon.”
“Why don’t I ever see you with any beaux?” her sister asked out of the blue. Lollipop, already wise to the ways of her owner, had taken this brief opportunity to bend and begin cropping at a new and delicate type of grass.
“What? What are you talking about? I see men all the time. Just you follow me through the stacks of those library shelves sometime, sis, and you’ll notice that—”
“No.” Heidi loosened the strings of her hat and swatted at a mosquito determined upon its lunch. “No, I mean, a regular fellah who comes round on Saturday night to take you to dances, and on Sunday mornin’ to take you to church.”
Anisa sniffed. “I don’t notice you hooking up with any regular fellah. Hmmm? What about that?”
Smiling her usual dimpled, coquettish smile, Heidi smoothed her riding skirt. “Oh, honey, I’m not ready to hook up yet. Not permanent. I’m still just gettin’ a looksee around to see what all is available. Not gonna fall for the first good-lookin’ boy who comes my way.”
“Wise. Very wise. Then why should I?”
“But, Nisa, you hardly ever have an engagement,” Heidi protested with unexpected gravity. “I worry about you, I truly do. Now tell me, who is the gentleman who came callin’ to take you out somewhere—for a picnic dinner, maybe, or for a buggy ride? Huh? Did that ever happen?”
“Oh, please,” scoffed Anisa. “Now I must have the details of my social calendar approved by you?”
“It would be helpful. Maybe I can help you with that pesky ole problem of seemin’ to be a wallflower. But that ain’t as bad as bein’ an out and out ole maid.”
A trout suddenly leaped up from the glittering greenish-brown depths, did a back flip, and splashed back down into its shield of water. Recalled to the present from a subject which she preferred not to pursue, Anisa pondered the scene.
Yum. They really ought to bring fishing poles up here soon and see what kind of catch could be made. Fried trout, fried catfish, fried bass. With a side of deep-fried cornmeal. Now her mouth was watering for the taste of her mother’s culinary talents.
“Well? Gonna just ignore me?”
Dancer proved to be just as adroit as her name. Warned of some possible danger approaching, she daintily sidestepped, thus avoiding a form slithering away through fallen leaves which had clearly been caught as much by surprise as the humans above. Merely a mud snake, praises be, dangerous to no one, and seeking the aquatic depths from which it had come.
Leaning forward, with one forearm laid across the saddle horn, Anisa studied her sister. “I’ve always found that’s the best policy, when you take off on one of your rants. Why don’t you fill me in on your own love life, dear? I can’t recall catching a glimpse of the almighty Richard Brennan lately.”
“Oh, pooh, Richie.” Heidi pondered the state of her nails, freshly manicured just that morning. “It was fun while it lasted, but—well, the poor man just became so insistent on gettin’ serious. Wanted to give me a ring and set a date and everything. Well, Lordy, I don’t wanna be pinned down quite yet. So he took himself and his hurt feelin’s away.” She sighed, as if she were really concerned about her rejected suitor’s state of mind.
Anisa shook her head in wonderment. “Amazing. You treat all these hopeful swains with such disdain; you practically wipe your feet on their nice clean suits, like a doormat. And yet they always come crawling back for more. I don’t know how you do it.”
Grinning, bright blue eyes alight with mischief, Heidi brushed that aside. “Oh, fiddlesticks. I reckon the talent to flirt is bred into every Southern girl who’s ever lived. One that you, poor unemotional Northerner, just can’t achieve, no matter how many times I’ve tried teachin’ you.”
The two—one adopted, one not—couldn’t have been closer or more compatible had they been natural-born siblings. Still, the younger sister often teased the elder about family heritage and culture, and the elder teased right back. Neither took offense.
“You need a pastime, dear. Something worthwhile to do, other than keeping your many beaux hanging on a line somewhere until you’re ready to take one down for use.”
Lollipop, bit jingling, moved gracefully closer to a new enticing patch of greenery.
“Oh, shoot. Don’t I already know how to cook and bake? Hasn’t Mama taught both of us how to run a household? What more pastime do I need, anyway, other than to prepare myself to be a wife and mother? After I decide upon the perfect man who can support me in the style I got now, that is.”
The ranch was large enough, important enough, wealthy enough, to support some half a dozen cowhands, a cook for the bunkhouse crew, and a married couple with their own separate residence to help out with the heavier laundry chores and housework. Still, both daughters having been raised under the family tradition of sharing work and responsibility, they were well-versed in displaying culinary skills and practicing the art of sweeping tiny Texas critters from indoors back out to their native habitat.
So Heidi’s was not an idle boast.
She was merely finding more entertaining diversions to fill her time, that was all.
“Well, you’re bein’ awful cagey,” was Heidi’s opinion, as she tugged the filly away from her meal and back onto the trail. “Not a single fellah around that you’re interested in, a’tall?”
“I haven’t found one yet. Nor am I in any rush to do so. Heidi, suddenly I find that I have quite an appetite. Let’s go see what Mama has been fixing for dinner. And how we can help her.”
“Mr. Strong? Mr. Connor Strong?”
“Yeah, that’s me. Somethin’ I can help you with, sir?”
“Actually,” said the man, with a thin smile, “it’s more what I can help you with. I wonder if I might have a few words with you, after the service.”
Connor shrugged one shoulder in the expensive black wool suit coat which had blown his budget all to pieces. Still, with so few opportunities to honor the old man, on this last day of all days, it had seemed only right that he conduct himself with dignity and a formal appearance for the mourners gathering inside Bethel Bible Church, here at the edge of Hollytree, Oklahoma.
“Sure, I can do that. You got a name?”
“Sorry. I tend to forget that you’re not a local who would automatically know my identity. I’m Dermot Englewood, Mr. Strong, and I’d be much obliged if you could join me in my office later. Just across the street—there, see?”
Squinting against the glare of sunshine, Connor glanced at the plate glass window’s gold lettering in the building situated on the opposite corner curb. Dermot Englewood, Attorney at Law. A lawyer. Fire and brimstone. During his career, he’d run into too many lawyers—some good, most bad. Looked to be another one about to gum up the works.
“I see.” Connor’s voice was held quiet and still, just as he held himself. No point in getting riled up before he could find out what was going on. “All right, sir. I’ll be there.”
“Fine. I look forward to it.” The man reached out for a brief handshake, offered another small smile, and turned toward the door.
The sound of reed organ music being softly played from the candle-lit interior drifted out to where he stood on the veranda. In consult with the mortician, he had made arrangements for the best of everything: silk-lined mahogany casket, a bevy of fresh fragrant flowers, the wake afterward with plenty of food and drink to send Charlie Bishop off in the style which he deserved.
One thing he couldn’t single-handedly arrange was the weather, but even that was cooperating as if he had placed a personal order with the Almighty. A clear blue cloudless sky, a temperature in the low sixties, and some balmy breezes blowing in off the prairie—just the way Charlie preferred. He had always hated rain and cold, claiming inclement conditions fired up his rheumatiz somethin’ fierce, to the boozing point.
Connor, standing alone for a few minutes to gaze unseeingly down the empty street, smiled sadly.
After stumbling painfully through a life no decent human being would wish upon another, he had been fortunate enough to come across a decent man, an honorable man, a caring man, who had provided more love and guidance than Connor had ever known from a single person. Charlie had taken him in, taught him every aspect of the business he himself had founded and built up, served as mentor to a young mind soaking up knowledge like a sponge.
Brushing a little dried-up leaf off his well-pressed trousers, he ran his fingers through an unruly thatch of sandy blond curls, which defied any sort of grooming, and cast his memory back to their first morning of meeting, he and Charlie. Each studying the other as far as stance and personality, sizing up, judging and assessing. A mutual observation, and, after a bit, a mutual decision.
“If you’re applyin’ for the position I got open, then I reckon you’re hired, son,” Charlie had informed him.
Once, much later, Connor had asked about why such instant acceptance—he who had had so little, and usually none at all.
“I liked what I saw,” said his new boss without a second’s hesitation. “Good steady look to you, good firm handshake. Figured right off the bat you were the man I was lookin’ for to fit the job.”
The job he’d fit, those three years now gone into the past, was that of a bounty hunter.
Horse thieves, cattle thieves, railway thieves, bank thieves; murderers and con men and kidnappers; petty criminals and mob bosses: Connor had hunted them all. Some had beat it out of town before a formal charge and arrest. Some had jumped bail. A few had escaped the clutches of courthouse and jail. No matter. On Connor’s watch, a good percentage of these miscreants had been caught and returned for justice. Several had been wounded, resisting arrest. One or two had been killed in the line of duty.
Connor, with his tall, muscular, well-framed physique and azure eyes the color of a mellow June sky, didn’t appear to be more to the average observer than a typical workman. A cowboy, perhaps, or a day laborer at the brick yard. Simply dressed, possibly even simple-minded.
That was his persona. Not one of a dreaded gunslinger, all in black from boots to hat, bent on mayhem just for the fun of it. Yet, he carried a Winchester rifle, a Colt .44, and a sharp Bowie knife, and he was skilled in their use. His travels for Charlie, pursuing the bad men (and, rarely, a woman)—and for Bishop’s Bounty—had taken him hundreds of miles, crisscrossing the Southwest. He was capable, qualified, and determined, and he rarely returned without his quarry in tow.
Music for the funeral service continued wafting out from inside the church, pulling him back to the present. Blessed Assurance now, if he weren’t mistaken. Earlier selections had included Rescue the Perishing and Safe in the Arms of Jesus. Not exactly within Charlie’s range, who, irregular attendee that he was, would probably have preferred something like Jennie, the Flower of Kildare, or some old drinking song offered by his favorite bar girl in his favorite saloon.
No matter. All of this was just trapping, anyway, to send the old feller on his way.
He’d raise a glass to Charlie later, in private, and wish him Godspeed.
Then he’d plan his life forward, once again alone and bereft.
For right now, though, he’d better return to the services. He had a eulogy to give.
* * * * *
“I’m sure Charlie would’ve appreciated those fine words you spoke for him,” commented Mr. Englewood a few hours later. “Got him all settled in his final resting place, did you?”
“A nice shady spot at Chapel Hill,” assented Connor, as he took the offered chair. “Close enough to the gate that his spirit can make a getaway over to the Whiskey Keg Saloon whenever he feels a thirst comin’ on.”
The attorney chuckled. “Can’t exactly see that happening, but I guess you never know. Want some coffee?”
Connor, settling in, pulled a rueful grin. “Thanks, I’d appreciate that. Had a mite too many shots at the Keg myself durin’ the wake. Everybody raisin’ a glass to Charlie, God bless his soul.”
“Not surprising. He and his agency have always been a real asset to this town. Cream? Sugar?” He was already pouring two cups full from the pot on the stove.
“Neither—just black. Ah.” A full, grateful sip of the blistering hot stuff, and then another. “Well, then. So you asked for a meetin’. Reckon there must be somethin’ goin’ on as far as the business. Charlie mentioned once or twice the idea he had of sellin’ it, but—”
“No. No plans for selling. Giving.”
“Huh.” Connor glanced up with a frown. “Gonna give it away, is that what you’re tellin’ me?”
“That’s exactly what I’m telling you, Mr. Strong.” With a smug smile of satisfaction, Englewood tipped back in his chair and paused a beat for greater effect. Had he been wearing a giant curlicue mustache, he would have been twirling the ends. “To you.”
“To me!” Connor’s square jaw dropped. “To me? Are you sure?”
“I do believe so, since I was the one who wrote up the will. He leaves everything to you, lock, stock, and barrel: the building, the entire firm and all its assets, plus all personal effects, which includes his residence—quite a nice residence, by the way—completely furnished, property, the stable, horses, and so on.”
Still dazed, Connor swallowed hard and smoothed the fingers of one hand around the brim of his black hat. True, he had felt an unusual kinship with Charlie Bishop, and the two had shared a mutual respect and dedication to duty. But with only a three-year tenure in the agency, Connor was at a loss to understand why someone of greater merit, of greater worth than he, had not received this substantial legacy.
“This can’t be right. You mean there ain’t nobody—”
The attorney, his steady gaze enrapt while all this mulling took place, slowly shook his head. “Not a soul. As you know, Charlie had no wife, no children—not even one on the wrong side of the blanket, if you get my drift. No, Mr. Strong, you get the whole kit and caboodle.”
Late afternoon sunshine slanted through the plate glass window to lay gold bars across the floor. The office seemed almost cozy, on this Monday when Connor had, with great sorrow and misgivings, put his dearest—almost his only—friend into the welcoming earth.
Charlie had died suddenly and peacefully, according to the town doctor, when his valiant heart had given out. But first he had done this great deed, this munificent generous deed, for the man he treated like a son. He had executed his Last Will and Testament, and bequeathed his worldly possessions to one who had been born and raised in the meanest of surroundings.
Although this particular time in this particular place was really not the appropriate moment to reminisce, Connor was involuntarily drawn back, in a whirl of conflicting emotions, to the first twelve years of his miserable life.
“Mission of Hope Orphan Home” sounded so benevolent. So charitable. So optimistic. And perhaps, when the place had been founded at the turn of the century from 1799 to 1800, the place had begun its avocation with lofty ideals. Dedicated to the plan of taking in foundling children and providing shelter, food, clothing, and education for as long as was necessary, supported by a whole coalition of parish churches, somewhere along the way the noble purpose weakened and died as the funds dried up.
By the time Connor Strong, a mewling, red-faced infant abandoned in the sacristy of St. Vincent’s Cathedral, had been accepted into the ever-increasing group of orphans, conditions had become stringent. Austere, even. As the coffers gradually emptied, the discipline grew ever more harsh and severe, meted out by unsympathetic black-robed instructors and hard-eyed nuns. Especially to the boys, the ungrateful little mongrels—either bullies born with dark hearts or sniveling cowards who hid in corners or snitches who tattled on others in the hope of gaining some advantage with figures of authority.
As involuntary witness to most of these distressing scenes, Connor had, early on, mastered the art of supreme indifference—a cool mask which concealed his true feelings. At first, the thugs—which included not only some of the bigger, tougher students, but also management officials—tried to break him down, occasionally succeeding. Eventually, having lost in their attempts to his will power, they left him alone.
Students—or inmates, as Connor had considered himself—were naturally separated by gender in the dormitories and by age in various classes. He couldn’t help noticing one of the girls, whose reddish hair always garnered her an unfair amount of teasing and cruelty. Her looks were not only unusual, but her fighting spirit roused in him a sense of protection.
After a while, he forsook his own small gang to range somewhere within her immediate vicinity, wherever she happened to be. He would not give the bullies the satisfaction of knowing they could get to him by getting to her, but he had done his best to steer her clear of their sly taunts and sneaky physical abuse—pinches or pushes or deliberate tumbles caused by one outstretched foot.
Grateful, the girl had extended a shy smile and the bloom of friendship.
They were just getting fully acquainted, and expanding upon that friendship, when, to his chagrin, she disappeared.
Adopted, the rumor spread quickly through the school. Lucky, was the expected response.
By his twelfth birthday (unannounced and uncelebrated), Connor had considered the best way to escape the Mission of Hope and get out into the world on his own. Surely whatever struggle that might entail could be no worse than this miserable existence, could it?
Suffering all the privations, the piercing cold of a long-antiquated stone building, the mistreatment, a situation which had grown worse over the years, and the utter lack of actual caretaking, the boy had reached the limit of his endurance.
Clearly, in the opinion of whatever puppets of the ruling class managed operations, all of these youngsters were just unwanted pieces of merchandise, anyway. The only reason most of them survived such limited rations of food and welfare was to enter the work force at an acceptable age—under the auspices of the place’s power structure—with wages being sent back to the Mission hierarchy.
Night after night, in his cot using the one flat shapeless pillow each child was allotted, and one threadbare blanket, he laid his schemes carefully, from the moment he could slip away from whatever outdoor chores had been arranged to wherever he could vanish for a suitable cooling-off period.
Fate had other plans in store.
Cosmo and Patricia Black, a well-dressed and quiet-spoken couple in their mid-forties, had appeared to look over the stock of potential adoptees at the orphanage. Parents of three sons, the Blacks explained that their youngest son had recently died, and they were feeling their bereavement so deeply that it seemed the emptiness could be best filled by taking in a homeless boy.
Not the best of reasons, by any means.
And Connor, even at the age of twelve, could sense that all was not right in the realm of these people. In other words, something looked and smelled fishy.
However, he was given no choice. After an informal adoption ceremony which involved signatures and official documents and a pen which leaked ink, he was ordered to pack his meager belongings and go.
“Mr. Strong? Ah—Mr. Strong?”
The attorney’s puzzled voice recalled him to the present, the office, and the business at hand.
Again, Connor shook his head slightly, clearing away the cobweb of old painful memories which, infuriatingly, returned so often to upset his equilibrium like buzzing gnats.
“Yes, sir. I apologize. Just woolgatherin’ a mite, into the past. You were sayin’—?”
“Well, first let me make sure that you’ve accepted the terms of the will as I’ve explained to you. Naturally, this is all quite new to you, but I am here to help you through whatever pitfalls might arise.”
“Pitfalls?” Connor’s ears almost visibly pricked forward.
“No, no, poor choice of words.” Englewood’s hand described a small wave, brushing away any possible incidentals. “There should be none facing you. I meant more as far as any legal entanglements. Whether you keep or sell the business and the building, the residence, etc. Big decisions to make, sir.”
Frowning in concentration, Connor could surely agree with that.
“You can certainly mull over all of this at your leisure. Judging by the financial records alone, you have come into a great deal of wealth, Mr. Strong. Why don’t you think about things overnight, and then come back to see me tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow?” His expression was one of near-horror. “Again? That soon?”
The attorney enjoyed a small hearty laugh. “Ah. One of the non-believers. I see that I must prove not all lawyers are shysters and con artists out for blood money.”
Connor looked unconvinced. In his experience, the majority outweighed the minority—and not favorably.
Still laughing, Englewood rose, and Connor, hat in hand, followed suit. Both reached out for a firm shake of farewell. “You’ll have some documents to sign, lots more to go over and consider, and arrangements to take care of. And, now that you are a man of substance, I would also recommend we put together your own will. Just in case.”
“Ahuh. Just in case. Wise.”
“Stop by about noon tomorrow. We’ll go have some dinner together and get acquainted, and then we can return here to discuss those pesky business details.”
Pausing at the door, Connor turned for one last remark. “I can do that, sir. But, once we’re settled, I gotta be on the move. Charlie and me, we signed on a week ago to get to work findin’ a lawbreaker and bringin’ him to justice. Traced a clear trail as to where the feller took off and ended up, so I need to make a trip down t’ords Chaseburg, in Texas.”
“Drawn To His Mysterious Heart” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
After being adopted at a young age, Anisa has been welcomed into a warm and loving family. She shares an intimate relationship with her sister, despite their very different personalities, and she feels fulfilled with her work at the Chaseburg Public Library. Her world turns upside down though, when a young man named Connor happens to stop by, catching Anisa’s attention right away…
Why does she find him so oddly familiar?
Connor Strong had been raised by criminals who forced him to participate in their gang’s nefarious schemes until he managed to escape and become a bounty hunter. Eventually, his pursuit of a killer leads him to Chaseburg, and, coincidentally, Anisa…Connor finds himself captivated by her striking beauty, especially her coppery red hair which evokes a memory from the past…
What might be the vague connection that binds them?
As soon as Anisa and Connor have a chance to get closer, they are faced with obstacles that threaten to separate them. Can a newfound love overpower the hostile factors in the present to form a solid foundation for the future?
“Drawn To His Mysterious Heart” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.