Lila Grey exited the shop just after five in the evening. She had been working long and hard, hemming trousers and stitching buttons. But now that her work was finished, she was eager to be getting home.
“Lila!” called Dana, her dearest friend. Dana was crossing from her father’s office, where she worked to help him organize the papers he kept on his patients and keep the office clean.
“Are you heading home?” Lila asked.
“I sure am. You?”
“I am. Ma said she would pick up the flour, so I don’t think I need to do anything else in town for the day,” Lila replied as they stepped out along the main drag through town. A few men tipped their hats as they rode by on their horses, and Lila and Dana smiled and nodded in reply, subconsciously smoothing their dresses, and straightening their backs.
“That Jim Hardy. He’s certainly one I’d keep my eyes on,” Dana said dreamily.
“And I think he feels the same way about you. I don’t know if I’ve ever seen a fella so smitten,” Lila replied.
“Thank you for saying it, but I doubt that very much. You know, Jim Hardy isn’t the sort of man to fraternize with a young lady,” Dana said.
“Exactly. And that’s a good thing, Dana. You don’t want someone who’s going to fraternize. You want someone who’s going to woo you and make you, his wife. That’s exactly what Jim Hardy’s going to do one day when he gets up the courage,” Lila said.
Lila was certain she was right. It was clear that Jim Hardy had noticed Dana. She’d seen him looking over at Dana even in church. He just didn’t seem ready to approach her about it all. Of course, as much as she believed this for Dana, Lila feared that her own future would have nothing in terms of romance. She would likely spend the rest of her days in Mrs. Taylor’s shop, sewing and smiling at customers, making every effort to put their clothing back together again.
“I hope you’re right, Lila. I can’t tell you how much I like him, and I only wish he would express some kind of feelings for me,” Dana said, bringing Lila back to the conversation and out of her thoughts.
“He will. And as for how much you like him, I don’t think you need to tell me anything. It’s obvious, Dana. That’s why I’m so eager to see the two of you finally come together. I know you care about him, and he cares about you, so why should you have to sit around wondering and waiting? It would be best if he simply finds the courage to tell you,” she said.
“Honestly, I don’t think it’s me that he’s afraid of. My father is the doctor in town, and you know how that can intimidate someone,” Dana said.
“True. Maybe Jim’s worried that asking your father for permission to court you will only end in embarrassment. I sure hope that doesn’t happen, but you could always talk to your father in advance, let him know that you’ve taken an interest in a young man, and you hope that young man will approach you,” she said. “Who knows? Your father might even be the one to go to him first, asking if he’d like to court you.”
Dana laughed at the idea, but Lila was just happy to give suggestions of ways that could bring Dana and Jim together. As for her own love interest, Lila was still trying to ignore it. She had no hope that anything would ever come of it, so what was the point in letting herself even think about him?
She didn’t even know him all that well, and every time he came into the shop to have something made or stitched on behalf of his mother or sister, he barely even looked at Lila. He would just keep his voice low and barely look her in the eyes.
But Lila couldn’t help looking back at his. Caleb’s mossy green eyes were gorgeous. They were a meadow unto themselves.
Not that it mattered. He didn’t seem to notice her in the least.
“My father does respect Jim, you know,” Dana said. “He said that he’s a good fella for working so hard and learning alongside Caleb Walker.”
At Caleb’s name, Lila’s heart leaped, but she did her best to hide it, not wanting to give away her secret feelings.
“He says that any man who works that hard with his hands is a man who can be trusted to look after his little girl,” Dana said.
“That’s perfect, isn’t it? He already likes Jim, so there shouldn’t be any problem,” Lila said, happy that things would go well for Dana at least.
“I suppose so. Still, I just want him to think about whether or not he really likes me. I mean, wouldn’t that just be remarkable?” she asked dreamily.
“Yes, of course. And—”
Lila trailed off and swallowed hard, immediately filled with dread when she saw Victor Monroe across the street. He was a portrait that put a nightmare in Lila’s mind. His tall, reedy appearance was akin to a scarecrow and his hooked nose jutted out like a claw. Although his hair was black as night, his skin was pallid as though he had never left his home and gone out into the Wyoming sun.
But the worst part was his eyes. They were so light a shade of blue that they might as well have been white altogether.
Lila had dark hair and grey-blue eyes, but not at such extremes as his. And she still had life in her face. She had the occasional freckle from being sun-kissed and a sparkle in her eye. Victor looked as though he was in want of physic.
“Lila, come. Let’s go behind the saloon to get around him,” Dana said. She knew how important it was for Lila to avoid Victor.
“Yes, that’s a good idea,” she replied, uncomfortable.
“Don’t worry, he hasn’t seen you yet. We just need to get past him before he notices that you’re over here. If we walk calmly, he won’t notice us,” Dana said, leading Lila toward an alley between Mr. Filbert’s Sweets Shoppe and the Wild Springs Saloon.
Lila wanted nothing more than to break out in a run, but she knew that Dana was right. They needed to be cautious and go at a pace calm enough that Victor wouldn’t notice them scurrying off. He sure wasn’t a pleasant man, but he knew how to find Lila from almost anywhere.
Of course, Lila knew that her mother and father didn’t mind Victor’s attention. Sure, they didn’t care for him, and they knew Lila didn’t either, but Victor was one of the wealthiest men in town and—despite his appearance—he managed to charm a lot of people. They tended to trust him, possibly because he was so hideous, they didn’t think he could get away with anything.
He had always been nice to Lila, and she knew that she ought not to judge him so harshly based on his looks, but there was just something about him that made her deeply uncomfortable. His affection for her typically made her want to run away screaming. She simply found him…too much.
He was always trying to get close to her, to find an excuse to speak with her, trying to charm her, and basically just trying to impress her as best he was able. Unfortunately, he was not doing very well, and Lila only wanted to get away from him even more. She couldn’t bear the idea of getting close enough that he might think she was interested in return.
“Are you all right?” Dana asked once they were on the other side of the saloon.
Lila nodded. She couldn’t explain why she was shaken by the moment. She hadn’t even had to speak with Victor, and yet her heart raced in anxiety from the encounter.
“I’m doing just fine,” she said. “But I don’t want to be in town any longer. Let’s just get home.”
Dana walked with her until they reached Dana’s home, a quaint little house with a small garden in the front. There were bean bushes in production, putting off little shoots and promising a delicious fare. Lila wished she had space for something like that at her home. Her mother and father had always wanted the chance to garden like their neighbors did, but it simply wasn’t possible for them yet. They just hoped it would come in time, when the Lord would open the doors for them to have the things they dreamed of.
“Are you going to be all right walking the rest of the way on your own?” Dana asked, standing just outside the gate.
“Of course,” Lila said with false cheer. She had no desire to be on her own, not after seeing Victor in town. Even though he hadn’t followed her, she still feared the possibility that he might suddenly appear and ruin her day.
Nevertheless, she said goodbye to Dana and made her way down the road toward her own home, a small little shack made of wood, nestled between two larger homes. They had two rooms in the home, plus a small kitchen. Lila’s mother and father slept in one room, and Lila slept in the other, along with her little sister Jenny and her younger brother Dillon. Billy used to stay in the room as well, but that was before…
Lila took a deep breath, trying not to think about Billy. She still missed him and thought she would for the rest of her life. Her father hadn’t been the same since Billy died, but in truth, none of them had. They’d just found different ways of coping.
It seemed that Lila’s mother threw herself into raising Jenny and Dillon as best she could, worrying about every little thing. When Jenny had gotten sick a couple months before, her mother was sure that she was going to die like Billy had. But Jenny recovered, and everything settled eventually. Lila had tried to stay busy with her work, but she often told Jenny and Dillon stories about Billy from when they were too young to remember.
Lila’s father, however, had withdrawn. Sometimes, he would stay out late. He had been struggling at work, not doing very well to keep his job secure. The rancher he worked for had told him more than once that he had better get his act together or he would be out of a job. He said that even grief shouldn’t cause a worker to be that irresponsible.
It was heartbreaking to see all this happening to her family, especially after what they’d been through. But it also didn’t help that Billy was working, and they’d lost his income. Since then, it had been even more difficult for the family to make ends meet, and Lila was worried that Jenny would have to start working soon as well. She was only thirteen and did so much around the house, but the family was likely going to need her to work before they ended up losing even the little shack in which they now lived.
Lila went inside and saw Dillon playing with a little wooden car that had been a gift from a kind neighbor. It was one of his few toys, but now that he was twelve, he was having to help out more as well. Like Jenny—and like Lila—his childhood was being stripped away from him. Nevertheless, at least he had this moment.
“Hi Dillon,” she greeted, smiling at his exuberance with that wooden car.
“I think Ma wants you,” he said. “She wants a hand with dinner.”
“That’s what I’m here for,” Lila replied, ignoring how tired she was.
At least she was home, away from Victor Monroe. At least she was safe. And that was something to be grateful for.
Caleb sat at the kitchen table, gently flicking his thumb along the edge of the saw to ensure it was sharp enough, while ensuring that he didn’t cut himself. He knew that his mother was going to be home soon, along with his sister Annie, but Caleb was distracted. He had another order from Mr. Walters to finish up the next day, and he couldn’t finish the piece if his tools weren’t in decent shape.
He sighed and pulled out his chiseling set, knowing that if there was anything he had in bad shape, it was the chisels.
Just as he pulled the first chisel from the leather case he kept them in, his mother and sister came through the door.
“Oh, Caleb! At the table? Surely you know that isn’t the place for your tools,” his mother scolded, setting a sack of flour on the floor. A cloud of white dust poofed around the bag, and Annie followed behind with a bag of sugar that was half the size.
“Sorry, Ma. I needed to get a few things taken care of, but I didn’t have time to finish them before getting home,” he said.
“Be that as it may, we have a perfectly lovely porch, and the weather is warm enough that you could have done it outside without any great struggle,” she said. Without any further scolding, she came to Caleb and gave him a gentle kiss on the cheek before getting to work, rushing around the kitchen to prepare dinner.
“Come sit with me, Annie,” he said.
But Annie just looked up at him, disappointment in her eyes as she silently shook her head. Without another word, she shuffled out of the kitchen, and Caleb heard her feet drag to her room.
“What happened?” he asked his mother.
She sighed and looked at the empty doorway.
“We ran into Suzanna Fiennes. She mentioned the school in the city again. You know your Aunt Ida May could get Annie in there. I don’t know why she is so against the idea of going away for a good education,” his mother said.
“Of course, you know why. She doesn’t want to leave home, and I don’t blame her. She’s fourteen, Ma,” Caleb said, scratching at his full beard. He hated how it tended to get itchy during the heat of summer, but he would never be willing to shave it.
“Yes, she is. She is fourteen, and she needs to be ready for whatever life may throw at her. I won’t have my daughter neglecting her education and being dependent on everyone else,” she said.
“I don’t mind if she’s dependent on me,” Caleb replied.
His mother looked sad, and he understood why she was finding it so difficult. She had spent so much time trying to be a good mother and take care of them, but she would never be allowed to look after them the way a father would. She had to work twice as hard to make only half the money. Caleb grieved for his mother.
It had only been in the past year that Caleb’s woodworking had really taken off, and his mother had been able to stop selling bread in town. Things were turning around, and Caleb wanted her to see that, although he knew that her concerns weren’t so much about the family not having money as the chance of Annie one day having to lose her husband and fend for herself.
Caleb was certain that Annie could have a good life here in town. He knew that she had worked hard to achieve everything she could, even at her young age, and that she did well at the town’s school. Sure, it wasn’t some big, fancy school like the one their mother wanted her to attend, but it wasn’t a bad school by any means. He didn’t see why she wouldn’t be just as well to stay here.
“She can have a good life in town, Ma,” he said.
“You’ll understand when you have a child one day, Caleb,” she replied.
Immediately the air was sucked from the room, and his mother turned to him in wide-eyed horror.
“Oh, good heavens, I cannot believe I just said that,” she gasped. “Caleb, dear, I am so sorry. I should never have opened my mouth like that. I can’t even imagine what I was thinking to have said something so terrible!”
Caleb swallowed and nodded, but he couldn’t quite look his mother in the eyes.
“I know, Ma,” he said. “I know you didn’t mean anything by it.”
“It doesn’t matter. That was the most callous thing I could have said. You must be furious with me. I really didn’t mean to go and say something that foolish, Caleb. You know I love you and you’re my son. I never would have opened my mouth if I’d thought through what I just said,” she apologized.
Caleb took a deep breath, but it was ragged, and he struggled to inhale and let it go again.
“It is what it is, Ma. And let’s leave it in the past now. I don’t want to go thinking about it. I really don’t. I know you didn’t mean anything by it,” he said.
“You didn’t deserve that,” she said.
“Either way, it’s what I got,” he replied, not knowing if she meant that he didn’t deserve her statement or he didn’t deserve the sad weight of the past that still hung over him.
Caleb could barely stand to think about what he’d been through, and then even his own mother forgot about it for a moment. He could barely handle the grief. It was too much. Sometimes he still broke down and begged God, asking why he had to suffer through this. Nevertheless, Caleb knew that his past was just that. It was a terrible season in his life, five years ago, when everything looked different for him.
He stood and gathered his tools, putting them back into their proper order and pushing in the chair he’d been sitting in at the kitchen table.
“Where are you going now?” his mother asked.
“I think you were right about how nice it would be to sit on the front porch. I figured I might as well go out there and enjoy the fresh air while I fix these things up,” he said.
“You don’t have to leave just because of what I said. I know you must be angry with me, but—”
“I’m not angry with you, Ma. But I do need a few minutes outside to let my thoughts settle. Everything’s jumbled in here right now,” he said, trying to hide his exasperation.
“And your foolish mother probably didn’t help any. I wish I had just stayed quiet, knowing that I’m only breaking your heart,” she said, clearly ashamed of having spoken the way she did.
Caleb ran his thumb along his bearded jaw, a habit he tended to have when he was feeling somewhat anxious. He didn’t want to continue in this discussion with his mother. She was clearly feeling remorse, and he didn’t have any reason to push her further into it.
“Please don’t worry about it, Ma. Call me in when dinner is ready, and I’ll be more than happy to spend some time with you and Annie,” he said.
With that, Caleb made his way outside and onto the front porch. There was at least an hour of light left outside. He hoped that it would be enough for him to finish what he was doing and have a chance to clear his head.
As Caleb sharpened the chisels, he thought about the words his mother had said. Despite himself, he couldn’t help how they echoed around and around in his mind, taking him back to that day, five years ago, when everything changed for him. Even now, he couldn’t bear to think about the year that followed and the hardship of it. One thing after another, as though each day brought more and more misery.
He knew that his mother wanted him to find a good woman and settle down, to marry and be happy. Caleb would have loved to have such a grand opportunity and enjoy the great things life had available for others. He wished with all his heart that it was available to him as well. Unfortunately, however, he didn’t know if he could go through all of that again.
Sure, he wanted to find a wife, but he would need confidence if he planned to marry. Confidence was something he no longer had, and he didn’t see it coming back any time soon. More than likely, that, too, was a part of his past. It was gone, and he couldn’t get it back, no matter how desperately he may have wanted to.
Caleb looked up at the sky, the moon already visible against the blue sky that was darkening ever so slowly. He couldn’t help but smile at that moment, thinking about the fact that even in his grief and even as he sat there, feeling somewhat miserable, the Lord was still doing beautiful things all around the world, and there was no reason for him to feel discouraged.
It was a strange moment, but Caleb suddenly felt small in the best of ways. Despite the sadness that had been dredged up, the promise of the moon overhead was a sprig of hope in his heart. He thought, against his better judgment, about the seamstress who worked in town.
But just as quickly as the moment had come, it faded away. Caleb remembered himself, remembered that he wasn’t cut out to be a husband and a father. It was better if he just kept to himself and didn’t bother anybody. One day, the Lord would show him what he was meant to do instead of that. He would work hard, he would take care of his mother and sister, and he would make sure that he didn’t hurt anyone else or let another soul drink into despair because of him.
“Caleb!” his mother called from inside.
He could hardly believe how much time must have passed while he sat out there, thinking and pondering what the Lord had done and would do in the days to come. Nevertheless, he was quite hungry, so he put his things away and went back inside, seeing his mother and Anna already at the table.
“It smells fantastic,” he said, taking a seat across from them and looking at the plate full of steak and vegetables in front of him. His mother had always been an excellent cook, and that was one of the many things his father had admired most about her.
“Well, I hope it tastes all right. You two need to eat up before you’re nothing but skin and bones,” his mother said.
“You may need to worry about Anna, but I think you can see that I’m just fine,” he said, gesturing to his burly, toned form. Caleb dug in, and the conversation was light for the rest of the evening. There was no talk about Annie going away to school and nothing more about Caleb’s future and whether he would start looking for a wife or not.
As the meal concluded, Caleb took the family Bible and read a Psalm as he did most evenings once they finished eating. As always, the Psalm brought peace to his soul and reminded him that things would be all right. The Lord was in control of it all, even when Caleb constantly felt pulled in and out of control. He knew that he could rest on the promises of the Bible, and that was enough.
“Do you have a long day planned tomorrow?” his mother asked as he departed for bed.
“I do,” he replied. “Why? Do you need me to do anything, so you don’t have to come into town?”
“Annie’s sleeve caught on something. It’s ripped,” she replied, lifting one of Annie’s dresses.
Before his mother could say another word, Caleb took the dress from her eagerly.
“I’ll take it to the tailor shop,” he said quickly.
His mother took a step back as if his excitement startled her. At once, Caleb calmed himself.
“I mean, I know it needs to go to the tailor, and I’ll be in town. Anything else you need me to take?” he asked.
“No, that’s all,” she replied, still suspicious.
But Caleb was relieved. Even if he knew he shouldn’t go searching for a wife yet, he was happy about the chance to go to the tailor. After all, if he was going to search for a wife, he knew exactly where he would find her.
“Love’s Toughest Dilemma” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Lila Grey’s family has been through a horrible year since the tragic death of her beloved brother. While she tries to heal her heart, her family drifts apart, especially after her father starts gambling away their fortune. Everything is set against her when a mysterious man appears in her life, promising to solve her family’s financial worries. Even though Lila has a feeling that his intentions are not pure, she realizes that Victor is determined to marry her at any cost. However, this is not her only concern… Unbeknownst to anyone else, she is far more interested in a man who doesn’t pay any attention to her. Will she be forced to marry someone she despises to save her family, and be doomed to a life of unspeakable misery?
Caleb Walker is a hard-working carpenter, whose only priority is to take care of his mother and sister, all by himself. What Caleb is hiding even from his family though, is that he is still haunted by the painful experience he went through a few years ago. To his surprise, when Lila barges into his life and steals his heart, he finds the strength to leave his fears behind. Could Lila be the one that holds the key to his redemption? Can Caleb turn a new page in his life and forget his past?
As Caleb and Lila grow closer, Victor seems more insistent than ever to win Lila over, taking advantage of the challenging circumstances. Despite Caleb’s feelings for her, a terrible mistake might leave Lila with no other choice but to accept Victor’s marriage proposal. Will Lila deny Caleb’s love to save her family? Will wealth and power prove too fierce an enemy to conquer?
“Love’s Toughest Dilemma” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.