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|Lacy Butler is graced with the gift of healing. She can save strangers-even those undeserving-yet fails to save her mother. Rejecting her gift, God, and society, she's content to live alone high above the mining town of Harperville. But her solitude is shattered when Royce Darnell builds a water flume through the middle of her mountain. To protect her sanctuary, Lacy sabotages his efforts. Little does she expect Royce to track her through a blizzard and end up half frozen to death on her doorstep. She can heal him, but why should she when he threatens to steal her peace...and her heart? With the livelihood of the miners and their families depending on his project, Royce refuses to stop building, no matter how good the reason or how lovely the masked saboteur turns out to be. Besides, he's convinced God wants Lacy to use her gift for good and not to hole up in her cabin like a reticent recluse afraid of human contact. But first, she must learn to trust, and Lacy doesn't trust anyone, not Royce and especially not God. Soon Royce finds himself in a battle to save the two things he loves the most-Harperville and Lacy. Is his faith strong enough to save them both?|
In Stock: 100
Author: ( Tanya Stowe )
High California Sierras 1861
Royce Darnell stared at Stumpy McPherson from beneath the brow of his tan felt hat. â€śAre you sure you secured the chuck wagon last night?â€ť
The older man nodded before he sent a stream of brown spittle across the snow. â€śIâ€™m sure.â€ť He wiped at the corner of his mouth where his white beard was stained brown. â€śThere ainâ€™t no way them raccoons couldâ€™ve got to the food. Someone had to open it up.â€ť
Royce looked up at the gray, pre-dawn sky. â€śHow much food can you salvage?â€ť
â€śEnough for breakfast and thatâ€™s it.â€ť
Royce brushed past Stumpy, headed up the hill to the chuck wagon. As he got close, the odor of coffee and sorghum carried. Even before he saw the damage, he could smell the havoc created by the raiding raccoons. Sugar, flour, and beans were strewn across the muddied snow.
Stumpy gestured to a tin of lard, resting in a pile of dead pine cones. â€śThatâ€™s about the only thing they didnâ€™t eat. That and my chaw of tobacco.â€ť
Royce stooped to examine the small tracks trampled into the dirty snow. They led in a clear path straight to the trees. â€śHow did you secure the wagon?â€ť
â€śI tied it with ropes and knots a man couldnâ€™t undo.â€ť
â€śWhere are the ropes now?â€ť
â€śDisappeared. Ainâ€™t no sign of them. I expect if heâ€™d left them, weâ€™d seen they were cut.â€ť
Royceâ€™s jaw tightened. Three incidents in three weeks. Someone was determined to drive Royce and his men away from this area of the mountain. He glanced up to see the same certainty in Stumpyâ€™s eyes. â€śThereâ€™s got to be tracks somewhere.â€ť
â€śI already looked. There ainâ€™t nothinâ€™.â€ť
â€śStumpy, this isnâ€™t the work of Indian ghosts.â€ť
Royce and his crew had been building a water flume up the mountain for almost two months. The incidents hadnâ€™t started until they had reached this exact spot, close to the ancient burial ground. The mystery and location had sparked rumors of a haunting.
â€śDid I say it was ghosts?â€ť Stumpy asked. â€śIâ€™m just repeatinâ€™ what some of the men say.â€ť
â€śWell, donâ€™t repeat it. It only gives it credence and thatâ€™s what our vandal wants. Heâ€™s watched our movements for a while. It isnâ€™t coincidence that he waited till we got close to the burial ground to stage his little scenes.â€ť
Royce made a circuit around the wagon. With his gaze glued to the snow, he followed the prints into the dark shadows of the thick timber. He found a piece of raw bacon at the base of a trunk. Leftover biscuit crumbs were trampled by the well-defined prints of a deer.
â€śWhatâ€™d I tell you?â€ť Stumpy pointed to the tiny prints. â€śAinâ€™t nothinâ€™ but raccoons.â€ť
â€śAnd deer.â€ť Something about the tracks bothered Royce. He turned back for a second look. The pointed hoof marks danced in a circle before they led off in a different direction. Royce followed the deer trail, wondering why the tracks were so blurred. Suddenly, he saw a flat rounded print. He hurried forward and found another and another, all trampled by the deer tracks. A few feet further on, almost obliterated by a flurry of pointed hooves, he saw the print of a boot. He outlined the print with his fingers.
No doubt. A man, walking on the balls of his feet, used the animal tracks to hide his prints. Every few steps he grew tired and his heel came down in a well-defined mark.
Stumpy shook his head. â€śI canâ€™t believe I missed that.â€ť
â€śBelieve it. Our intruder is one clever fellow.â€ť
â€śHe sure has gone to a lot of trouble to throw us off and slow us down. I just canâ€™t understand why,â€ť Stumpy said.
â€śMaybe he doesnâ€™t want to slow us down. Maybe he wants to stop us completely. Do the Harpers have any enemies?â€ť
Stumpy made a rude sound. â€śIâ€™m sure they do. Sam and Joe Harper struck it big in the rush oâ€™ forty-nine. Harperville grew up around their claim. You donâ€™t get rich and have a town named after you without makinâ€™ some enemies.â€ť
Royce frowned. â€śItâ€™s been two years since I took over the management of the Golden Rose Mine, Stumpy. One hundred men and their families depend on the Rose for their living, not to mention the shopkeepers, hotel owners, and other businesses in town. Theyâ€™re counting on me to keep it running.â€ť
â€śWell, I reckon thatâ€™s why the Harpers hired you with that new-fangled degree in mining. They wanted answers to the Roseâ€™s problems. Now they got them.â€ť
â€śCould be some people arenâ€™t happy with my solution,â€ť Royce said, his gaze fixed on the animal prints.
Stumpy studied the trail then looked back at Royce. â€śNow why in the world would someone want to stop us from buildinâ€™ the flume?â€ť
â€śSome folks donâ€™t want hydraulics in Harperville, Stumpy. They say itâ€™s too risky. But itâ€™s the quickest way I know to get the Rose back on her feet and keep this town running smoothly.â€ť
â€śSo now youâ€™re thinkinâ€™ our midnight visitor is a new enemy not an old one,â€ť Stumpy said.
â€śI donâ€™t know what to think,â€ť Royce said as he crouched down to study the trail again. â€śThe only thing I know for sure is that we have a very clever adversary with a definite plan.â€ť His gaze traced the trail through the woods until it disappeared over a rise.
â€śAnd I need some time to figure out what that plan is,â€ť he said.
He rose to his full height. â€śGo on back to camp and get the men to work. Put a stop to the rumors about ghosts, but donâ€™t mention the boot prints. Tell them we found raccoons. And send Jonah Willard to Harperville for supplies. That should keep him from stirring up trouble. Iâ€™m going to track this man for a while and see what heâ€™s about.â€ť
â€śWhat do you want me to tell the men youâ€™re doinâ€™?â€ť
He took the rifle from Stumpyâ€™s hands. â€śTell them Iâ€™ve gone raccoon hunting.â€ť
Stumpy frowned. â€śBe careful. Thereâ€™s a storm cominâ€™.â€ť
Royce looked up at the gray sky. â€śThe sun isnâ€™t even up. How do you know?â€ť
â€śTwenty years in these mountains, thatâ€™s how I know. Weatherâ€™s fickle this time of year. It ainâ€™t wise for a fella to be traipsinâ€™ off on his own.â€ť
â€śI wonâ€™t be on my own. Our midnight visitor will be out there, too.â€ť
â€śJust be careful.â€ť
â€śDonâ€™t worry about me. Worry about getting the men back to work.â€ť
Royce waved and left Stumpy behind, his gaze focused on the tracks. The trail cut south along a rocky ridge of the mountain. Royce straddled logs when he would have gone around and skirted clearings he would have crossed.
This fellow was more than clever. He was downright inventive. Royce wondered more and more, what the man had in mind, especially after his trail turned. The man headed higher onto the mountain, not towards town.
The sun came up. True to Stumpyâ€™s prediction, a storm came with it. Dark clouds billowed overhead and the wind began to blow. Royce pulled up the collar of his jacket and hunkered down, certain that if he didnâ€™t find something soon, heâ€™d have to turn back.
He began to climb. His breath came hard and heavy. Just when he thought heâ€™d reached the end of his strength, he came to a clearing. A winter avalanche or a spring mudslide had swept away the timber in front of him, exposing a wide expanse of the mountainside.
Royce glanced down the mountain, across the half-mile slope, and saw a dark-coated figure enter the forest. He almost shouted out loud. Then the figure disappeared so quickly Royce wasnâ€™t even sure heâ€™d seen it. He scanned the hillside for a trail across the snowy expanse but found none.
Just when he was sure heâ€™d been mistaken, a fawn jumped out of the trees, bounded across the snow and darted back inside the tree line.
No mistake! Heâ€™d just caught a glimpse of the midnight visitor and his fawn. â€śIâ€™ve got you now,â€ť he said out loud as he hurried down the hill.
The intruder knew this mountain better than Royce. If heâ€™d gone around the slide area, Royce would do the same. He turned away from the open area and set off at a run, skirting the clearing, darting in and out of trees until he came to where heâ€™d seen the deer. Out of breath, he bent over his knees and studied the trail. Sure enough, the boots were marked over with deer tracks.
Re-energized, Royce ran ahead. He couldnâ€™t be more than twenty minutes behind the fellow now. If he continued to run, he had a good chance to catch him.
At one point, Royce followed the deer trail for a half a mile before he realized heâ€™d lost the boot prints. The man and deer had separated. Disgusted with his carelessness, Royce slammed his gloved palm against a tree and doubled back.
The wind began to blow icy gusts. Royce tightened his jacket and pulled down his hat. He entered another thick stand of trees and the darkness seemed to swallow him with glacial emptiness.
Soft, silent flakes fell into that emptiness. He could no longer ignore the dark billowing clouds overhead. The winter storm had grown, swift, silent, and lethal.
Royce leaned against a tree to catch his breath and looked up, thinking of his men. Work had surely stopped to prepare for the storm. It wouldnâ€™t be easy. Their camp consisted of four canvas tents, and one wooden lean-to.
He wouldnâ€™t even have that.
As he leaned against the tree, he felt a tremor of doubt. He hadnâ€™t meant to come this far. Stumpy had warned him to be careful, but with his quarry so close, heâ€™d lost his usual caution and all track of time. Had he just made a fatal mistake?
He closed his eyes against the flakes. White silence surrounded him and he began to pray for the first time that day. An answer came almost immediately.
The Harpers had found him a thousand miles away. Heâ€™d left his family in the East and all he loved because of his certainty that God had a plan for him in the West. He was certain God did not intend for him to die in a cold, empty forest on the side of a mountain.
With new determination, he focused his gaze on the trail and gritted his teeth. This man was headed to shelter. If Royce found him, he would find safety.
He set out again. The snow fell faster. A thick veil hid the tracks. He came to a clearing. A gust of wind knocked him back. He bent lower, fixed his eyes on the tracks, and staggered forward, each step a battle for power.
He began to sweat beneath his heavy leather coat...a bad sign. He would freeze from the inside out if he didnâ€™t find shelter. He gripped his rifle and focused on the tracks. He couldnâ€™t lose the trail now.
The temperature dropped. Snow crunched beneath his feet. Icy flurries cut at his eyes. His breath froze on his beard and mustache. He couldnâ€™t feel his fingers or his toes.
He came to a ridge along a steep slope. Cautiously, he crept over the narrow, ice-coated path one step at a time, battling the wind all the way.
Suddenly, a fawn lunged across the path and skidded down the hill. Royce stumbled back. His boot struck a rock. He tumbled sideways before he hit the frozen ground and rolled down the icy incline, gaining speed. He made a grab for a slender tree. Pine needles slapped his face with wet snow. Something hard slammed into the back of his head and everything went black.
Pain. Sharp, shooting pain in his head brought Royce to consciousness. He was still sliding over the ground, still falling down the incline!
He willed his muscles to respond as he grabbed for a branch. He clutched the branch. Sharp pains shot up his arm, but he stopped his fall.
Mercifully, he closed his eyes again, only to open them as something pounded on his hand. He forced his eyes open and stared into the face of a man with a hat and a muffler wrapped around his mouth.
â€śLet go!â€ť The man bellowed over the wind. Royce blinked against the snow dropping into his face.
â€śFalling...â€ť The skin of his lips cracked and tore as he tried to talk.
â€śYou werenâ€™t falling! I was dragging you.â€ť
Royce could barely hear the man over the wind.
â€śYou have to walk. I canâ€™t do this anymore.â€ť
The man shoved Royce to his side. He thought he knew what the man wanted, but he couldnâ€™t seem to make his muscles work. Everything was numb, as if his body was asleep.
The man pushed and pulled Royce to his feet before he tugged Royceâ€™s arm over his shoulder. Groggily, Royce tried to focus on his feet. He had to keep them beneath him. He knew that. Survival was important. He had a job to do.
Heâ€™d been following a trail, following the boots, the small boots. As his eyes focused on his feet, he saw the shoes beside his. They were small.
Something clicked in Royceâ€™s mind and sank deep into his thoughts. But before he could react, they came to a cabin. The little man pushed him through the door. Sudden warmth rushed over Royce. His skin tingled and his brain flashed red hot with anguish. He groaned.
â€śDonâ€™t pass out on me, yet,â€ť the little man commanded through the muffler. He slid a chair behind Royce and eased him into it. Royce flopped backwards and his head lolled.
â€śWake up.â€ť He grasped Royceâ€™s coat and slapped his cheeks. â€śI canâ€™t do this myself.â€ť
Royceâ€™s eyes flew open.
â€śLift your arm.â€ť
Royce obeyed, but all the while, his mind focused on one thing. This man, with the hat and muffler wrapped around his face, was his man, his midnight intruder. He knew that as surely as he knew his head hurt.
Slowly, he leaned to the side and his eyes closed.
His rescuer jerked him forward and slapped him again. â€śThese have to come off.â€ť
Royce nodded as he shoved at his pants and long johns. When they were off, the cabinâ€™s owner threw a blanket over his body.
â€śNow you can lie down.â€ť Royce half slid out of the chair onto a pile of pelts and blankets beside him.
The sudden comfort overwhelmed him. He wanted to close his eyes and slip away.
But his blurry gaze focused on his rescuer as he unwrapped the muffler. He wantedâ€¦needed to see this manâ€™s face, the man who had saved his life. He forced himself to watch as he pulled off the floppy gray hat.
Royce blinked. His foggy mind was playing tricks on him. A long, golden braid fell from beneath the hat and lay across the manâ€™s shoulder. He slipped off the coat and beneath was the slender shape of a woman.
His man...his midnight visitor, was a woman! Shock filled Royceâ€™s mind, and his head flopped senselessly sideways.1
Tanya Stowe has written for the real estate industry, television, publicity firms and national publications.Â Her first novel, a time-travel adventure, Time's Embrace, was released in the United States in 1993 and internationally released in 1995.Â Tanya has held eclectic positions, doing market research, arts education at a performing arts center and for the American Cancer Society.Â Most recently, Tanya contributed to a collection of women's survival stories titled, Triumph! The Beautiful Face of Courage and collaborated on her first full-length play, a Christmas musical titled, The Night Before Christmas.
Tanya has been married to her high school sweetheart for thirty-seven years which is a romance story in itself.Â They live in California on the edge of the Mojave Desert where they help their four children raise their seventeen grandchildren.Â She says they're building a dynasty of Christian soldiers and improving the world, one baby at a time!
Visit Tanya at www.TanyaStowe.comÂ and www.creativewritingforces.blogspot.com
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