Loren lifted the sheet and attached it to the clothesline with a clip, stretching the rest of the sheet out so it would catch good wind and sun to dry off. Her mind was calm and clear. Her heart was happy.
Loren Ann McCarthy was born at 12:01 am on December 31st, 1880. She would turn twenty years old in four months, at the turn of the century. Her hometown of Bridgestone, Arizona, was planning a huge party. Loren expected even the children would be allowed to stay up and celebrate as the new century marched in and everyone showered her with birthday wishes.
She smiled as she reached into the basket for another sheet to hang on the line. Her mother, bless her heart, was never able to keep a secret. As soon as she found out what their neighbors were planning, she told Loren. It wasn’t that Loren didn’t like surprises. She didn’t mind them at all. But she was glad her mother had told her about the plans their friends were making. That way, she didn’t plan anything herself.
Loren was just a baby when her father died. Her mother had been her rock every day of her life that she could remember. She’d never asked what the man died of. It was just an illness, her mother said, and never gave any more details. Loren didn’t probe into it. The subject still made her ma sad and she didn’t like it when that happened. She certainly didn’t want to be the cause of it.
Aubrey McCarthy was a woman of forty-two who could easily pass as Loren’s older sister. The two were practically inseparable, something Loren treasured with all her heart. Aubrey had been the proper disciplinarian for her well-behaved daughter but they were friends as well as mother and daughter. They enjoyed many of the same things, had the same taste in food and entertainment, and generally got along like two peas in a pod.
Loren returned to the basket once more, a jolt of excitement for the birthday party sliding through her. It was months away but she couldn’t help thinking everything was going to be different when the new century turned over. She had plenty to look forward to. Someday she would find the right man and they would marry and have children and she would have a family. Until then, though, she was training to become a teacher.
At nineteen, Loren was tall, slender, and beautiful. There was no shortage of men pining after her, especially those who went through Arizona to get to California, where there was supposed to be a gold rush going on, though Loren had stopped paying attention to that news almost immediately. It didn’t interest her what was going on in California and her mother said the true gold rush was over and now there were only trickles coming down the mountain. She didn’t mean that literally, she told Loren. It was meant figuratively.
Aubrey stayed on top of all things news-worthy, including political debates, even though she was unable to have a say in anything. She was determined to get her thoughts out there and had spent much of Loren’s teen years vying for her articles to be published in the newspaper.
Mr. Nelson, who owned and operated the Bridgestone Gazette, was a friend of Loren’s mother and had agreed to publish quite a few of Aubrey’s writings. But her mother’s knowledge, foresight, and intelligence never went past the citizens of Bridgestone, unless a friend sent a clipping of her article to someone somewhere else. If that happened, it didn’t make a particular wave and never reached anyone of importance.
But in Bridgestone, Aubrey was regarded as one of the great minds of the century.
And Loren was extremely proud of that fact.
When the laundry was hung and the basket sat empty on the ground next to her, Loren folded her arms over her chest and peered out at the horizon, her blue eyes narrow. It was a beautiful autumn day. She had plans for the afternoon to go into Bridgestone, meet her friends for a nice lunch at the restaurant and see the play that was being put on at the community building by a group of traveling actors. It was probably Shakespeare. That’s what the acting troupes usually did. But she was hoping it was something more modern, something that had been written by someone who had been alive in the last hundred years.
She closed her eyes and enjoyed the sunshine on her face for a few more minutes before bending to pick up the basket and go inside. Her mother was in the kitchen, baking cornbread and cooking hot dogs for her lunch. She was preparing for three of her friends to come over for a sewing club they had formed.
Loren walked straight through the house to the room in the back where the washtub was kept. She could have gone through the back door, which was how she took the heavy clothes out to the line, but she went through the house to see if her mother was still in the kitchen or if she was taking a break in the den.
Their house wasn’t the biggest but it wasn’t a tiny cottage either. It had actually been a gift from Loren’s father Hank’s, parents when Hank and Aubrey got married. It would have been the perfect family home if they’d had the opportunity to have more children and fill the house with light and laughter.
But instead, Hank was taken by the mysterious illness her mother never talked about and it was left to Loren and Aubrey to fill the house with love. And they did. Every day since Loren was a baby.
Loren set the basket down and returned to the hallway to breathe in the scent of baking cornbread. She closed her eyes and smiled.
What a happy life.
Edison rode closer to the pasture, gazing out over the herd with little interest. It wasn’t his ranch. He didn’t own any of these cattle. He was only visiting his good friend, Ben, who had helped Edison secure the job of sheriff in the town of Bridgestone at the beginning of the year.
He lifted his chin in acknowledgment when Ben raised a hand and waved at him from atop a horse under a huge shade tree that seemed to be looming over at least ten feet into the neighbor’s land. Fortunately, Ben and his neighbor were good friends and that tiny ten feet was practically nothing when both men owned more than a hundred acres each.
“Howdy, Ben,” Edison called out as he got closer. “How’s everything out here on the Triple M Ranch?”
“Doin’ good, buddy, doin’ good. How’s the jailhouse?”
Edison let out a quick laugh. “Empty at the moment. And that’s a good thing.”
Ben raised his eyebrows, his face showing no amusement. Ben felt foolish and his cheeks reddened. “I guess that’s not a good thing, really, is it?” he asked in a softer voice as he reached his friend and came up to his side.
“I take it you’re no closer to finding Lillian or her kidnapper.”
Edison shook his head, losing his joviality and giving his friend a sober look. “I need more time. I’m trying but there’s just so little to go on.”
Ben nodded. Edison knew his friend understood and he appreciated the man’s vote of confidence. He’d gotten Edison the job of sheriff, vouching for him with the Bridgestone Town Council and telling everyone how he knew Edison. Although he hadn’t grown up in Bridgestone, Edison was from the nearby town of Tombstone and was present when the shootout at the O.K. Corral had happened. He’d witnessed the entire event.
Although he was only six years old when it happened, Edison’s mother had held him away from the fray but let him watch. During the incident, she leaned over and whispered in his ear, “Someday you could be like Wyatt and Doc. You see how brave they are? You are that brave, my boy. Someday you will be killing bad men like those Cowboys.”
Edison had never forgotten her words. He’d grown up with a deep admiration for the Earps and Doc Holliday and for the stand they took against the outlaw gang, the Cowboys. Along with that came the urge to be a lawman, to be the best lawman Arizona had to offer.
He lifted his hat from his sweaty brown hair and shook his head vigorously to loosen the strands that were sticking to his head.
“I thought it was Autumn,” he mumbled. “It’s mighty hot today.”
Ben glanced up at the bright sun, squinting. “Yeah, it is. But make no mistake the cold weather is on the way. Best be preparing for it.”
Edison nodded. “I am. Thanks for finding that cottage for me, by the way. I appreciate it.”
Ben gave him a half-grin. “Usually the sheriff already has a home here in Bridgestone but seein’ as how you had to move here from Tombstone, I reckon it was the least we could do for ya.”
Edison liked the cottage in the middle of the town square that he was purchasing from one of the ranchers. It had just enough room for him. Since he didn’t plan to marry anytime soon, it worked just fine for him by himself.
“Mayor’s not gonna be happy you still ain’t got any leads on that kidnapping. She’s been gone for almost two weeks.”
Edison didn’t get a good feeling when he thought about Lillian. His gut instinct told him the woman had been taken and killed. She was probably out in the middle of the Arizona desert being eaten by coyotes and other wildlife.
He shivered, chiding himself silently for thinking such morbid thoughts.
“Yeah, I know. But if he thinks he can do a better job, I’m open to suggestions. I can’t find a missing person without some kind of help. Someone who saw something, some kind of clue left behind… I’m not a medium or a gypsy.”
Ben gave him a direct look and Edison raised his eyebrows.
“Don’t even think about it,” Edison said, his voice low and warning.
Ben chuckled without humor. “I’m just saying if there’s any way to get a lead on where Lillian might be, you should try it.”
“I’m not going out to find gypsies or mediums, Ben.” Edison was regretting the words already. “I don’t believe in that sort of thing.”
“You should,” Ben replied. “It’s real if you find someone who can actually do it. You could bring her back, ask her who killed her.”
Edison shook his head. “Enough of that talk. You sound like a lunatic. I’ll find Lillian if I’m meant to find her. We’ve done our sweep of the outer areas of Bridgestone, sent out communications to the surrounding towns, and searched as much as we can. Everyone has been looking for her. No stone has gone unturned. She isn’t in Bridgestone anymore, that is certain. And if she’s not here, I’m thinking she might not be found. Wherever she is, the animals have her now.”
Edison was again upset with himself for assuming the worst. He could tell Ben wasn’t too happy about it either. But regardless of their feelings about the matter, it was still the strongest possibility. Lillian was dead and had been taken out to the desert for no one to find.
“This is the third kidnapping this year,” Ben said, his voice low, his brown eyes directed out over the pasture. Edison could see his friend looking at each cow. He was probably scanning them for defects at the same time his thoughts were on something else. “Something has to be done.”
“At least we have the idea all these ladies are being taken by the same man. If only we had found just one of them, if there was just one clue as to how this happened.”
Ben sighed, shaking his head. “Bridgestone hasn’t always been like this. This has to be the worst year of the entire century for crime. I do hope it’s all being done by the same man. If I thought there was more than one serial kidnapper in this area, I’d be forced to move somewhere safer.”
Edison was almost positive the kidnapper was one man working alone or with a partner. The partner idea wasn’t as prevalent because Edison had found it easier to track down outlaws when there was more than one. Inevitably, someone slipped up and made the crimes come to light.
So far, that had not been the case with the three kidnappings in 1899. Edison, along with the rest of the citizens of Bridgestone, didn’t want it to happen again.
The only thing that was the same about the three women who had been kidnapped was that they were all employed by the small restaurant owned by the Dixons. Simply named Dixon’s Deli, the restaurant owners were cleared of any wrongdoing on their parts when they were able to prove where they were when the second young woman was taken. They hadn’t been suspected initially but when a second employee and then a third goes missing, there seemed to be a pattern Edison and the rest of the town were just not seeing.
Edison sat on the deli for the last two weeks and when he wasn’t watching the place, his deputies were. Someone was always watching the place. But if anyone visiting the restaurant knew where the women were or had nefarious plans of their own, they weren’t making it obvious.
Edison would have suspected a stranger, like the miners that were constantly coming to town for work. But he couldn’t suspect any of the men who had come to the diner without some kind of reason and none of them gave him pause. He didn’t know everyone in town yet, though it was becoming increasingly obvious he would have to meet them all. How could he weed out an evil person if he didn’t know anything about his neighbors?
So far, he’d relied on the testimony of the people he had talked to about the kidnappings. One of them was Ben. Ben was his trusted reliable source, as the one long-standing friend he had in Bridgestone. Ben and Edison’s father had been in business together before the older man passed away last year. He’d had a defect in his heart that wasn’t discovered until they did an autopsy of his body. It had been a completely natural defect that no one could possibly have known about. Edison’s mother, Mary, stayed behind in Tombstone, stating she would never leave but had encouraged Edison to seek out the sheriff’s position in Bridgestone, especially since Ben was recommending him for it.
Mary was proud of her lawman. She told Edison that every chance she got. The thought of her last letter still brought a smile to Edison’s face. As long as he was living and breathing, he could do no wrong in his mother’s eyes. He loved her more than any other woman in his life. He was sure even when he married, nothing would compare to the adoration he had for his loving mother.
“I’m not worried, Eddie,” Ben said, shaking his head. “I know you’re doing your best and I’m gonna count on that.”
“What if my best isn’t good enough?” Edison asked, knowing he was seeking reassurance from the older man. He received it, just as he’d hoped.
“You can’t put too much on yourself there, buddy,” Ben replied, pulling the reins so his horse turned in the direction of the ranch house. “You came into this mess right when these kidnappings started happening. All we’re waiting for is a break, a clue and you’ll be off on a manhunt. I know you can do it, Eddie. If you can’t, I’m thinkin’ nobody can. You’re good at your job and if we can’t have Sherlock Holmes, we’ll just have to settle for you.”
Edison’s eyebrows shot up and this time, a genuine smile came to his lips. “Sherlock Holmes?” he laughed.
Ben grinned. “British detective. Solves crimes easy at the drop of a hat.”
Edison shook his head. “You’re reading British books?”
“They are in English, you know. You should read some of them. I’ve got the first two. Waiting for the one that was just published. You want to read them?”
Edison shrugged, wondering when he would find the time to read a book. “Sure,” he responded politely. He was open to trying new things.
The new mining unit was scheduled to arrive that afternoon. As soon as Edison left Ben’s ranch, he went directly to the train station to wait for them. Since he was elected in January, Edison had made it his mission to greet any new residents or visitors to Bridgestone. While he was at a loss of how to meet every single person already living in the little town, he knew exactly how he could keep track of and introduce himself to the new people…by asking the stagecoach and train station attendants to notify him when they were expecting new people. Edison was there to greet them as soon as they arrived.
There would be six new men coming to Bridgestone to work in the mines in Sugarloaf Mountain, the tallest mountain in Southwestern Arizona. Bridgestone was only twenty-four miles from Tombstone and about thirty-six miles from Tucson, a larger city in the opposite direction. Tucson was larger than Tombstone but Edison hadn’t wanted to go to the more populated Tucson. He preferred Bridgestone and just over Sugarloaf Mountain, if one cared to take the trek, was Benson.
Edison stepped up onto the wooden platform that stretched out on the rail side of the train station. He peered down the tracks, watching for signs and sounds of the train approaching. Currently, the only sounds were the voices of the three other people on the platform as they spoke in low tones to each other and the chirping of the birds in the trees on the other side of the tracks.
He watched for smoke in the distance. He’d been standing there less than five minutes when he felt a presence behind him and turned to see Mayor Daniel Green standing directly behind him. If the man had been staring at him, he would have been uncomfortable about how close he was standing. But his eyes were also on the horizon.
When he saw Edison looking at him, however, the mayor looked back.
“Here to greet the new miners, I see.”
Edison wasn’t entirely surprised to see the mayor there. He was aware that Dan Green had his hands in the mining business and owned part of the company that had sent the new men to work the mines in Sugarloaf Mountain. He was here to check on his new investment, make sure the men that were sent were capable of doing their jobs without slacking off.
Edison wasn’t a huge fan of Mayor Green. Ben said the man was tough but fair. So far, Edison had seen all of the tough and none of the fair. He was a typical politician, spouting near falsehoods, if not down-right lies, through a fake smile and a hearty handshake. As soon as Edison took the job of sheriff, the mayor started to ride his coattails, wanting information on everything Edison was doing, especially when it came to the kidnappings.
“Yes,” Edison replied to the mayor’s remark. “I like to meet anyone new coming to Bridgestone. Saves me time in having to meet them later on. Hopefully not in my jail cells.”
The mayor nodded, moving his eyes so he was looking out over the tracks again. “Yeah, I know you do that. You’re here every time we get someone new. How’s the investigation going? You find any new leads on that yet?”
Edison shook his head, feeling an enormous amount of dread in his chest. The mayor was relentless when it came to questions about the case. If there was anything at all Edison could have told him, he would have. In fact, if Edison found the culprit or even a smidgen of evidence, he would probably let the mayor know about it right away, just to keep the man off his back.
“Nothing new has come up. I’m at a loss right now. Feel like I’m waiting for another kidnapping to happen so I can see if anything comes out of that one.”
The mayor frowned. Edison knew he’d said something wrong. His chest tightened with anxiety and he braced himself for whatever the man had to say back.
“You shouldn’t be sitting on your hands waiting for another crime to be committed,” Mayor Green said in a resentful voice.
Edison felt like someone had punched him. It was hard to deal with someone who twisted words to sound bad and not at all what was intended.
“That isn’t what I said, Mayor,” Edison replied in a polite but cold voice, settling his blue eyes on the man directly. “I am doing all I can but if there is nothing to point me in a direction to go, I can’t go forward, can I?”
“So what are you doing then?” The mayor’s tone of voice didn’t change, which only served to irritate Edison further. “You must be doing something. Otherwise, you are just sitting on your hands, waiting for something else to happen.”
Edison narrowed his eyes but didn’t take them from the mayor. The other man, for his part, wasn’t looking back at him. He glanced at him several times but kept moving his gaze out over the tracks as if he was fully invested in watching for the train and the conversation was only secondary. Edison knew full well the man felt like harassing him and that was the only reason he was even talking to him at that moment.
“As I said, there is nothing for me to physically do at this point. We have searched, we have questioned and we are still watching Dixon’s Deli for a suspicious character. Have you seen anyone?”
Mayor Green frowned at him. He braced himself for the rebuke he knew was coming.
“It’s not my job to catch outlaws, young man. It’s yours. I expect you to do your job. You do know that this town elected you and we can oust you just as quickly as you came into the job.”
Resentment burned hot in Edison’s chest and he did his best to douse it before he said something he would later regret. He had been on the job all of eight months, nearly nine, and apparently, the mayor expected him to perform miracles. He didn’t like having his job threatened.
Something about the expression on his face must have revealed his unpleasant thoughts to the mayor because suddenly the man took a step back and his face went from stern to uncertain. He looked away from Edison, mumbling something under his breath.
“Pardon me? I don’t think I heard you,” Edison said, keeping his voice firm.
The mayor didn’t look at him again but repeated what he said out of the corner of his mouth.
“I’m sure you know what you’re doing,” he said before passing Edison to walk to the edge of the platform, far enough from Edison that the tension broke down fairly quickly.
Since the man’s back was to him, Edison felt comfortable sneering, pulling up one side of his lips, and curling his nose for only a moment. He composed himself quickly, looking around to see if anyone had spotted his resentful look. No one was looking at him.
He relaxed, shrugging his shoulders several times and bobbing his head from side to side. He couldn’t let the mayor get under his skin. He had a job to do and when the cards fell into place, he would make his arrest and the town would be safer because of him. That was his main goal, the only thing he really wanted to do with his life. Protect innocent people.
Edison resented men who broke the law, hurt, injured, or killed those who stood up against their wicked ways. It was his life’s mission to rid the world of as many outlaws as he possibly could and protect as many, if not more, innocent human lives.
Someday he hoped to find a woman he loved to marry and settle down with. But as a sheriff in a new town, he knew right then wasn’t the perfect time for anything like that. And he hadn’t met any women that intrigued him that much anyway. He would have to start looking soon, though. He was already twenty-six. Pretty soon, people would start calling him a confirmed bachelor and he would never rid himself of that title.
Finally, Edison heard the distinct sound of the train approaching in the distance. He stared at the back of the mayor’s head for a moment, wondering what the man was thinking. He was probably wondering if his new workers could be relied upon. Or he was thinking how awful Edison was at his job when all he had to do was find a kidnapper without any evidence pointing to one.
Either way, Edison was relaxed. He wasn’t about to let the mayor’s negative opinion put a damper on his entire day. Every morning he woke up hoping they would find a clue or some evidence leading them in the right direction. Until that happened, he would do his job like he was supposed to, watch the Dixon’s Deli, and have his deputies on the case when he wasn’t.
Edison didn’t have any ill feelings toward the mayor. He just didn’t want the man interfering when he obviously had nothing of value to offer. His version of encouragement didn’t sit well with Edison, who wasn’t about to be told how to do his job. He had studied the work of the Earps, Wyatt in particular, and was certain the mayor knew nothing about catching criminals.
He would give the man the respect his title and long-standing residency in Bridgestone required. But he wouldn’t be told how to do his job or feel insulted because he wasn’t a miracle worker.
“Her Port in the Storm” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Ever since she was a little girl, Loren McCarthy has been leading a quiet life along with her beloved mother, but what has always been missing from it was a fatherly figure. Focused on her work as a schoolteacher assistant, it seems that nothing could disturb her peaceful existence. Little did she know that her world would be turned upside down the moment her mother starts receiving mysteriously threatening letters. Wasting no time, Loren turns to the charming sheriff, who will do whatever it takes to help her and the only person she has by her side. However, she has no time for romance, as she needs to find the evil mastermind behind her family’s ruin. Will she manage to escape from a painful dilemma of choosing between love and devotion to the only person that was always there for her?
Edison Haynes is a determined man who has devoted his life in serving justice after his brother’s tragic passing. Upon completing his training under one of the best sheriffs in Tombstone, he moves to Bridgestone at the age of twenty-six to become the local sheriff. Soon, fate brings him in front of an unprotected woman who is desperately asking for help. When he realizes that his mission is not a child’s play, it will require all of his skills to rescue the helpless lady. What he could never expect though, is that he would find himself hopelessly in love with her along the way. Will Edison manage to save the helpless woman that could be the missing piece to the puzzle of his lonely life?
The clock is ticking for Edison and Loren, who have to quickly discover what lies behind the blackmailing letters that are haunting their dreams. Will they manage to solve the baffling mystery and find their other half against all odds?
“Her Port in the Storm” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.