It was a hot, still night in California, with thunder rumbling in the distance and lightning crashing through the sky miles and miles away. Although the sun was down and the people should be sleeping, Imogen couldn’t even get a wink.
If it was her own fault, she wouldn’t have been as upset. But it wasn’t her fault. It was the noise coming from the saloon across the street and down the block. That was coupled with the loud ramblings and slurred warbling of the drunken cowboys outside the saloon, walking home or to wherever they would hang their hat for the night.
Imogen Brown was a young woman of twenty-four and enjoyed having a good time as much as any other person. But when there was so much disturbance, she couldn’t plug her ears with anything at all to keep the sound out; it was so much worse. All she wanted was to sleep. She had things to do and places to go the next day and didn’t want to be exhausted the whole time. Her father wouldn’t like seeing her that way either.
It wasn’t the first time, and unfortunately, it wouldn’t be the last. Imogen missed when her hometown of Bryantsville, California, was just a small one-hotel town that never attracted much attention. Now, it had grown to nearly two thousand people. It was almost frightening and would have been if Imogen wasn’t a bold, outgoing woman with a talkative nature. She was smart and friendly and got along with everyone.
Now there were people in Bryantsville she didn’t even know. The fact shamed her, but what could she do? There were just too many people moving.
Imogen slid out of her bed and walked to the window to look out over the main street. Her great-great-grandfather had helped establish this little town nearly 70 years ago at the beginning of the 19th century. By 1889, the town was much bigger than the dozen families that started it.
She was happy living with her father in one of the first mansion cottages established in Bryantsville. Her ancestors built the unique house right there on the main road. She couldn’t imagine what the other families must have thought, but she did find it quite amusing.
The house wasn’t much wider than the other shops and houses on the road at 30 feet, but the unique thing about Imogen’s home was how long it was. It stretched out 300 feet in length, cutting through the middle of what would have been an alleyway behind the shops built on that side of the road. Fortunately, there were only residences built to the right of Imogen and shops to the left.
Still, Imogen was aware that the length of the house was a constant irritant, a thorn in the side of the residents of Bryantsville. That’s why she thought the original residents probably had been too.
She pressed her fingers to the bottom of the window and pushed it up so she could lean out. The first thing she did was lift her chin and close her eyes, breathing in the night’s cool, fresh air.
She heard raucous laughter, followed by hooting and whistling from a quad of men stumbling by holding each other up. One had been tilting his head back to drink from the bottle in his hand and spotted her.
“Girlie!” two of them shouted at the same time. They looked and pointed at each other and then burst out laughing, falling together. The one with the bottle in his hand tripped his way toward the front door of her house, and she leaned out further to yell at him.
“Go on home, you! My father won’t let you in here, and you aren’t welcome here! Go home to your family!”
Imogen stepped back and slammed her window down. She could still hear them out there screaming for her to come back and wished she’d never leaned out the window in the first place.
She dropped down on her bed and crossed her arms over her chest to sulk. She was wide awake. It wasn’t going to be a good day the next day.
It was bad enough she had to deal with a father who had a short temper and an authoritarian attitude. She didn’t need his berating because she would be yawning all day. He could sleep through this racket. It wasn’t Imogen’s fault that she was a light sleeper.
Sometimes she wondered if her mother had a calming effect on Jacob or if she’d had to deal with him the way he was like she did. She’d died in childbirth, taking with her the perfectly formed baby boy that would have been the perfect brother for ten-year-old Imogen.
She’d been taking care of her father’s household ever since, growing up the moment she lost her mother. She’d never be allowed to live a normal life or have a good childhood. She was working the day after it happened.
Imogen finally laid back down on the bed and stared up at the ceiling.
Please, God, she prayed, help me sleep.
Manuel Javier Ortega moved down the dark passage deep in the mine, humming a soft tune under his breath. He was working that section by himself, as it had been assigned to him by his boss, James Bryant.
Manny and his boss were on good terms. He was a good employee, did his work without complaining, happy that he could use his body for physical labor when he knew many who could not support themselves or their families. He was conscientious and had not had any accidents on the job since he started with the mining company a few years ago.
Since Jimmy had assigned him to that specific section, he’d decided to hang his own personal lamps around the area so that he could see. Whenever he had to load the rocks on the cart, he would have to venture into the darkness beyond that area. The more light he had in his section, the more would reflect out to where the cart was sitting on the tracks.
He could see his section in the distance because his best friend, who always arrived before him, took the time to light all his lanterns before he got there. When Manny thanked him for it, he said, “You’re welcome, but you don’t have to thank me. It helps all of us in this part of the mine because it’s so bright.”
Manny was almost to his section when he saw Tito reaching up to the last lantern on the wall, lighting it. His back was turned to Manny, but his red and brown jacket was unmistakable. No one else wore a jacket like that. Plus, Manny knew the back story behind it and that it was priceless to Tito. His mother had made it for him before he came to America. He remembered Tito telling him the story and how his friend had tears in his eyes when he spoke of his mother’s struggle to save the fifty cents in tax levied on each person coming into America from Mexico.
That was just nine years ago. Manny and Tito had come over the border at the same time but didn’t know each other until they both applied for the job at the Orwell Mines. Manny recognized him from the immigration office where they’d paid their tax, and the two became fast friends.
Manny came around the corner, extending his hand to his friend. “Tito Gonzales, I must thank you. Thank you, my friend.”
Tito spun around as if he hadn’t expected Manny to come up behind him. It was an old joke. Tito acted like he was surprised, but Manny knew he was just waiting for his footsteps.
“My friend, it is good to see you!” Tito said enthusiastically, taking Manny’s hand, and the two met together in a chest-to-chest hug, slapping each other on the back with their free hand. “You are looking well today. Ready to dig out some rocks?”
“I am!” Manny replied with equal energy, surveying the area around him. “I’ve got some work to finish on the eastern wall there, and then I’m starting on the north as instructed. You doing good this morning?”
“I am, thank you for asking. I asked Jimmy if I could work in here with you today. I hope you don’t mind.”
Manny was surprised and raised his eyebrows, a bit taken aback. This was a rare occasion. He blinked at Tito. “You know I have no objection to you working in here with me, amigo, but why would you want to? You have your own section.”
Tito shrugged, lifting the strap of his long canvas bag from his shoulder and dropping his tools to the ground slowly.
“Solitario,” he mumbled, his head down.
“Perdóneme?” Manny tilted his head to the side and gazed at his friend, moving his eyes down to the bag as Tito dug through it to get his pickaxe.
Tito glanced up at him. “I am lonely, as you might say, that is all. Lonely. I wish to be with a friend today.”
Manny grinned wide. “That is fine. I am happy to have you with me today. I enjoy talking to you.” Manny moved to go past him, and as he did, he slapped Tito on the shoulder. “You remind me of our native country.”
“And there is nothing wrong with that, no?”
Manny and Tito set about their work, slamming the pickaxes in the rocks repetitively, removing the rocks and carrying them to the cart on the tracks behind them. For the first half-hour, they worked in silence, each to their own thoughts.
Someday, Manny planned to have his own land. He wanted a plot outside of town, a specific piece of land at the base of Montgomery Mountain, but it wasn’t currently for sale. He didn’t know who owned it, but he would surely like to speak to them.
There was a cave in that mountain, right there where he wanted to buy, and it was the biggest reason he wanted that area of land. He wanted to dig for gold and use the money to turn the land into a cattle ranch.
Like all the men he knew, Manny longed for a wife of his own, children, his own house. He also wanted to supply a place for his parents, who were still working hard and didn’t own their own home. They’d been struggling since the US Government allowed them access but wouldn’t allow them much of the same rights as naturalized citizens of the country. He could have paid twice the tax for his immigration, but it wouldn’t have made a difference. He was still not allowed to become a citizen.
But if he were to marry a citizen, be given or purchase land of his own, he would consider it a little part of taking back what once belonged to his ancestors.
Without his own home, there was little chance he would ever be truly happy. He was getting up there in years, already about to turn thirty.
Manny stopped pounding the wall with his ax for a moment, resting it against his legs while he took off his hat and wiped his sweaty forehead with the back of his shirt. Soon, he would shed any clothes on the upper part of his body, and when he left for the day, his pants would be soaked through, along with his socks and shoes. The only thing he could remove was his shirt. So he wasn’t going to wear it.
He leaned to the side and picked up his canteen. There was fresh spring water in it, kept cool because of the canteen’s material. He tilted his head back and took several swallows. When he lowered it, he sighed contentedly.
As he screwed the top back on, he turned halfway to see what Tito was into.
The man was tapping on the wall, tilting his head to the side.
A bit of adrenaline raced through Manny, and he took a step toward Tito. “What did you find?” he asked.
Without answering verbally, Tito lifted his hand and gestured with all his fingers for Manny to approach.
“I think I see something shining in there. Diamonds or a gold stream? You look, see what you think.”
Manny hurried to the wall. Once there, he took the candle Tito offered him and lifted it so he could look in the crack Tito had made there. There was definitely something shining.
“Let’s get this out of here and see what it is,” he said breathlessly.
“So you do see it? I am not crazy?”
“You are not crazy.” Manny laughed. “Come, help me.”
The two men dug around the area until they could reach into the hole they’d made.
It took several tries of Manny adjusting the candle to see without a reflection or putting the glittering light into the darkness.
Finally, he saw a way through and reached in to either dip his fingers in a gold stream or touch the hard side of a diamond.
Adrenaline raced through his body as his fingers met something hard. He turned his eyes to Tito, who looked like he was about to jump up and down and let it all out.
“Diamond,” he said conclusively.
He laughed when Tito looked like he was going to faint dead away.
Manny walked down the muddy path to the tent city he lived in. It was near enough to Bryantsville for him to feel like he lived in the town, but he didn’t really. The tent city consisted of myriads of different colored canvas tents, the homes of the immigrant Mexicans, Chinese, Washoe, the elderly, and the orphaned.
In Manny’s mind, they were all part of a family, a family of castaways. He didn’t feel much separated from the townsfolk because he thought of everyone as an individual human being who should be judged according to his own merits and character, not by class, status, or anything else.
Many in Tent City would disagree with Manny, and he knew that. He was not a confrontational man, so he kept his opinion to himself. Especially when drunken arguments would break out around the campfire as some of the immigrants berated the townsfolk for looking down their noses at them daily.
Manny knew it was how their parents had taught those folks. And those parents had probably been scared. It was fear that caused prejudice. The fear of something different, a change that might occur was frightening to some people.
There were plenty of good people in Bryantsville. Manny was happy whether he was in town, in the mine, or his large canvas tent, a home he called his own.
Maybe happy was too strong a word.
Manny was content.
Tito had erected his tent directly next to Manny’s and was in front of them both, sparking a fire in the shared rock pit they had constructed together. He looked over his shoulder at his friend and grinned wide, showing tobacco-stained but perfectly straight teeth. His eyes sparkled with friendliness.
Manny was glad he had a friend to talk to.
“Howdy!” Tito said, using his best American drawl. “How you doin’?”
Manny laughed pleasantly. “I am much better than I was an hour ago when I was working.”
“You look cansado … tired. Sit yourself. We will eat. I have made frijoles and queso in a tortilla for us.”
“Ah, keeping up tradition. You are a good man, Tito. A very good man.”
Manny’s stomach growled as the smell of the burritos filled his nostrils. He closed his eyes and hurried to his tent to change and clean up. He couldn’t wait to devour several burritos, filling his stomach so he could sleep that night.
He tore off his clothes, and after a sponge bath and towel dry, he redressed in fresh, clean clothes. The old man Chin and his wife did the laundry for nearly every man in Tent City. They were two of the funniest people Manny had ever met. He always enjoyed his time with them.
He was back out at the fire in no time, taking a seat on a cushion placed on the ground near it. He was about to remove one of the burritos from the pan when Tito snapped at him.
“Don’t do that! You’ll get burned! You can’t work in the mine with an injury.”
Manny snatched his hand back, grinning sheepishly. “I don’t know what I was thinking,” he said. “I haven’t reached into a hot pan since I was a child.”
“You must be muriendo de hambre, eh? You can’t wait? Here. Let me.” Tito reached to the side of his own cushion and picked up a pair of tongs laying on a towel. He scooped out two burritos and put them on a plate for Manny. “Don’t eat too fast. You will give yourself a stomachache.”
Manny nodded. “Gracias,” he said.
“De nada,” Tito replied. “If you want more, there is plenty. I can’t eat more than tres, and I’ve made enough for visitors if we have any. You know how this place is. When people smell the cooking of others, they often come seeking delicious meals.”
Manny nodded, too busy digging into the burritos with a fork to say anything. He looked at Tito after devouring the first one, giving him a thumbs-up.
“Excelente. Very good. Delicious.”
“Gracias, gracias, my friend.” Tito laughed as he bowed from the waist. “I am grateful for the compliment.”
They both settled down and watched the commotion around them as families got together and neighbors congregated to chat, mingle, laugh together.
Manny had a good feeling in his heart. Despite their obvious disdain for the people who lived in Bryantsville, these people around him were good, trustworthy, honest, and loyal. They were brave and worked hard to provide, even though often met with obstacles and men who wanted to use them as slaves, paying them well below their worth because they were aware of the desperate times.
Manny had always managed to find good men to work for. Because of that, he and Tito were consistently well paid and content in their jobs. They always had food to eat, and Tito was a master at making tortillas and filling them with various delicious tastes. Manny had learned to sew from his aunt, who had sponsored his journey to the United States. He kept their clothes in good repair.
Ironically, it seemed from Tito’s next words that his train of thought was following the same route as Manny’s.
“I must tell you something, Manny. I need you to listen to me.”
Manny averted his eyes to his friend, who was now drinking from a bottle of tequila. Manny wouldn’t be drinking tonight. He found it made him sleep heavy and wake up groggy with a headache. He would rather keep his mind sharp.
“I’m listening,” he responded.
“I am worried about our work boots.”
Manny’s eyebrows shot up. “Our work boots? What do you mean?”
“I know that Jimmy is your amigo. The boots issued by his company are two years old. I have holes in mine. Near the heel. On both boots. It is dangerous for us to be wearing the same boots after two years. We must have them replaced.”
Manny swept his eyes over the crowd around him. Some of them worked at the mine with him and Tito. Others worked as ranch hands for various ranches around Bryantsville. “All the miners in the company?”
“Yes. I think it is necessary. We should not be taking our feet for granted.”
Manny thought that was a funny way to put it, but he understood what his friend meant. He was right. The quality of their shoes would impact on how well they were able to do their jobs. It was also hazardous in that it could lead to injuries, preventable with the proper footwear.
He nodded. “I think you are right, Tito. I will talk to Jimmy about it mañana. I, too, believe it is important to take care of such things.”
“I know you do, my friend.” Tito leaned forward, offering the bottle to Manny, who shook his head. Tito gave him a surprised look.
“I do not want to wake up in the morning with a headache and feeling enferma del estómago,” Manny said, putting one hand over his stomach and grimacing as if it hurt.
“Ah, sí, sí.” He nodded and picked up the tongs to grab his third burrito.
A child of eight approached them, a little boy named Sein Lu who frequently partook of their Mexican delicacies. He was a huge admirer and often vowed he would grow up to open his own Mexican restaurant, which caused delight and laughter among both his family and the Mexicans within the community.
“Hello!” Tito greeted the boy with vibrant warmth, throwing his arms out to receive a hug. The boy laughed heartily and ran to him. “I know you are hungry, no?”
“Oh, sí, sí, Mr. Gonzales!” the child answered, nodding vigorously.
Tito laughed, turning wide eyes to Manny. “Look at this boy, learning our language. He is brilliant, no?”
“Sí,” Manny responded, giving a friendly grin to the child, who returned it with one of his own.
Tito looked back at the little boy. “All right, Sein, come here and sit down, and I will give you a burrito. You can say that, no? Burrito?”
“Burrito,” Sein responded, mimicking Tito perfectly. “Yes, that is an easy one, Mr. Gonzales.”
Sein’s laughter filled Manny’s heart with joy.
The members of the Tent City community weren’t all honest and trustworthy. He liked to think it was that way, but some had their flaws. Would-be claim jumpers, drifters, and a few petty criminals who never stole from those within the community but were known to cause trouble in Bryantsville.
But he still felt blessed and was glad the children in Tent City were safe from harm. One hair disturbed in anger on any of the children’s heads was all it would take to bring the entire community down on the perpetrator.
And that was a good thing, in Manny’s opinion.
Whenever Imogen thought of Mr. Daniel Bryant’s sharp pencil mustache and greasy black hair, it made her shudder. She wouldn’t have cared that he was a little on the short side, standing only two inches taller than her. She wouldn’t have even cared that his body was wide in girth, though made up of pretty solid muscle mass as opposed to fat. It wasn’t his unattractive physical appearance that made her feel sick when she thought about him.
It was … him. His personality. He worked as the liquor supplier for the town of Bryantsville, establishing himself in riches as a result. He was a slimy man, in her opinion, a slug that slithered around the town, leaving a stench and a feeling of uneasiness in his wake.
So when her father once again brought up his idea of her being betrothed and then actually marrying the creature, she was unable to hold back from showing her disgust.
That didn’t sit well with her father, who was Danny’s best friend.
“I don’t want to marry him, Papa,” Imogen said bluntly, reaching forward to take another biscuit from the basket. “He might have been the best man ever born when he was younger, but he is no longer the best friend you had when you were young.”
“You don’t know him well enough to say that about him,” Jacob replied, taking a biscuit from the basket on the other side of the table from her. He smeared jelly on the outside and took a bite. Imogen watched him do it, wondering why he didn’t just break the biscuit in half and put the jelly inside like everyone else.
She almost laughed at herself, but her irritation with her father kept her from doing so.
“I don’t need to know any more than I know.” She had filled her plate with bacon and eggs. The smell was making her hungry as it filled her nose. She started eating, vowing not to respond to any of her father’s taunts until she wasn’t so hungry anymore. Eating didn’t stop her ears from functioning, though, so her annoyance made her chew hard, staring down at her plate.
“You don’t know anything,” he said firmly. “I have been friends with him for a long time, yes, and that’s precisely why you should listen to me.”
“I will finish what I’m saying.” Jacob held up one hand, his palm to her. “Danny may be a bit greedy, but he is an honorable man and does right by others. He loves being able to supply the town with something that he says brings them light and joy. You must admit that is true.”
Imogen snorted. She barreled in with what she wanted to say even though she knew he wouldn’t listen to her anyway.
“He used to be that way, perhaps,” she started. “But he is no longer the man you used to know. He is manipulative and mean. He is very unkind to the immigrants who are only trying to work hard for an American life. He profits off the sweat of their brows and doesn’t care a smidge about them.”
Jacob stopped what he was doing to stare at her. She could tell he was being sarcastically dramatic, and it made her heart twitch with irritation.
“Don’t look at me like that, Papa. He doesn’t care about their well-being in the least.”
“I concur with what he’s been saying all along, Imogen. There is no one else in this town, no one I know anyway, who is more qualified to be your husband than he is.”
If Imogen had been eating when he said that she would have choked. Instead, she gazed at him like he’d lost his mind. “What? Danny is 22 years older than me. He isn’t an attractive man. He is like an … an uncle or something. A long-lost uncle, yes.”
“Age does not make a difference, and you know that. You will learn to love him. He has been talking about you for a long time. I know he is anxious for you to say you will allow him to court and marry you.”
Imogen shook her head. When she responded, she’d lowered her voice to a loving tone, still gazing directly at him. He wouldn’t meet her eyes. “That’s simply not going to happen, Papa. I’m not going to marry your liquor dealer. I would rather chew on broken glass.”
“Jean!” her father barked, a disgusted look coming across his face. “Do not say such things, please.” He lifted one hand and put it to his forehead as if he could not just see the image in his mind but feel it in his mouth.
She frowned at him. “What? I’m not going to marry him, Papa. I don’t care what you say or what you do; you’ll never make me marry that man. He does all his business with saloons, doesn’t he? Why doesn’t he find himself a woman who wants a man who constantly smells like liquor and can’t hold a decent conversation about anything else because he doesn’t know anything about anything else?”
Her father moved his eyes to her. She waited for him to get what she’d said through his thick skull. When he didn’t respond but didn’t take his eyes from her, she lifted a biscuit purposefully, cutting through it with a knife and adding a bit of jelly from the jar. Then she closed it and took a bite, performing the entire task while still holding his eyes.
“I’m. Not. Going. To. Marry. Him,” she stated bluntly when she was done chewing and had swallowed her food. God forbid she should be sloppy or do anything unladylike in front of him.
“You will if I tell you to.” What he said sounded like a challenge to Imogen rather than the warning he intended it to be.
She continued to glare at him, raising her eyebrows and breaking the gaze long enough to glance down at the plate. She was three-quarters of her way through breakfast, but she didn’t really feel like eating anymore. She wanted to go for a horseback ride through the countryside and down around Tent City. Sometimes she stayed back, gazing down at the small community from her perch high on a hill, watching them all get along. She volunteered there sometimes to help the doctor or to bring supplies sent from Alice at the mercantile.
She stood up, pushing the chair with the back of her knees until it wasn’t below her anymore. She was supposed to be going the next day. Maybe she would go today instead. That would teach him a lesson. He never went to Tent City. He was afraid of them, the Mexicans and the Chinese. He said they were manipulative and angry and would stop at nothing to cold-bloodedly kill all the people in Bryantsville and all across California and Nevada, which had once been their lands.
She wasn’t going to let his racist behavior reflect or grow on her. She had her own mind and made her own decisions. From the interactions she’d had with the community, she thought it would be nice if her hometown had stayed nearly as small as that little Tent City.
“I’m leaving for the day,” she said in a huffy voice. “I’m almost done with dinner anyway. I resent that you think you can control me when I am a grown woman capable of making my own decisions. I don’t answer to you anymore.”
Her father was out of his chair and chasing her out of the house in a rage moments later, and Imogen lifted her skirt with her hands as soon as she got out onto the main road as fast as she could, not bothering to look back and see if he’d followed.
“Faithful to Her Heart’s Wish” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Imogen Brown has a comfortable life but her pure heart can’t rest while others are suffering. On a regular basis, she voluntarily helps families living at the nearby Tent City against the wishes of her own prejudiced father. When she falls in love with a young migrant, though, the chasm between loyalty and passion threatens to overwhelm her.
Does she have the courage to defy her father’s command for love?
Manny Ortega’s ankle injury unexpectedly changes the course of his life, leaving him bedridden and unable to care for himself. To his fortune, a sudden ray of hope is found, when Imogen offers to nurse him. While he is getting better and better by her healing touch, he can no longer ignore the spark he feels for her. But when he finds out that she is the daughter of a wealthy and bigoted man, he is devastated.
Does he have what it takes to fight for his only chance at happiness in this hostile new world?
Will Imogen and Manny live up to their oaths of undying love? Will that prove enough to survive the disastrous storm and keep their hearts united?
“Faithful to Her Heart’s Wish” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.