Erika Caldwell lay in her bed, sweating from head to toe, wishing she could toss every blanket onto the floor. She was forced to wait, however, because Dr. Drake was still looking her over. He didn’t seem concerned that she was overheated even though it wasn’t helping her breathing at all—and wasn’t that why he was there?
Erika had always had a hard time breathing, ever since she was small. At first, she remembered her mother giving her a steaming treatment, where she had a towel over her head and hung over a pot of boiled water. That had been uncomfortable, too. Now it seemed they wanted to do the same to her with the heavy blankets.
That treatment had never worked for her; this one wasn’t working either. She was anxious for Dr. Drake to leave her room. She didn’t care for him. He was pompous and treated her like having health issues made her stupid and unable to comprehend what was going on with herself. She was twenty-four years old and yes, she was smart enough to comprehend.
Still, Erika stayed quiet, not wanting a confrontation with the man. She wished she could trust him like her parents did but she just couldn’t. There was something fishy about him. Erika felt like the only person on earth who could see it.
Finally, he lifted away from her and took his hands from her forehead and chest, where he’d been making some kind of evaluation. She could no longer smell the intense scent of peppermint, which was a relief.
Without a word, he folded his stethoscope and put it into his black bag. Clasping it together, he gave her an intense look, turned, and walked out, leaving her seething. Why the disapproving look? He acted like she’d brought this on herself.
She raged at him in her mind, wishing their situation was reversed so she could look down on him with the same disdain.
Erika wasn’t like that, though. She didn’t have a personality that would allow her to look down her nose at someone else. Especially since she had such a severe disability herself.
She wasn’t sick like this every day. She’d caught a cold and it made her breathing problem worse. On a normal day, she could walk around and live her usual life, but when she got sick, she was always right on her deathbed until the illness passed.
Dr. Drake left the door cracked. As soon as he was through it and couldn’t see her anymore, she threw her blankets off her and reveled in the immediate cool air that spread over her body. It was the most wonderful sensation ever. She felt like God had blown a breeze over her overheated skin, making it tingle. She closed her eyes.
“What?” The sound of her mother’s alarmed voice made Erika’s eyes snap open. She sounded like she’d just been told Erika was dead.
“You must keep your voice down, Helena,” Dr. Drake responded in a sharp tone that made Erika mad all over again. “She doesn’t need to know about this until I think she is ready to.”
“She is not a child, Doctor,” Helena replied, sending a sense of pride through Erika. “Her father and I will decide when she should be told.”
“As you wish,” Dr. Drake replied in a snide voice. “You will compromise her mental wellbeing if you choose to tell her too soon.”
“If I want to know about her mental wellbeing, Doctor,” Helena responded dryly, “I will consult a psychiatrist. Are you certain it’s tuberculosis?”
Erika was overcome with dread.
“I will run a few more tests but yes, that is my diagnosis. You can go to several sanitariums that have helped manage cases of TB, if you like. They cost but they are worth it.”
“Do they guarantee a cure?” her mother asked.
“No, there is no guarantee of a cure—you will not find that anywhere. You have a successful business; you should be able to afford it, shouldn’t you?”
Erika was forced to lay in the bed, so angry she could spit, and listen to the arrogant doctor.
“We are living well, thank you. But I know those places are not within our means. There must be another way.”
“There is no other way. You must get her treatment or she will die in the next two to three years at the most.”
Sudden tears sprang to Erika’s eyes. Two or three years? She was only twenty-four. She would never see her thirtieth birthday. She would never fulfill her dream of riding horses in the Championships. She would never accomplish anything she wanted to do, not in two or three years—get married, have children…
All of it.
Erika sobbed uncontrollably, rolling over onto her side, gasping for breath every few seconds as the tears clogged her already swollen throat and played havoc with her lungs. She prayed that the Lord would just take her now if He planned to take her so soon.
But He didn’t come for her. He didn’t even send an angel. Erika laid there and cried until her sheets and pillow were soaked with her tears. It wasn’t fair. She was too young. Why did she have to be burdened with this?
Erika hadn’t listened to anything after hearing she only had a few years to live. It seemed her mother and the doctor may have moved away from the room. Her tears had somewhat dried by the time her door was pushed open once more.
Without turning over to her other side, Erika knew it had to be her mother. She sensed the warmth of the woman as she sat on the bed behind Erika’s curled up body. She rested her hand on Erika’s arm.
“Rest, my dear,” she said softly. “We’ll have a talk with Papa about this in the morning.”
Erika could hear her mother rattling about in the kitchen when she woke up the next morning. She’d gotten surprisingly peaceful sleep and was feeling much better—so much so that she thought she’d be able to go to the breakfast table, instead of her parents coming in to eat with her.
She sat up and swung her legs over the side of the bed. She had slept with only a light cover that her mother must have draped over her. Erika felt an overwhelming sense of gratitude. Maybe her mother realized what had happened after all; then again, she may have taken Erika’s soaked sheets for sweat instead of tears. Her comforters thrown down on the floor would have been a good indication, also.
She went about getting dressed as if she hadn’t just spent the last three days sick in bed. This was a short one, she thought to herself. Normally, she was out of circulation for two weeks or so when she got sick. Three days was extremely short.
She pulled a brush through her white-blond hair while analyzing herself in the mirror. She glanced down at the brush, noticing some strands were caught in the bristles. She looked back up in the mirror and examined her silken hair, how fine and pretty it was, and the way its waves framed her face. She wished she could leave it down all the time.
That wouldn’t be proper or practical, though, so she put it back in a braid and splashed some water from the basin on her face. She toweled off and scrubbed her teeth with a fine bit of cloth.
Erika lived in a one-story, four-bedroom house with her mother, Helena and her father, Joseph “Joe” Caldwell, two popular people on their own as well as a couple, among both the wealthy and the working class of Boston. She was proud to be their daughter.
Helena ran a successful dress shop where she designed and handmade some of the most beautiful dresses that could be seen on the streets of Boston among the elite. She made inexpensive copies for those who couldn’t afford to pay a lot, using a cheaper fabric but never losing the quality of work she was known for. She had two employees—younger ladies whose fingers went quick with a needle—and made a good living at it.
Joe was the businessman, getting clients, advertising his wife’s trade, taking care of the books and legal matters. The two of them together made a fantastic duo. Erika hoped to have a marriage like theirs someday.
At least, she had hoped. Before she knew it wasn’t going to happen.
Remembering what she’d overheard quickly dampened Erika’s spirit. She knew her mother and father would want to talk about her diagnosis, even though they would be delighted that she’d come to the breakfast table to eat with them, instead of them coming to her room.
She tried to put on a happy, good-morning face and pushed the door open. Her father was seated at the table, a coffee cup in his hand held in the air beside his face and his nose in the newspaper. The paper rattled loudly when he snatched it down and looked over it at her. His eyes widened.
“Well, blessings be!” he exclaimed. “Helena! She’s better.”
Her mother spun around from the stove, where she was frying bacon. She held out her hands to her daughter. “Oh my darling! You look so much better! Praise the Lord!” She stepped over to Erika and threw her arms around her in a warm hug, which Erika returned.
“I do feel better this morning, Mama,” she replied. “I thought I’d come eat breakfast with you and get some fresh air today. I’ve been stuck in that room for three whole days and I need some sunshine.”
“Of course you do, dear. Still, you should probably sit. I’ll bring you a plate. You have to be feeling weak after being laid in that bed for so long.”
Erika nodded, agreeing with her mother. Her muscles felt weak and tired already and she’d only come from her room down the hall. She took her normal seat at her father’s left hand. He was staring at her in an exaggerated, comical way, as if she had done something strange. She giggled and swatted out at him, which he dodged like she had shot a gun in his direction.
“Hey! Watch it. You’re gonna hurt an old man.”
Erika laughed, throwing her head back, which made her dizzy for a second. She recovered quickly, fast enough to hide what had just happened from both parents.
Joe cleared his throat and held the newspaper up between them so she couldn’t see him anymore. She stared at the backside of the paper, reading one of the articles quickly before he lowered it again. She raised her eyebrows at him.
“I was reading that,” she said, her lips twitching as she tried to keep from smiling.
“Is that so?” her father asked, unable to keep his smile from beaming on his face. “I’m so glad you are feeling better, my dear.”
“I know you two probably don’t want to talk about it this early in the morning, but I want to talk about what Dr. Drake told you last night, Mama.”
Her parents shared a concerned look between them. She let them pass their thoughts between them and didn’t say anything. They’d probably stayed up all night talking about it and knew what the other was thinking just by their eyes.
“If you are comfortable talking about it,” her father replied, turning his gaze back to her, “then we are comfortable talking about it.”
“Maybe he’s wrong,” Erika said, firmly. “He doesn’t have to be right. He could be wrong.”
Her father nodded, which surprised her a little. “That is always a possibility, dear. But he has experience with this disease and should know it when he sees it. He has diagnosed many people with tuberculosis.”
Erika was immediately annoyed. She frowned at her father. “And they all died, didn’t they? It’s not like he did anything to help them.”
“Erika!” her mother scolded her. “The doctor is a very experienced man who has the knowledge needed to diagnose that disease. We shouldn’t second-guess him because we don’t like what he has to say.”
Erika did not want to argue with her parents at all. She loved them both to the moon and back. She never wanted to disappoint them. What she did want was a second opinion.
She was about to continue pressing her point, though, when she had a sudden thought. Perhaps another opinion from a different doctor wasn’t financially feasible. Maybe her parents simply didn’t have the money it took to get a second diagnosis. There was one thing Joe had always kept from his daughter and that was the finances. He told her a man would do that for her and if she needed to, she could always hire a good accountant.
Erika didn’t follow that line of thinking, but she didn’t argue with him about it. She admired her father and treated him with the respect he rightly deserved.
“I don’t feel like I’m only going to live a few more years,” she said defiantly. “I get bouts like this all the time, especially when I’m sick. You know that, Mama. Why is it different now than it’s been in the past?”
“Dr. Drake says it has progressed and you will need treatment in the next six months to keep it at bay.”
“I thought he said two or three years?” Erika replied resentfully, hating how she was talking to her parents but unable to help it. She was a grown woman and felt like a child being manipulated by adults. She didn’t blame her parents though. Not a lot. She just wished they didn’t trust Dr. Drake so much.
“If no treatment is given at all, you will start to get very bad in six months, according to the doctor,” her mother responded. “He said you could spend the rest of that time in the hospital. Oh, Erika, I don’t want that to happen to you. We will check into sanitariums. We’ll find a way to get you help.”
Erika sat back in her chair, thinking deeply about the situation. Her mother, seeing Erika was now distant, got up and went back to the stove to turn the bacon over, spitting and popping.
She could see it already. The looks she would get from the people in town were already sad enough. Once word got out that she had tuberculosis, Erika knew neighbors she once considered friends would turn their backs on her. They would think she was “unclean” and treat her that way.
She didn’t that. She’d never wanted that.
Helena brought over a plate of bacon, eggs and toasted bread. She set it down in front of Erika gently. “Here’s your breakfast, my dear. I hope you like it. I’m so glad you’re in here with us instead of in your room. You do need some fresh air, don’t you?”
Erika had started the conversation topic. She knew that. So when her mother changed the subject to something more pleasant, she was grateful.
“Yes, I think it would be best if I got out there and breathed in some fresh air and got some sun. The sun always makes me feel better. I get so cold all the time. All I want to do is feel the heat on my skin.”
“Well, today will be a very good day for that,” Joe said, flipping his newspaper around to her and pointing at the headline. “Says we’re gonna have beautiful weather all through the next couple days.”
“That’s wonderful,” Erika exclaimed. “I will spend as much time outside as I can.”
“What a good idea, darling,” Helena replied, smiling at her. “Tammy had her kittens in the barn last night. You should go see them.”
“In the barn?” Erika was immediately worried for the tiny creatures. “Is it warm enough for them there? Maybe we should bring them in. They shouldn’t be out there when…” Erika stopped when she saw the amused looks on the faces of her parents. She grinned wide. “What did I say?”
“It’s nothing, dear,” her mother replied. “I myself was just wondering how cats have survived for centuries without you taking care of them.”
Her parents laughed and Erika joined them.
“If she was immortal, we’d have our answer,” her father said while still laughing, causing his wife and daughter to laugh to tears.
Erika stretched her legs out on the couch, enjoying the feel of the soft cushion underneath her. It had been two weeks since her diagnosis and she was feeling fairly normal. Her chest hurt a lot but other than that and feeling a bit fatigued, she was going about her life normally.
Despite the fact that she was able to move about and socialize like anyone else, she had noticed the way people were treating her—it was as if she was made of porcelain. They were either stand-offish or gushing with pity. She hated it. It felt good to relax on the sofa.
Erika’s personal companion, hired by her mother as a seamstress and then gravitating to the companion position because she and Erika got along so well, dropped into a seat near her with a heavy sigh. “Well, that was certainly a walk. Let’s not go quite that far again, shall we?”
Erika gave Anna a smile. “I think I’m going to agree with that one. Why did we do that to ourselves anyway?”
Anna laughed and shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve ever walked so much if I wasn’t shopping.”
This made Erika laugh, which was a breathy sound with not much volume to it. She ignored the tightness in her chest and concentrated on breathing slowly. She had to calm her heart down at the same time. Every time she got short of breath, she felt like she was going to faint and that made her think she was going to die.
Anna rarely left her alone and that was probably a good thing. There was always a chance Erika would faint and hurt herself on the way to the ground. She never knew when it was going to happen. She had no idea how to stop it.
The front door opened. Erika lifted her head and stared at the living room door, waiting to see who was going to come around the corner. She hoped it wasn’t Dr. Drake. She’d had the privilege of not seeing him for the past week and didn’t want to see him now. Especially how she was feeling after her long walk along the creek.
Her mother came around the corner, looking disheveled as she juggled her handbag, her shawl, and some envelopes with a brown paper-wrapped package, trying not to let anything fall.
“Let me help you, Mrs. Caldwell,” Anna said, jumping to her feet and crossing the room in a few steps to snatch the envelopes and the package out of mid-air as they began to tumble from the woman’s arms.
Helena laughed. “Thank you, my dear. This package is for you, Erika. And you have a letter from Mike.”
Erika smiled wide, holding out her hand for Anna to hand her the package and the envelope. She set the package to the side and ripped open the envelope, sliding the paper from it and unfolding it.
She read it to herself first. After the first line, her breath caught in her throat but not because of her health. Her heart began to pound and tears came to her eyes.
“Erika?” Her mother said her name with alarm in her voice. “What’s wrong? Is he okay?”
Erika nodded, her eyes still on the letter. “He’s okay. He’s more than okay. He is moving on. He says he has to find a life with someone who isn’t going to die soon.”
Anna gasped and a look of outrage came to her slender face. She snatched the letter from Erika’s hands and held it in front of her, reading the words. She flipped it toward Helena after she was done, the disgust apparent on her face. “That…that…”
“Careful, Anna,” Helena warned.
Anna nodded at the older woman. “I just have no words for him. Scum! What a snake in the grass! A man who professed his love for her three weeks ago at the Summer Festival and now he has to think about his future and he doesn’t want to be a widower? Oh! I am so furious with that man!”
Erika listened to Anna’s rant, feeling every word of it. She was too stunned by what had just happened to even cry. Anna was right. Just three weeks before, at a dance held during the summer festival, Mike had told everyone who would listen that he was going to marry her and take care of her. Ironically enough, he’d said “for the rest of her life”.
He just wasn’t expecting it to be a short one.
“What makes him think doing this makes anything any better?” Anna raged. “Two weeks after finding out this news, he is adding to her misery?”
“I don’t know,” Erika said softly, getting the attention of the other two women. “Maybe I’m better off knowing he’s like this before I marry him.”
Anna let out a sharp breath. “You are stronger than me, Erika. I want to go find him and tell him exactly what I think of him. Not that it would make any difference. I was in tears when he was talking in front of everyone, giving that speech. Just three weeks ago! What happened?” She grunted. “I’m sorry. I know what happened. He’s a coward. A weak, pathetic coward, that’s what he is. I’m sorry if you’re mad at me for saying so, Erika. I know you probably still love him but—”
“No,” Erika said, shaking her head. “Mama, you can toss that letter into the fire. I’m not going to let him make me feel bad. I won’t.”
Even as she said the words, she knew she was not telling the truth. She had a feeling her mother and Anna knew it, too. Her mother did move to the fireplace, which was not lit, and tossed the letter in with the ashes to burn the next time there was a fire in the hearth. But neither woman left the room. Her mother came to sit near her daughter in another chair.
“Are you sure you’re all right?” her mother asked.
The kind words opened the floodgate. Erika’s tears came so fast she had no time to stop them. Memories of good times with Mike flashed through her mind. She couldn’t believe he was so willing to drop her, to end the courtship, all because she was ill. Wasn’t that when a loving man stayed by his woman’s side until she was gone?
Her mother was out of her seat and hugging her from one side while Anna came to her other side.
“He’s…not the man…I thought he was…” she stammered between gasps of air and sobs. “I…thought he would…be by my side…forever.”
Erika appreciated the feel of her mother’s arms around her. All she wanted to do was curl up and be five years old again, so she didn’t have to feel the pain of life, back when she was oblivious, and everything was fun and new.
“It’s all right, my dear. It’s going to be all right.” Her mother stroked her hair while she held her daughter in her arms.
“I better not see that man on the street.” Erika grinned through her tears when she heard Anna growl the words. “I will have a few words for him. I might have to slap him, just for good measure.”
Instead of warning the girl, Erika heard her mother chuckle. Their shared outrage for her made her feel a little better.
“Let me tell you something, my dear,” Helena said quietly into her daughter’s ear. “You are a wonderful woman and you deserve better than that man. What you said first was right. You should not let him make you feel bad. He shouldn’t have that kind of power over you. I know it hurts now but you will stop feeling that pain and when you do, you’ll be happier. You’ll probably feel better off. If he was willing to drop you because of your illness, imagine what he would have done if he’d found out after you were married with a child or two.”
“I don’t even want to think about that,” Erika admitted. “I’m glad he ended it now. I can get on with what I have left of my life without worrying about what he thinks of it. I can go back to doing whatever I want whenever I want wherever I want. I can go traveling if I so choose.”
“Not without me,” Anna said.
Erika looked at her and smiled. “Of course not. I can’t go anywhere without you. I might need you at a moment’s notice.”
Anna gave her a soft look and a smile to match. She raised one hand and swiped it across Erika’s wet cheeks. “You’re a beautiful woman, Erika,” she said. “You can find a better man. And we’ll all be praying every day that you get a whole lot longer than a couple years. We have to trust God knows what he’s doing.”
Erika nodded. “I know you’re right, Anna.”
Her mother and companion stayed with Erika for the next half hour, distracting her with funny gossip. She listened to them, thinking how they could be like mother and daughter, too. Anna was a similar age. She could take Erika’s place once she was gone.
Those thoughts made Erika feel as depressed as she’d ever been. She didn’t resent Anna for getting along so well with her mother. It was almost a relief that there would be someone for her mother to treat with a daughterly affection once Erika was gone.
Still, it was her mother, after all.
William Bates sat at the bar in the Longhorn Saloon in his hometown of Widow’s Walk. He wasn’t feeling too dandy himself.
He knew he was in the saloon too early in the day but he didn’t really care. It was his life. He could be in there if he wanted to be. He wasn’t a child. He had no one to answer to.
Will continued to make excuses for himself, to himself as he drank the rest of the beer in his glass and slid it over so Butch could fill it up again. Butch Randall had owned the Longhorn Saloon for as long as Will could remember. They were good friends. In fact, Will got along with pretty much everyone in his town and was liked and respected by most everyone. At least, that’s the impression he got.
He was in the saloon to drown his sorrows. Everyone knew it, including him. No one gave him trouble over it. They were understanding.
Will’s parents, Donald and Imogene Bates, had established a good reputation for him with the townsfolk. They worked for one of the widows who founded the town and were popular with everyone they met. His father was an outgoing, charismatic speaker and storyteller. Beyond that, he worked in blacksmithing and was excellent at his job, earning him a reputation as one to seek out when work was needed. Will’s mother, Imogene, had a mind like a steel trap, remembering everything she read and was told for years after the incident happened. There were many things she would never forget, she told Will one day many years ago. She even had the Bible memorized, much to Will’s amazement. To him, that was the ultimate accomplishment.
Both Donald and Imogene had been taken by fire five years ago and Will was still dealing with the crushing loss. He’d been living with them at the time, taking care of everything around the house, even though Donald was still capable of doing many things. They were both in good health and didn’t need Will to take care of them—he lived there because he wanted to, and because his mother was an excellent cook.
Thinking about his mother’s cooking nearly brought tears to Will’s eyes. He lifted the glass he was given quickly and downed the liquid, not caring that it immediately made his stomach roil and his head hurt. He belched loudly and blushed in embarrassment.
In the next moment, he didn’t care. No one in the saloon cared. He knew that. He swiveled to the right to see Butch staring at him.
“You’re not feelin’ too good today, are ya, Will?” Butch asked in a somber voice.
Fighting tears, Will shook his head. “Nope. Not today.”
“You gonna be all right? You wanna talk about it?”
Will actually did want to talk about it but he didn’t know where to start. It didn’t matter—Butch already knew what was wrong; he knew that Will had slipped into a deep depression when he lost his parents and hadn’t been able to shake it in the last five years. He had lost his motivation…his zest for life.
Will could still hear his mother’s laughter, he could see the sparkle of glee in his father’s eyes. He saw them every night when he went to sleep. He dreamed of them and woke up in agony, wishing they were back with him.
“Sometimes I wish the Reverend hadn’t found me,” he mumbled.
Butch took a step over so he was directly in front of Will. “I don’t wanna hear that, Will Bates,” he growled, leaning close. He lifted one large finger and shook it in front of his friend. The scolding action should have made Will angry. All it did was make the threat of tears stronger as he recognized how much his friend cared about him. He lowered his eyes and stared at the bar in front of him. “Now I ain’t gonna tell you to stop drinkin’ because you’re gonna pay for my kids to travel at this rate but you’re my friend, Will, and ya gotta stop thinkin’ like this. You know that beer ain’t makin’ things better for you. You got to know that.”
“Especially if you’re talkin’ about the reverend not savin’ your sorry butt. You should be grateful.” Butch’s voice went from sharp and reprimanding to kind in less than a second. “We all know how much losin’ them means to you, Will. And we’re all so sorry. But you gotta start livin’ the way they’d want you to live instead of mopin’ around feelin’ sorry for yourself. That ain’t what they’d want, is it?” Butch raised his bushy brown eyebrows. “Well, is it?”
Will lifted his eyes to look at the man, shaking his head. “No. Actually, Ma and Pa would be pretty disappointed in me right now.”
Butch rolled his eyes. “Oh now you got them disapprovin’ of ya. Stop it. They loved you. They wanna be smilin’ down on you from heaven but I’m thinkin’ right now, they’d both be shaking their heads, hoping that someday you’ll realize you got a life to live. I know you gotta want to get married and have your own kids. You’d be a great pa! I can already tell.”
Will’s spirit was lifted for a moment at the thought of being a father. He would hope to be as good at it as his own father.
“I do want a family someday,” he responded.
“Well, you ain’t gettin’ any younger!” Butch exclaimed. “You gotta pull out of this, buddy. Start living your life again. I remember before that happened, how fun you were. Had all the ladies after ya. Everyone was your friend, seekin’ you out. Only reason that’s not happening now is because you don’t seem to want us there. You spend all your time in here if you ain’t workin’. Thank God you didn’t drive your clients away.”
“And keep getting more,” Will added, glancing up at the tall man.
Butch grinned. “There ya go. Ya got somethin’ goin’ for ya there, right? I’m only sayin’ this because I’m your friend and I’m worried about ya. I’m not tryin’ to hurt ya.”
Will sighed, nodding. “I know, Butch. Thanks for being blunt with me.”
Butch shrugged. “I gotta tell it like it is, friend. That’s just the way I am. Observant, you know. That’s what my ma always said. Real observant.”
Will’s mind wandered as Butch moved away from him to serve a man who had just come in the saloon. He turned in his seat again, deciding he would try to nurse the beer in his glass. Maybe if he didn’t drink so quickly, he wouldn’t get drunk so fast and spend the rest of the day falling out of his chair until someone took him home and dropped him on his couch.
In five years, Will had reduced incidents like that down to about once or twice a week. He worked hard not to let his depression affect his work. Typically, if he could start working, he would get immersed in what he was doing and time would pass quickly without even a thought of pain.
Butch was right about his socializing skills in the last five years and how drastically they’d changed. He was the talk of the town when he was in his early twenties. Handsome and popular, he’d enjoyed the spotlight for some time. He had what the ladies called the “perfect smile” and “amazing eyes” and had enjoyed many parties and dances because of his popularity.
But it was different now. He didn’t socialize like that. He wasn’t happy enough to be who he used to be. He felt guilty for living through the fire that had torn through his parents’ home, taking them both from him. He was guilty for not sleeping in his own bed. He was guilty for not waking up in time to help them. He was guilty for not knowing the fire was going to happen.
He should have known. Afterward, the captain of the fire brigade told him there was nothing he could have done and that the fire was just an accident. He hadn’t caused it. He wasn’t at fault in any way. Surviving wasn’t wrong.
But to Will, the worst thing that could ever have happened to him had happened. He didn’t know if he would ever recover. And how was he supposed to make a good husband to his wife and father to his children if he couldn’t let go of this pain? Sometimes he felt like he no longer had a future of any kind. Any future he did have would be miserable and unhappy. He felt like there was nothing he could do to prevent that.
He picked up the glass and downed half the beer at one time, swallowing until he had no more breath in him. He gasped, pulling the drink away, his thoughts resuming their darkness.
It was the nighttime that was the worst. That was when he couldn’t get away from his thoughts, when the world was silent and only crickets met his ears. He would lay in bed till all hours of the morning, knowing he had a project to finish the next day but unable to sleep. He thought about his parents, how they shouldn’t have perished in that fire, how the reverend shouldn’t have found him and pulled him out. If he hadn’t been sleeping on that pallet. If he’d been in his bed, he might not have got out in time either.
Why was he spared? Why couldn’t his father have been the one out there? Why hadn’t either of them woken up and been able to get out the window?
He was plagued with these questions as much now as five years ago. And they tended to run through his mind incessantly when he was trying to go to sleep.
Why had he been spared?
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Erika Caldwell, one of Boston’s best dressmakers, has been struggling ever since her doctor diagnosed her with tuberculosis. She used to be a ray of joy but now she is dripping with misery, having to endure the one thing she hates the most – being pitied. While feeling utterly lost, a surprising opportunity for treatment appears, in a faraway place that she doesn’t hesitate to take. Upon her arrival, she meets the dashing William and regains her zest for life, but will she be able to escape the clutches of her illness and find true joy?
She feels as if a terrible shadow looms over their love….
For five long years, blacksmith William Bates has been mourning the loss of his parents in a horrible fire. He was saved in a last-minute rescue but he has been consumed by mourning ever since. When he meets the beautiful Erika he realizes that even if the path to happiness is sometimes narrow, yet it holds more than one surprise in store. As he discovers the promise of love, can he confess to Erika and break the shackles of remorse?
If only finding bliss wasn’t such a fierce and painful fight…
Although Erika and William are immediately drawn to each other, their challenges threaten to tear them apart. Despite their fear to express their emotions, the love between them grows effortlessly. Can Erika put the fragments of his heart back together? Can Will bind his life to hers with an unbreakable bond? Is their love strong enough to weather the impending catastrophe?
“Two Souls Bound Together” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.