Toby Dangerfield took a deep breath, feeling suffocated under the thick, canvas sheet pulled over the back of the wagon. He and William had bribed their way onto it, still praying they would not be caught and that the man who had agreed to take them wouldn’t make for the sheriff’s station.
“Good thing you got all that gold back there, or we would be done for,” William said, wincing as he spoke from beside Toby. Toby understood how guilty William felt. After all, it was his actions that had led to their fleeing.
“Yeah, well, that’s why I went to California. For the gold. No reason it should go to waste,” Toby replied, trying to adjust the hat under his brown hair. Lying flat as he was, it didn’t quite work, and he still felt uncomfortable. Just then, the wagon wheel went over a rock and came down with a jarring thud on the other side.
“I still wish I’d had your luck. I’m going to miss Becky and the kids terribly. I just don’t even know what I’m going to do, Toby,” he said.
“I know you will, but they’re going to be all right,” Toby said.
“You don’t know that. There’s no way of knowing whether or not they’ll be fine,” William retorted.
Toby clenched his jaw. His life had been turned upside down over the past two weeks, and all he could do now was try to comfort William through this difficult season. Already, he had given money to William’s family to last them a little while until the two men figured out what they were going to do. But they needed a solid plan, certainly more solid than this one.
“What if he comes after them?” William asked.
“He won’t. You know that, or you wouldn’t have left,” Toby said. “The surest way to keep your family safe is for us to leave. I have no doubt that he’s already trying to hunt us down by now anyway. We have to get far away, William. That’s the safest thing for them and us.”
William sighed, shifting along the wooden floor of the wagon. Toby was already feeling the ache in his spine from trying to get comfortable. He knew that this journey still likely had an hour or so left. In the four days he and William had been traveling, this was hardly the least comfortable they had been, but their bones were aching from all that came before, and he was just desperate to be out in the air again.
Toby was confident they had covered their tracks well enough to buy themselves some time. His gold had come in useful, boldly walking through the trading post to ask about buying two horses, chatting with the seller for a while to make an impression, and talking about how desperately he needed to travel north. He had even hung around at the post until a new party of gold-chasers came and things grew busy. Once he was sure there were plenty of people who could vouch for his traveling, Toby took the horses and split.
He made his way back to William, who was still hiding out at a distant cousin’s home. From there, they managed to catch a ride out of town on a wagon, with William’s cousin promising to sell the horses and give the money to his family, then journeyed east.
The two had skipped around between different traders en route to sell their wares, and they had twice gone in the wrong direction for no other reason than trying to confuse the man who was coming after them.
“I’m sorry, Toby,” William said, for what must have been the millionth time since they’d left.
“Enough of that, William. We’ve talked about this. We’re on our way to safety, and you don’t need to feel bad. What’s done is done,” Toby said in reply.
“I know that, and I know that you’re also right about this being the best thing for us and for my family, but that doesn’t make this any easier. I just miss them. I wish that none of this had happened,” William said.
“It’s too late for that now. Whatever has happened is in the past. All that matters now is that we move on and find a way to push forward. That’s what Becky is going to want. And, whenever it’s safe, we’ll get the two of you back together,” Toby promised, although he knew that it was foolish to make such a declaration.
“I sure hope so. I know that it’s unfair of me to expect any help from you or anyone else, but you’ve been by my side all this time anyway. I know I can trust you, and I know you’ll be sure that Becky is looked after if … if things don’t go so well for me,” William said, continuing in his despairing thoughts.
“Come on now, William. I said that’s enough. You don’t need to wor—”
With a thunk and a thud, the wagon rolled over another large rock and then came to a stop.
“Hold on. What does that mean? Are we here?” William asked.
A faint smile spread across Toby’s lips, and his blue-green eyes lit up with excitement. He listened to the footsteps of the man who had given them the ride.
“No one around, gents,” the man said from the other side of the canvas sheet. “You’re safe to come out.”
Toby took a deep breath and dared to pull back the sheet, hopeful that he had been told the truth. He immediately blinked against the bright, blue sky, feeling the warmth of the sun as opposed to the humidity of his own breath.
“We’re at Poultry Springs. That’s where you wanted to be, right?” the man asked.
Toby sat up and hopped over the ledge so that his feet were planted firmly in the dust. He took in the view of farmlands leading toward a small town up ahead. With hands on hips, he looked out at the landscape, wondering what had changed in the years since he’d been gone. Now, however, he had arrived home, in the place he and William had been traveling to over the past couple of weeks.
But none of that was important now. Not the time away, not the rude departure, not the worries of what might come next. Only one thing truly mattered.
He was back.
Jill Wagonmaker took a deep breath, crossing her unusually long legs under her skirt to stop them from shaking. If her mother and father wanted to discuss something with her, it had to be something serious. And considering how the family was struggling financially, she worried they might be warning her about a possible eviction.
She looked on with deep brown eyes, waiting for them to tell her the news. Her mother shifted uncomfortably and would not make eye contact. Her father stared at his hands, which he used to make a triangle before, at last, looking up at her and trying to smile.
“Jilly, my sweet,” he said affectionately. His tone was enough to let her know that this wasn’t simply about their home. It was about her.
“Papa?” she asked, prodding him.
“I know that this is difficult, but we need to talk to you about the future and what things look like for our family,” he said.
“And why does that have you so upset? Can you just tell me?” she asked, her heart quickening with anticipation.
“Well, you know that we are financially … that we are destitute,” her father began. “And, because of that, we need to discuss your future. You see, you have come to be of a certain age and … and we deem it prudent that you should …”
He glanced off to Jill’s mother, and both refused to look at her. Jill was petrified, not understanding what was so dramatic.
“You wish me to find work?” she offered, at last.
Her father looked up at her at last, his eyes wide with surprise.
“Jill, you know that there is no work to be found nearby. If there was, I would have pursued it. Your mother sells bread in town, but she is hardly the only woman to do so. And I am an excellent chicken farmer, but we can’t afford a place to keep chickens, and none of the other farms are looking for help,” he said.
“Then if you don’t want me to find work, you must … you want me to … to marry?” Jill asked, stumbling over her words in the same way her father had. This was the only explanation, and she understood now why they had been so uncomfortable and hesitant. But who was she supposed to marry? It wasn’t easy to just find a man in town and tell him to be her husband for the sake of her family’s finances. What exactly did they expect her to do?
“Ma? Pa? What am I meant to do? How can I just find a husband like that? It’s not an easy thing to do,” she pointed out.
“Well, that is why we really wanted to speak with you about this, my sweet. I am sure that you have heard about the mail order advertisements that are in the papers–”
“Mail order?” she gasped. Jill could not believe her ears. Her mother and father were planning to send her off to live with some stranger halfway around the country? What were they thinking? How could they do this to her? Surely they understood what a terrible thing it was and the fact that Jill would be pulled away from them and from everything she knew.
“Please, Jill, just calm down,” her father said, his own voice quivering with the words.
Jill’s mother sniffled and dabbed her eyes with a handkerchief.
“Ma? Ma, are you really going to send me away?” she asked.
For the first time, her mother looked up at her. Jill saw her same deep brown eyes and the same freckles reflected back at her. She was the spitting image of her mother, aside from the fact that her mother’s long, blonde hair was always tied up in a bun at the base of her neck, whereas Jill always wore hers down.
“I’m sorry, Jill. It’s for your own good. You will have opportunities that you could never have here. Hopefully, you will find some man in the city, a God-fearing man who will take good care of you and provide you with the sort of life we could never give you,” her mother said.
“But, Ma, I don’t want that sort of life. I want a life with you and Pa. I want to stay here,” she said, her voice choked by emotion.
Jill could hardly believe this was happening. How was she meant just to give up and move away to be with some strange man? She loved her life in Poultry Springs. Sure, there weren’t many opportunities for work, but she could figure something out.
The small town was full of good people and good friends. How could she possibly leave it all behind?
And yet, Jill had always been duty-bound. She understood that marrying someone would greatly help her family and, even if it meant great personal sacrifice, she realized it was the only option she had. After all, she could hardly allow her family to suffer through their poverty.
If she did not go off and marry, it would surely harm her siblings as well. This was the only choice, and Jill knew it—even if it broke her heart to admit.
Tears streamed down her cheeks, aware that she might break at any moment. It was clear that her mother was heartbroken by this as well, but Jill knew that they didn’t have a choice. If they’d had any option at all, she was confident they would not have put her through this. It was simply not something her mother and father would make her suffer.
“Jill, my sweet, I am so sorry,” her mother said. She took the paper from the side table and handed it to Jill, who took it in her own hands.
There it was. The page with ads for a mail-order bride. But Jill was far more intrigued by the article about Mr. Bell, a famed bounty hunter. He was being celebrated for having just caught a famous jewel thief. And amid Jill’s desire to forget about the pain she was living under, she allowed her thoughts to drift into what it might be like to have all those jewels and then have them taken away by a thief. She wouldn’t know. She and her family had never managed to own anything more than the small house her father had inherited and the clothes on their backs.
Sighing, Jill focused on the matter at hand. She had to accept her fate. There was no reason to try and fight it. Of course, even as she decided to do what her mother and father asked, she silently begged the Lord to help her get out of this.
“May I be excused?” Jill asked in a quiet voice.
Her mother and father looked at one another and hesitated but ultimately relented.
“Thank you. I would like to go and speak with Sydney. May I?”
“Yes, my sweet. You should speak with your friend,” her father said compassionately.
Relieved to leave for a while, Jill hurriedly left to put on her boots and departed from the home. She was eager to see Sydney and talk about her worries regarding leaving home. When she arrived, she found Sydney outside the house on her family’s large ranch, hanging laundry under the sun to dry.
“Jill! I didn’t know you were coming over. I’m so glad you did. We’ve just had the most wonderful day,” Sydney said boisterously. Her smile was even wider than Jill was used to seeing.
“My goodness. Has something happened? You look like you are in a tremendous mood,” Jill said.
“Oh, I truly am! We have had the most wonderful day,” she exclaimed.
“What is it? What happened?”
“It’s Toby,” she said. “He’s come back from California. He and a friend of his just showed up this morning! I can hardly believe it.”
Jill didn’t respond right away. She hadn’t seen Sydney’s brother in years. Jill had always been awkward and insecure around Toby as a girl. He had left a few years ago, and Sydney had told Jill that his letters showed he had managed to strike gold. It was strange that he would have come back now instead of staying to get more.
But seeing him would only make Jill feel even more embarrassed around him. She wished that he could be impressed by her, but that just seemed impossible now. It certainly hadn’t ever been realistic, but now that he was a wealthy man, it was even less likely. And after four years, he probably didn’t even remember her.
“I’m so happy for you,” Jill said with a fake smile of her own.
“Jill?” Sydney asked, eyeing her with concern. “What is it? You seem upset.”
Unable to hold back any longer, Jill burst into tears. Sydney rushed to embrace her.
“It’s all right. Everything is going to be fine, Jill. What is it? What has happened?”
Jill took in a ragged breath and steadied herself. Sydney pulled back, and Jill took a deep breath, ready to explain.
“My mother and father spoke with me this afternoon. They have told me that they need me to get married. They don’t have enough money to keep me at home. I have to take out an advertisement in the paper, one of the mail-order advertisements. They want me to find a husband who will take me from Poultry Springs and start a new life,” she said.
For a long stretch, Sydney stared at Jill with shock across her face. Jill understood. She didn’t know how to express her feelings either. All she knew was that she could not bear to be separated from her home and everything she held dear.
“Oh, Jill,” Sydney finally said, throwing her arms around Jill once more.
At last, she could hold back her grief no longer. Descending into the depths of her despair, Jill leaned into Sydney’s arms and wept, asking God to get her out of this situation.
There had to be a way. There had to be something that would keep her at home. But unless that way revealed itself soon, Jill understood there was nothing more she could do. She simply had to wait and hope that the Lord would come to her aid. And, until then, she would accept whatever she must.
“He’s just trying to scout out whether or not this would be a good place for him and his family to settle,” Toby said, yet again. His family had been asking him about William and why William had left his wife and children, not to mention all that gold in California, just to come to Poultry Springs and start over in a little town like theirs.
“Does he want to buy land here? I just don’t understand making such a long journey,” Sydney said.
“Well, that’s because you’re not a man trying to provide for his family,” Toby replied.
“But Pa said the same thing. It isn’t right, leaving his family behind like that. What if something happens to them if they decide to come and he isn’t with them. You heard about those Donners from—what was it, five years now?—and I would think a man like him wouldn’t risk anything happening to his family,” she reasoned.
Toby didn’t know how to have this conversation with his sister, nor did he want to. It was hard enough trying to keep his secret. Attempting to reason with Sydney was only going to frustrate him even more. The last thing he needed now was to deal with her deeply curious nature.
“I know you like to get to the bottom of things, Sydney, but the fact is, he’s just a man who wants what’s best for his family, and he believes that this is it. I can’t blame him for that. Now, why don’t you just talk to me about you? What’s been going on in your life over these past four years?” he asked. There was a part of him that simply wanted to shift the subject, but he was also eager to hear more about how his sister had been over the season in which he had been gone.
There were certainly things he had missed about being home, and Sydney was one of them. She and her friends had always followed him around everywhere as children, making him feel important as the older brother and the one who would so often look out for them all.
Now, he was back. Since he’d been back that day, Sydney had been in an excellent mood, but he had come to realize that his little sister, who had always been running around and playing with friends, was now a young woman, taking on household chores and keeping busy as she kept things moving along so their mother could be present with the farming.
“My life?” Sydney asked, ready to answer his question. “My life has been fine, certainly. There hasn’t been a whole lot going on here. I suppose many things have changed since you were here, but it has been such a long time that I hardly know where to begin explaining them.”
“I’m sure of that, but I still want you to try. I have really missed you. Are you still helping with the children on Saturdays like you mentioned in your letter? Those you were looking after and teaching Bible lessons so their mothers can take care of other things?” he asked.
Sydney laughed and nodded.
“I do. I’ve been doing that with Jill, but … I guess that’s coming to an end now,” she said.
Toby cocked his head to the side, curious about what Sydney meant by that. He couldn’t imagine what she was talking about.
“What do you mean? Why isn’t she helping you out anymore?” he asked, unable to stop himself from picturing Jill as she was, young and beautiful, carefree, and loyal to a fault.
“It’s awful, Toby. Her family can’t afford to keep her here anymore. They want her to place one of those mail order advertisements in the paper and find a husband. They are going to take her away from here,” Sydney said.
Toby’s heart ached at the thought. He didn’t want to see someone like Jill forced to leave her home because of something as silly as money. He’d just made a fortune in California, and it was unreasonable that anyone else he knew should suffer. He had already seen William going through such pain because of finances. Why should Jill have to do the same?
“I’m so sorry to hear that. I had no idea that her family was going through so much, Sydney. Do you really think she’ll have to leave?” he asked.
“It looks that way,” Sydney said. Then, all at once, she perked up with excitement. “You know, I always thought the two of you would make a nice couple, but when you left, I suppose I just forgot about it. Now, here you are. You’re back. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if you and Jill made a match of one another?”
Taken aback by Sydney’s exuberance, Toby leaned back from her and tried to straighten himself and look away, anything not to have to answer that question. He’d always had an interest in Jill, but he hadn’t seen her in years. Besides, things were too complicated for him now. Even if he thought he would be able to get Jill through her predicament or if he wanted just to marry her anyway, it wasn’t an option.
“Sydney, that’s certainly something to say, but you shouldn’t go on about things like that. I mean, she’s your friend and all that, but I don’t think she’d want you running around telling people that we belong together,” he said with an awkward laugh.
“But think about it, Toby. You two always got along well, even as children. I can’t imagine how wonderful it would be to watch the two of you grow together and have a life with one another. Oh, please, Toby?” Sydney begged.
“Are you serious, Sydney?” he asked with a laugh. “You’re just going to suddenly start begging me to marry her? Is that how love works nowadays? I suppose I’ve been gone a while.”
Teasing his sister seemed to be the only way Toby knew how to handle her suggestion. After all, he couldn’t very well tell her that he loved the idea of marrying Jill and would have happily done so under different circumstances.
But Toby was in trouble, and he wasn’t going to get out of it anytime soon. He was still on the run, along with William. Corey was looking for both of them, and he would happily kill Toby upon finding him.
Not only that, but if he were to marry Jill, there was a chance she could get hurt as well. Just as William was worried for Becky and their children, Toby knew that getting married would only put his wife in danger, and that was the last thing he wanted. It was terrifying to think that Jill might be hurt because of him. He really didn’t have a choice. The right thing was to let go of this wild idea that Sydney had and just move on.
“Toby? Are you listening to me? I just told you, very reasonably, that you should just go for it. I think the two of you would fall in love. I’m sure of it. Even if you haven’t seen one another in a long while, I think you would just fall back into old strides,” Sydney said.
“That’s awfully kind of you, but I don’t think it really works that way,” he reiterated.
“You’re wrong. Besides, you’re probably wondering what Jill is like these days or even how she looks. I’m happy to tell you that she’s beautiful as ever and everyone says so. Just because she hasn’t managed to find a husband yet doesn’t mean that she isn’t worth marrying. It’s just that times are tough here, and there aren’t a whole lot of men willing to set aside their need for money before asking a woman to marry them,” Sydney explained.
“That’s awfully nice of you to think about making a match of the two of us, but I really don’t think it’s the best idea, Sydney. I mean, have you even brought up this idea to Jill? How would she feel about you trying to make a match like this?” he asked.
“I’m sure she would understand my reasons. She’s a decent woman, as you know. Jill isn’t the kind who would just ignore a good option. I think she would be very happy to move forward with something like this,” Sydney said.
“Regardless of what a good woman she is, I just can’t imagine she would be happy with you jumping at the chance to try and set her up with your brother,” Toby reasoned. He knew that if he brushed away the idea, he would have a far better chance at convincing himself it was nonsense.
The nonsense was painfully tempting, of course. He thought about what it would be like to see Jill again, to tell her that he had struck gold and wanted to make a life together. It would be wonderful. Surely she would be happy to marry someone who could take care of her. He was financially secure, and that had to mean something, didn’t it?
Toby realized that he was drifting again. He tried to distract himself and focus on the conversation with Sydney so that he wouldn’t be foolish enough to think about marrying someone when he was in this situation.
“I think you would be surprised. Jill is just such a sweet woman, and I think the two of you would get along, but honestly? Even if it weren’t about love, you would have a grand partnership. You are both very loyal and loving. You both care about others, and you are compassionate. You have many similarities,” Sydney said.
“That doesn’t make an automatic marriage. I haven’t seen Jill in years. It wouldn’t be right or fair to just assume that she would want to marry someone like me. Now, anyway, let’s move on and talk about something else. What about you? Is there a fella who has caught your eye?” Toby asked.
“Not at the moment. And I’m all right with that. I expect that the Lord will bring the right man at the right time. Until then, it’s my duty to ensure that my brother and my dearest friend don’t miss out on a wonderful opportunity to be together,” she said.
“It would be far more prudent of you to try and find someone for yourself than to meddle in the affairs of others,” Toby said.
“Regardless, I have no one to pursue, and I would rather meddle,” she replied with a grin.
Toby couldn’t help smiling and shaking his head at his sister, who had always been the mischievous one between the two of them. He appreciated her personality and all its vibrancy, but it also reminded him of the laughter, smiles, and excitement of Jill. She and Sydney had always been cut from the same cloth. He only needed to try and think about what that might mean for him moving forward.
“Well, I do appreciate your encouragement, Sydney, but I think that’s enough for now. Whatever happens with my future will happen regardless of your meddling. And while I wish Jill all the best, I don’t know that it’s right to go planning anything to happen between us without knowing what’s on her mind,” he said, trying to maintain a level of amusement to keep his panic at bay.
“Right now, the only thing on her mind is figuring out how to stay in Poultry Springs. Jill doesn’t want to leave, and she shouldn’t have to. I just want you to think about it,” Sydney said.
No matter how much Toby would have loved to think about it, he couldn’t allow himself. It was a mistake. No matter what, he would never be able to have the sort of love he might have dreamed of in the past. For now, his life was all about running from Corey and trying to survive.
There wasn’t time for anything else.
Jill watched the water lap up along the banks of the small pond. Utterly discouraged and wishing she could just hide away and forget about this silly idea of leaving, she couldn’t help eyeing the stagnant water.
Many people thought it was a shame to be stagnant, that it was a sign of unfulfilled potential and a waste of life. But Jill didn’t see it that way. She knew there was more to her life than this. She knew there was nothing shameful about staying put so long as it didn’t mean giving up.
For Jill, there was nothing about it that meant giving up. Instead, she was determined to move forward—so long as forward kept her here in Poultry Springs. She would be obedient to her mother and father and find a way to remove herself as a financial burden, but she would make every effort to find another path aside from this idea that she would need to marry a stranger.
Hearing the sound of footsteps, Jill looked up and saw a tall, broad man coming her way. She knew him at once, although he had lost the boyish qualities she remembered from years ago. Still, her heart leaped when she saw him, remembering the days she had followed him around as a child, admiring the older brother of her dearest friend.
“Jill,” he said by way of greeting as if it were some strange coincidence to run into her here, and yet it was entirely expected at the same time.
“Toby? I heard you’d come back,” she said, smiling shyly as she had always done. It was strange to realize that he had recognized her at once as well.
“Yes, I came back. I won’t pretend it isn’t strange, coming back after all these years and seeing the home I left behind,” he said.
Jill’s smile faltered, wondering if she would ever be allowed to return home once she was gone.
“Well, I know Sydney is thrilled to have you home, and I imagine everyone else is as well,” she said.
He looked so calm and peaceful, simply smiling in response, clearly not knowing what to say next.
“May I sit with you for a moment?” he finally asked.
“Yes, of course,” she said, subconsciously shifting over even though there was no need for it.
“Thank you. I had come to the pond for some peace and quiet, but I wouldn’t mind a bit of company,” he said.
“I came for the same reason. And it’s no bother at all having you here,” she said, feeling that familiar surge of insecurity. Her stomach turned over on itself, and she tried to ignore it.
Jill simply wanted Toby to think well of her. Although she was about to depart, she found herself wishing that Toby had come home sooner so that they would have time to be around one another. It hardly mattered now, though. Her mother and father had probably already taken the advertisement to the paper, and she would be waiting for someone to come along and tell her she had been chosen for marriage.
“It’s beautiful out here today,” Toby said before turning to Jill.
She looked back at him, and for a long moment, their eyes lingered on one another. She noted the brightness of his blue-green eyes and how it contrasted with his brown hair. She took in the manly jaw and wide chin that looked as though it could do with a clean shaving. Indeed, he was no longer a boy. But she was no longer a girl either, and she wondered if he still saw her as one.
At that thought, Jill’s cheeks grew warm, and she looked away from him.
“So,” he said, striking up conversation. “You said you came out here to get some peace and quiet. Is everything all right?”
“Oh, it’s fine,” she replied in a small voice.
“I don’t mean to intrude, but you don’t seem fine. And you were never very good at lying when we were children. It’s a comfort to know that the world hasn’t hardened you enough to make you good at it now,” he said sweetly.
Jill laughed and then gave a shrug.
“Well, I suppose you’re right about that. And as for my reasoning, I am in a position where I must leave home and have no desire to. It may take a few weeks or a month even, but I am anxious. I would rather stay here,” she confessed.
“Sydney mentioned your predicament. It’s unfortunate. I know that I chose to leave home to chase after something for my family’s sake, and I had good luck with it. But I always had the option of returning whenever I wanted. I’m sorry that you don’t have that same luxury,” he said.
“I want to do the right thing for my family. That is the most important part of it. I don’t want to leave, and I don’t want to commit my life to a stranger, but it seems that this is the only way they are going to be able to get by,” Jill said.
“I understand. And if that’s how it has to be, it’s good that you are a loyal daughter and are willing to do that. But I have to admit that it sounds awfully lonely and upsetting. I mean, what if you don’t love the man you are supposed to marry?” he asked.
“That’s certainly my fear,” she confessed. “I don’t expect to happen upon a man I will love, but I do pray that the Lord allows me such an opportunity. After all, many men in this world are good and decent. Perhaps I will find one of them.”
“And what makes for a good and decent man?” he asked. Jill had the strangest sense he was asking because he was curious for himself instead of really wanting to know what she expected from a husband who found her in the paper.
She found she wouldn’t mind if he were asking with ulterior motives.
“Well, I think a good man loves the Lord, provides for his family, and takes care of them. He has integrity and is honest,” she said, looking back up at Toby only to find his face downcast.
“Have I said something wrong?” Jill asked, searching him for a moment.
“Oh, no. Not at all,” he said, recovering. “I was curious. That’s all. I am a young man, and it is interesting to hear what young ladies are hoping for in a husband.”
“Well, I don’t think you’ll need to worry much. I mean, you are traveled and intelligent and articulate. It won’t be too hard for you to find someone … if you’re hoping to do that, I mean,” Jill replied, feeling painfully uncomfortable. She wasn’t sure how best to encourage him without unintentionally revealing some of her own affections.
“You think so? I honestly thought I was probably pushing my luck to have any kind of hope for a wife soon,” he said.
Deciding to push her luck, Jill spoke up.
“And what do you think makes for a decent wife? Since I’m soon to marry, I would like to know what a man might expect,” she said.
“I doubt you will have any trouble, Jill. A husband wants a wife who is kind, vibrant, and virtuous,” he said.
“I don’t feel overly vibrant these days,” she said.
“That’s only because you’re discouraged. I know that you aren’t the sort of woman to live in this state of sadness. But I do trust that, in time, you will get back to yourself. Don’t worry, Jill. There will be a time when you feel all the life come back to you,” he promised.
Jill looked up at him once more and couldn’t help feeling overwhelmed by this moment, by being around Toby again after all these years.
“Just don’t let yourself be stopped from having the happy, loving life that you deserve,” he said. “I would hate to hear that you allowed yourself to live in the discouragement of what you are being forced into. Remember who you are and all that you have to offer a husband. I’m sure that, in time, you will have the love and joy you always hoped for. You may even love living in a new place.”
“You think so? I mean, you have lived outside of Poultry Springs, but you came back. I won’t have that opportunity. If you really think it is a good thing to be able to leave, why would you return?” she asked.
For a moment, she saw the panic in his eyes, but Toby quickly recovered.
“I came back because I knew that it was time,” he said. “I could have stayed away, but I would have been disappointed in myself if I had let greed get the best of me.”
“That makes sense,” she replied.
“I did what I needed to do so that I could provide for my family, and I am very happy that I managed to do so. Anyway, I just want you to know that you don’t need to be afraid, Jill. I would hate you to feel so discouraged that you suffer because you are worried about the future. I think it’s best you remember that the Lord has you in his hands and he will lead and guide you,” Toby promised.
“Yes, I think you’re right,” Jill said.
“Anyway, I don’t want to keep you busy. I shouldn’t have come and interrupted you,” he said.
“I really don’t mind,” Jill said, wishing that he wouldn’t leave. It was wonderful to see him again after all these years. He was so kind and so very handsome. If she hadn’t been in such a strange time in her life, she might even have the courage to hope for a future with Toby. But it didn’t seem as though that would happen.
“Maybe we will see one another again soon. I’m sure you’ll be around the farm. I know you and Sydney are still close,” he said.
“Oh, yes,” she replied. “I’m there quite often, actually. I’m sure I will see you.”
Toby stood, and Jill did the same to say her farewell politely. She felt awkward, knowing that she was tall for a woman and barely stood an inch shorter than Toby. But he didn’t seem to mind.
With a final smile from each of them, he turned away and started walking. Jill watched him for a moment, hoping they really would have more time together. She often ate with his family. It was an offer of pity, she knew, but they welcomed her anyway. Her mother and father were grateful for the days they had one less mouth to feed.
Soon enough, she would be gone, and they wouldn’t have to worry anymore.
“When Troubled Souls Meet” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Jill Wagonmaker’s life falls to pieces when she discovers that her only option to help her parents is to become a mail-order bride. Ever the dutiful daughter, she agrees but she gets utterly distressed by the idea of moving away and marrying a stranger. As she desperately looks for a way out, Toby’s unexpected arrival resurrects her hope… Jill thinks back to the emotions she had for him as a young girl and wonders if she could marry him instead. Although a bit reserved at first, Jill feels the spark between them and decides to embrace the unknown. However, she quickly realizes that her new husband is hiding something and her hopeful thoughts are dashed to pieces. Is he just saving her from one dead-end only to pull her into another?
Toby Dangerfield has just returned home after four years, running away from trouble. When his sister comes to him with the most unexpected proposal, urging him to marry the young woman he always cared for, he gets thrilled by this chance. Although hiding his secret from Jill is complicated, he knows it’s the safest thing for her. Will his past finally catch up to him? Will he have to abandon his new wife just when they finally found one another?
While suspicions fly among the pair, untold secrets threaten to drive them apart forever. Jill finds herself in the midst of a hazardous situation, and Toby’s dreams for a loving family are in danger. As their relationship deepens and danger comes closer, will they risk all for love? With their marriage at stake, will they forge a happy future for themselves, or are their rifts too large to mend?
“When Troubled Souls Meet” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.