Nataly pulled the basket a little bit closer to herself. She was once again waiting outside of Martha’s house. It seemed that her best friend always took a few extra minutes more than Nataly expected to get ready.
Of course, it wasn’t all her fault. Nataly was aware of the situation with Martha’s father.
After what seemed like forever, Martha came out the front door of the house she shared with her father. She also had a basket tucked under her arm, resting against her slender waist.
Martha was a slight and pale woman. She had tiny shoulders and a small waist. Her features reminded Nataly of a bird, delicate and fragile. Her pale blue eyes further accentuated her pale complexion.
“What are we doing today?” Martha asked. Her cheeks were slightly pink, and she looked like she was ready for anything.
“I heard there were some new men over at the west side of the river looking for someone to wash their clothes. If we’re lucky, we’ll find some new clients today.” Nataly was excited about the prospect. For now, she and Martha had quite a few people they washed clothes for. But they could certainly handle more.
Nataly was aware they both needed the money for their own reasons. Not to mention that between the two of them, their current workload wasn’t that hard to manage.
“I really hope so,” Martha sighed. “It’s so hard to save money.”
“What about your father? Do you think he will give you something when you turn eighteen? Doesn’t he earn money from his business?”
Martha’s father was the owner of the wood mill in town. It was quite popular. With all the newcomers constantly coming into town, it seemed that everyone needed wood for their cabinets, fences, and other projects. Nataly’s father owned the blacksmith shop in town.
Nataly had a feeling that her father would make more money if he would stop giving away his services for free. But her father could never turn away a needy person. He always told Nataly that it paid to be kind.
Nataly agreed with him, but that did not mean that she thought it would be bad to get paid every once in a while. Of course, her father did have a few good clients, but sometimes it didn’t seem as if he ran his own business with all the free work he did. Sometimes it seemed like he did more free work than he did paid work.
“My father would never part with a penny if he could help it.”
Martha’s words pulled Nataly back to the present. They were walking down the street shoulder-to-shoulder, heading to the normal spot where their clients lived. They barely noticed the other people walking past them, they were so busy in their own little conversation.
They had started doing their business around a year-and-a-half ago, right when people were moving either into town or around it more to do gold mining. It seemed that every single man, young and old, was convinced they could be the next person to strike it rich with gold mining. Of course some men made it, and others barely scraped by.
But it seemed that as long as there was hope that they might find something great, the men didn’t mind working all day in the muddy streams toward a dream.
Nataly was the one who had noticed that there was a big demand for help for men who didn’t have wives to wash their clothes. Even men who spent seven days a week in the river, dirt, or mud, enjoyed some clean clothes every once in a while. It was hard work but it paid well, especially when the men were happy with the work and had found a little extra gold in the river. Nataly still had the gold nugget that she’d been given as extra payment from a particularly happy customer.
Though, Nataly was fairly certain the man’s generosity had more to do with his big find the day she had delivered his clean clothes rather than with the job she did.
“Have you asked your father if you can move away from home? I know if I asked my father and it was important to me, he would allow me to, even if he didn’t agree.” Nataly brought herself back to the topic they’d been discussing.
She didn’t add that she would never ask her father for permission to move out. Her father was the only family she had left, and she loved him more than words could describe.
Martha bit her lower lip. “Have you forgotten what kind of man my father is? I wouldn’t dare ask him. I’ve mentioned it a few times and he forbade it unless I’m married.” Martha shivered, “I don’t want anything to do with his picks for a husband.”
“Hey, why don’t you take some of my portion this week? I don’t need it nearly as much as you do,” Nataly offered. She really did enjoy saving a bit of money and helping her father with the expenses around the house. But she was more than willing to sacrifice extra little comforts to help her friend.
“No,” Martha shook her head. “I’ll take the money I earn fair and square. Besides, if I’m going to move out of my father’s house when I turn 18, I need to know that I can support myself.”
“You can support yourself, but that doesn’t mean that you have to do it all alone. You should let me help.” This was a conversation that Nataly and Martha had often.
Martha was determined to do things on her own, and that Nataly was of the mind that best friends were there to help each other.
“I’ve got it under control. I am going to figure something out. Besides, my brother is always there for me if I need him. I feel bad that he stayed in town just for me. I know that he wants to leave this place.”
Nataly felt suddenly sad at the thought of Martha or her brother, Charlie, moving away from town.
“Do you think you would want to leave if your father didn’t live here?” Nataly was fairly certain she knew the answer. Benjamin Bowen was a hard man to get along with, whether you were someone from town or even part of his family.
She could not even begin to imagine what it would be like to have someone like Benjamin as her father.
“I don’t know. But I do know the main reason I want away from this town is the same one my brother has. We don’t want anything to do with our father. He is cruel and calculating and takes advantage of people. I can’t wait until I’m 18.”
Martha looked upset and worried. She was biting her lower lip furiously. Nataly waited until she began speaking again.
“It’s not like he’s going to just let me go. He’s going to be so upset.”
Nataly could tell that Martha was a bit afraid at the thought. She didn’t blame her friend. She was afraid for Martha when it came to Benjamin Bowen. Everyone in town knew that he loved being in control, especially of his children and his household.
“That’s where Charlie comes in. He’ll make sure that my father doesn’t keep me from leaving.” Martha gave a weak smile. But there was hope in her eyes that made Nataly’s heart a little lighter.
“You’re so lucky to have a brother,” Nataly smiled wistfully. She’d always dreamed of having a sibling. But that dream was crushed when her mother left her at seven years old.
Martha looked sympathetic. “It’s not always as great as it seems to be.”
Nataly knew that Martha was just trying to be nice. She had seen the way that Martha and Charlie cared for each other. It was as if they always had a friend to depend on, no matter what was going on in their lives.
Martha’s face lit up. “I can share. I’m sure that Charlie would be glad to be your brother too.”
“That’s okay,” Nataly giggled. Charlie was one of the most kind-hearted people that she knew, but he was Martha’s brother, not hers.
They reached the edge of town and were walking down the long road that connected the mining camp beside the river to the rest of the town. Sometimes, Nataly liked to think about what this river looked like before it had become a mining camp. She hadn’t come to California before the gold miners, so she had never seen it in its original beauty. But the idea of the river being free of people on a peaceful and warm afternoon was a wonderful thought.
Now there were muddy roads lined with tents and shops set up for the men. There never seemed to be an end to the new men that came to this camp trying to find their fortune in gold. The loud bustle of people as they hurried through their day was deafening. There were a large number of men in the river, several of them shoulder-to-shoulder, as they dipped their bowls or baskets into the water and pulled up a bit of sand. Sometimes, someone would shout out that he had found something extraordinary. Other times, the men collected tiny golden nuggets and flakes to be exchanged at the bank later on. There were days when Nataly considered hiking up her skirts and joining the men in the river. The idea of finding herself a nice pocket of gold and becoming the richest person in town was tantalizing. But it was also unlikely, starting with the fact that her wading through the river in her skirts and looking for gold would not be looked upon well.
She smiled at the thought and forced herself to focus on the task at hand.
For rest of the afternoon, Martha and Nataly walked up and down the riverside. They collected dirty clothes from some of their previous customers, dropped off some clean ones that had been washed the day before, and talked with two new people who seemed interested in getting their clothes washed. By the time they were heading home, the sun was sinking in the sky and casting long shadows on everything.
Nataly said goodbye to Martha back at her house after agreeing to meet the next day to do the laundry together. By the time she reached home, she was carrying one large basket overflowing with dirty clothes and her feet ached with exhaustion. But she was happy. They had done a good job today, and it had gotten them closer to their goal. She pushed through the cabin door and set the basket by the entrance.
She was not surprised to see that her father wasn’t home yet. Her father worked long hours at his blacksmith shop, and many times didn’t get back until well after dinner time. But Nataly didn’t need to wait for her father to know what to do. She set to tidying the kitchen and preparing dinner.
Soon the cabin was filled with wonderful smells and it was accompanied by the sounds of something delicious simmering on the stove. She paused her humming when she heard the front door.
She brushed her hands over her apron and hurried into the parlor to see her father walk into the cabin.
“I’m sorry I’m late.” Her father paused, sniffing the air with a half-smile on his face. “What are you making?” He followed her into the kitchen. His clothes were stained black from his work and he smelled of smoke and sweat.
He was what a proper person would call grimy, but Nataly didn’t mind. She was proud of her father and the work that he did. His shop was important in town, and everyone knew it.
“I made us some stew. Are you hungry?” Nataly didn’t need to ask. Her father was always hungry.
“You know that I am.” Her father wrapped his arm around her shoulder and gave it a gentle squeeze.
“Thank you for making dinner. I know that you must be tired after everything you do.” Her father looked at her with worried eyes.
Nataly shook her head and kept a brave face on. “I’m sure I am not as tired as you.” She didn’t need her father worrying about her. He had enough of his own things to worry about. The next day, she and Martha would have a huge heap of clothes to wash. The sound of thunder in the distance made her father wrinkle his nose.
“It sounds like it’s going to rain tonight.”
“Maybe a little rain will be good. It makes everything grow, you know.” Nataly loved falling asleep to the sound of rain. She was hopeful that with some good rest, she would be able to help her father out a little more this week.
Jeremy kept his eyes in front of him and grimaced under the hot sun boring into his back. He had expected a long trip, but that didn’t make it any easier. He had left Chicago with his horse and his pack, a goal in his heart and a good helping of determination. That was a long time ago. Years ago. So much had changed since then.
But everything that had happened to him since the moment he’d left Chicago was leading him to one place.
His destination was getting closer with every single step his horse took, but it felt like forever. He was grateful for one thing; the sun was starting to get lower in the sky, relieving him and his back a bit from the heat. Whenever he could he traveled near trees to take advantage of the shade. But both he and his horse had been suffering under the sun for the last several hours.
His horse was frothy with sweat and Jeremy could tell he was as tired of the hot sun as his rider.
There weren’t always trees to travel under, and whether there were or not, they had no choice but to keep going. They had been on the road for three days now. That was just from the last town.
Jeremy didn’t even want to think about how much time had passed since he’d left Chicago.
He had been a different person back then. He was no longer a seventeen-year-old boy. He was a man now and he knew what he was doing. There had been so many hard lessons on the way, but they were worth it.
Everything he had experienced would help him do his job when he finally reached his destination.
Jeremy let his mind wander to the reason that he was going to Braverise, California, in the first place. It was a long family history that had pushed him to this day. It was a day that he been waiting for since he was a child.
He wondered what his parents would think of his actions. His parents had always been peaceful people, known for their kind deeds and generous hearts. But in the end, their kindness, generosity, and goodwill had gotten them nothing but ill returns. Jeremy was determined not to end up like them, but more than that, he was determined to get justice for what had happened to them.
There was one man who deserved to pay. The man who had robbed Jeremy of his childhood, of his family, and of his happiness.
Jeremy thought back to all the things that he had done to prepare for this day. One of those things was changing his name. He had always been Jeremy, but it had become important to him to become a new person. When he met with the man who destroyed his life, he would have no weaknesses.
The last bit of the sun sunk behind the horizon. For a moment Jeremy was relieved. But that relief soon turned to dread as the sound of thunder in the sky reached his ears. It was going to rain. It wasn’t as if Jeremy hadn’t dealt with a rainstorm on this trip. But it certainly hadn’t been convenient. And he wasn’t excited about facing another. He knew that the town was right up ahead; he could probably make it in a couple of hours.
If he had the choice between riding through the rain and arriving at his destination, or sitting in the rain and waiting for the next day to arrive, he knew which one he wanted to do. He gently tapped his heels against the horse’s side, urging him on. They would try to make as much progress as they could before the rain started to fall.
His horse snorted and tossed his head, unwilling to exert himself more but after a moment he obliged and picked up the pace, as if the rumbling thunder had convinced him of the need to hurry. Jeremy patted him on the neck encouragingly.
When Jeremy was a child, he had loved rainstorms. He closed his eyes and remembered what they were like for him. There were days when he would sit at the kitchen table while his mother cooked at the stove. He would do his work from school while his mother hummed, occasionally coming to look over his shoulder and see what he was doing.
His father would get back from work, his boots covered in mud from the wet streets and a tired look on his face. Even though both of them were some of the hardest workers that he knew they always had time for him, and they always seemed to be happy at heart.
Jeremy sometimes liked to think about what would have happened if their lives hadn’t ended early. Maybe he would have had some siblings. Maybe one day they would have traveled to the new west together. His parents would have been there when he met a woman and got married and started a family.
But now none of those things were attractive to Jeremy like they once were. He would never have any siblings because he didn’t have any parents. And he would never have a wife because he did not have the time or an interest in that anymore. His only interest in life was getting revenge for the wrongs that were committed against him.
He had a plan he had thought about and developed over the years. Now he just had to find the right way to execute it.
There was a way. Of that, he was certain. Soon, he would find the man who was responsible for the destruction of his family, and he would make him pay ten times for what he had done.
The rain started to fall, softly at first, and then harder. Soon, Jeremy could feel it seeping through his clothes. It was as if the water wanted to wash away his pain and anger, but Jeremy knew better. Nothing could do that for him.
After riding for nearly an hour in the rain, Jeremy was starting to rethink what he preferred when it came to continuing on in a rainstorm or staying and camping for a night in a rainstorm. The horse slipped and slid on the muddy trail, snorting and almost going down several times. And he was soaked to the bone and shivering.
He was feeling about as low as he could when he spotted a flicker in the darkness. At first, he thought he might have imagined it. But then he saw it again. A soft glow piercing through the angry storm.
He didn’t stop to think twice and steered the horse in the direction of the light. He needed shelter, even if it turned out to be a musty barn. Right at that point he would have been glad for a cave, or any other sort of shelter that could keep him from the rain for a couple of hours till it passed.
When he drew closer, he saw that the light was not coming from a barn, but from a small cabin. Judging by the buildings scattered around it, the place was a small ranch.
He clenched his jaw and hurried his horse along. Hopefully, whoever the ranch belonged to was amicable to a nighttime visitor. It was well past the time that they would have gone to sleep. In fact, it was the middle of the night.
Jeremy didn’t want his first encounter in this town to be in the middle of the night on a strange ranch. It felt like he was out of control in the situation, and vulnerable. He would have to depend on the person who owned the ranch for kindness. If there was one thing Jeremy didn’t like, it was depending on others.
It was unpredictable, and he had little to say in it. Maybe that was why he disliked it so much.
He pulled his horse to a stop right in front of the lonely cabin. A spike of lightning streaked across the sky and a fresh wave of drops pelted down on Jeremy.
He shook his head. It was just his luck that he’d get caught in such a rainstorm just at his arrival.
Jeremy threw his horse’s reins over the railing surrounding the cabin porch, then knocked on the door.
For a moment, he thought that the occupants of the cabin couldn’t hear him over the storm or were fast asleep. Both were good reasons not to answer the door, but Jeremy was back at square one. Should he just rest in these people’s barn and hope they didn’t mind when they found him in the morning?
When he was starting to seriously consider that possibility, the cabin door opened. An older man stood there with a friendly look on his face.
He looked groggy, as if he’d just rolled out of bed. For a moment, Jeremy felt bad for waking him up. But it wasn’t as if he’d had much of a choice.
“Can I help you?” The man looked him up and down, as if trying to asses who he was and what he wanted in the middle of the night.
“I am sorry to bother you, sir. But I was headed for Braverise, California. I got caught in the storm and don’t have a place to stay. I really don’t know how much further it is to town, and I’ve been riding in the rain for a couple of hours and it’s too slippery to continue. Would you lend me a corner in your barn for the rest of the night?” Jeremy watched the man’s face carefully, waiting to see some sort of rejections or acceptance to his request.
“The town is another hour or so from here. I’m afraid it would be a miserable ride with the rain. You are welcome to stay here for the night. You go get your horse set up in the barn, and I’ll prepare a place for you to sleep here in the house.”
“Are you sure?” The words escaped Jeremy’s mouth before he could stop them. He had expected the man to tell him to be on his way, or maybe let him duck under a roof for a couple hours. The man’s hospitality was a lot to take in.
“Of course. There is hay in the barn. Your horse must be hungry, and he looks exhausted. But it will be more comfortable for you in here. The barn is drafty and leaky. We don’t get a lot of these storms out here.”
“I- thank you. I don’t want to intrude.”
“It’s no trouble. I know what it is like to be caught in a storm. Besides, I’m a good judge of character and own a nice pistol and shotgun. My daughter is already asleep. As long as you’re honest and just want a good night’s rest, you’re welcome. Here, take the lantern and hang it on the hook inside the door so you can see what you’re doing.”
Jeremy chuckled. For some reason, the man’s threat of violence put him more at ease than anything. He would have felt more worried if the man wasn’t protective of his family.
“All righty then, I’ll take care of the horse and be back in a jiffy.” Jeremy turned and led his horse to the barn. It was a simple building. Just enough room for the animals and it had two extra stalls. Just like the man said, there was fresh hay and water buckets. He hung the lantern on the hook and put his horse into an empty stall.
The horse looked as thankful for a dry place as Jeremy felt. He took off the saddle and bridle and set them on a haystack.
It didn’t take long for Jeremy to get his horse rubbed down and situated. By the time he headed back up to the cabin, he was rather excited. The idea of spending the night somewhere dry and friendly was almost too good to be true.
The man opened the cabin door and motioned to a simple parlor. “My name is Brayton Wesley. I own the blacksmith shop in Braverise.” The man gave him a grin. “I set out a change of clothes for you and a couple blankets. You look about my size. We don’t have an extra bed, but I put a big quilt down in the corner there.
You can hang your wet clothes by the fireplace. They might dry overnight.”
Mr. Wesley took the lantern back and hung it on a hook near the door.
“That’s quite all right. Being out of the rain is enough, and all of this… well, you are really being too kind.” Jeremy wondered what this man would think of him if he knew the reason Jeremy was in town and what he planned to do.
It wasn’t as if he wanted to kill anyone or anything, but he didn’t exactly have intentions of being a kind citizen of the town.
“It’s quite all right. Kindness is something we should all extend when we have the ability to do so. I’ll leave you to it then. Tomorrow morning, you’ll have breakfast with us and we can discuss your plans.” Mr. Wesley gave him a friendly slap on the shoulder before he retreated down a short hall and into a bedroom.
Jeremy was fairly certain that when he had mentioned talking about Jeremy’s plans, he was referring to what he meant to do and how he meant to live. But regardless, it made Jeremy nervous.
He hadn’t planned to get involved with anyone in town really, not in a real way anyway. He had hoped to stay as anonymous as possible.
He turned back to the blankets and the heavy quilt and arranged himself a neat bed on the clean, hard wood floor. It wasn’t like a proper bed, but it was a lot more agreeable than a damp bed on the ground in the woods. He didn’t have to worry about Indians or some wild creature sneaking up on him in the night either.
He wondered how old the man’s daughter was and where his wife was. His wife’s absence was a sign of tragedy in some form or other.
As soon as Jeremy’s head hit his arm which was tucked underneath him to be his pillow, his eyes closed, and a wave of extreme sleepiness washed over him. The stress of being in the storm melted away and he let himself relax in the kind home of strangers.
“A Flame to Warm his Heart” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Ever since her mother abandoned them, Nataly Wesley and her father moved out west to start fresh. Determined to find happiness, Natally tries her best to leave the hurtful memories behind and create a new life for herself. Her still fragile world is unexpectedly shattered though, when terrible rumors arise in town, affecting people whom Nataly deeply cares about. Just when it seems that her troubles are far from over, a handsome stranger, Jeremy, shows up on her doorstep and she’s suddenly about to fall into love’s embrace. Unfortunately, what she couldn’t have foreseen is how easily happiness could turn into a disaster… When hidden truths come to light, will Nataly be able to trust Jeremy?
Years after his parents’ tragic loss, Jeremy Cray still struggles with his tangled feelings and an intense need for revenge. After all the pain he has suffered, opening his heart again seems unbearable. Ηowever, what he doesn’t expect when he arrives in Braverise in order to execute his plan, is a warm welcome and a beautiful girl to catch his attention. As he notices his old ways slowly turning to dust, he realizes that only love could untangle his chaotic life. To his horror, his secrets soon start inching into the light, hurting people he holds dear. If he can earn back Natally’s trust and win her heart, he could create the family he’s always needed with her. Can he overcome the ghosts that haunt him and finally become the man that Natally deserves?
Their relationship will be put to the test when the past raises its ugly head, bringing havoc and heartache upon the unsuspecting. Is the strength of their love enough to endure the daunting challenges? Will Nataly silence the echoes of his past and Jeremy let his guard down, so that they can find their happily ever after together?
“A Flame to Warm his Heart” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.