May Johnson tucked the heavy basket of clean washing under her arm and went carefully down the steps. It could easily be argued that washing was one of her least favorite things to do, but what she liked to do and what needed doing were two very different things.
She and her brother needed the extra money. She was willing to endure this to help out her family.
She had been working for the Reed family for almost three years now. She came every morning and washed their laundry. It was a simple job, yet very exhausting and taxing on her.
She made herself keep moving by imagining the moment when she could walk out and go back to make dinner for her brother before he came home.
When she reached the back of the house, she took all of the clean pieces of wet laundry from the basket and strung them up on the line, one by one, until there was a neat row of white clothing swinging in the wind.
Once she was satisfied, she headed back up the steps to the front area of the home to collect the rest of the clothes. She carried the empty basket up against her hip with a light tune on her lips as she went. It made things just a tad bit more encouraging. Just as she was about to turn the corner of the house, she overheard voices. That was strange. She had thought the family was all out of the home.
“Tell me everything; it’s been such a long time since we’ve had the time to talk together.” The voice of a young woman floated to May.
May stopped and cautiously peeked around the corner. There was Emily, the Reeds’ oldest daughter. She was about May’s age. But it wasn’t Emily that kept May from going to collect the rest of the wash. It was Lily.
Lily was the young woman that was seeing her brother. She knew that Emily and Lily were friends, but she had rarely seen Emily bring Lily back to the house.
May set her basket down and straightened her clothes, then made sure that her hair looked presentable.
She wasn’t particularly embarrassed by her job. It was a job, and that was more than most young women could say they had. Her parents had taught her that hard work of any kind was nothing to be ashamed of.
May put on a small smile, despite her weariness, and picked up her basket again. Just as she was about to turn the corner, she froze. She could hear that the girls were talking about her.
“Does May still work for your family?” Lily was asking.
“Yes, she does. I’m not sure where she is right now. I saw her doing laundry earlier. Maybe she already went home.” Emily sounded unsure of herself.
May realized how late it was. She should be headed home already. There had been more work to do today due to the Reed family having visitors.
“Are you still seeing her brother? You are so lucky. He is the sheriff, after all,” Emily gushed.
May wasn’t surprised that Emily felt that way. Most young ladies did about her brother.
“I am still seeing him. He is quite a gentleman, but …”
“But what? I can’t wait until the two of you get married. It will be the most beautiful wedding in town.”
“I don’t know if we will get married.” Lily’s voice didn’t sound sad. It was just matter of fact.
May knew that she should turn around and leave. She shouldn’t be eavesdropping on the two girls’ conversation, but it was as if she just couldn’t help herself.
“Why not? I thought you loved him. When we saw each other at church last week, you said that you couldn’t wait until he asked you to marry him.” Emily sounded both disappointed and hopeful.
All the while, May’s heart was beating against her ribcage. She knew that her brother loved Lily. He talked about her non-stop and always went out of his way to spend an extra minute or two with her.
May had tried not to feel hurt by the time spent with Lily instead of herself. She truly wanted her brother to find love and happiness.
“You know that I don’t care about love, Emily. I want a good life, a happy life, like my parents. He doesn’t have any money. How can I have the things I want if I marry a poor man?” Lily sounded like a whining child.
“What on earth do you mean? If you didn’t want him, why have you led him on this way? Besides, he is the sheriff of the town. Of course, he makes money. Not as much as your father, I’d bet, but still …”
May felt a rush of admiration for Emily, defending her brother to her friend. But still, she couldn’t get over the hurtful words that continued to spew from Lily’s mouth.
All the nice things that May had ever thought of Lily, everything she had imagined of her brother with this woman, disappeared in that instant.
“He can’t be making that much money. Otherwise, why would his sister be washing clothing for your family of all things?” The way that Lily said the last part was as if the job disgusted her.
May was past caring what someone like Lily thought of her job, but a pang of regret rushed through her. Was it her fault that Lily hadn’t wanted her brother?
“So, what is your plan, if you don’t like the sheriff or intend to marry him? What else will you do?” Emily asked.
May peeked around the corner to see Emily twirling a strand of hair around her finger worriedly, her lips pursed in a pout.
“I ran into the banker’s son the other day. He isn’t very handsome, or the smartest, but I hear that he is going to inherit his father’s estate, and that would be a lot of money to be sure.”
“You heard? What if you’re wrong?” Emily sounded worried now.
“Well, I am not going to tell the sheriff that he is my only option. We will have to see what happens in the next couple of months. I could marry the sheriff, if that were all I had the option of doing or if someone better or with more money comes along, I can choose them. I can have any man I want.”
“I don’t know …” Emily began to say something else, but May was already sneaking back the way she had come. Her head was spinning, and her stomach felt a tad bit sick.
How could Lily be talking about her brother this way, her sweet kind brother? Charlie had never done anything to Lily but love her and treat her right.
What was worse was that May would have to tell him what she had overheard. She wondered if he would even believe her.
Over the past year, Lily had been nothing but gracious to them both. May had seen her almost as a sister. They had gone to town together. She had been over for dinner. There was so much history there, and to find it was all a lie was overwhelming and devastating.
May set the empty basket down and leaned up against the house. The sun was sinking, and Lily knew that she should have already left the rest of the clothes tended and been on her way home to make the evening meal.
The Reeds were okay with her leaving the clothing hung so it would dry in the early morning sun the next day when it looked like it wasn’t going to rain.
They were in the dry season now, and it hadn’t rained for more than two weeks. It was one of May’s favorite times of the year.
She waited a good while and then snuck back up around the house and peeked around the corner. This time, both of the girls were gone, and she went about the rest of her work quickly.
By the time she was leaving the Reeds’ home, it was nearly dark. It didn’t matter too much to her. She knew the way home by heart.
She hurried down the street and around corners until she came to the small single-story house she shared with her brother.
It was a simple home that her father had built many years ago when her parents had first moved to town. The wood looked weathered and old now. May paused at the doorway, remembering her parents with a fond sad smile.
Whenever she walked through the door to the house, she could almost imagine they would be there, her mother cooking something in the kitchen, and her father reading the paper beside the fireplace in his favorite chair. She could even imagine the scents of her mother’s cooking wafting through the house, making her stomach growl in anticipation.
But now, as she opened the door, she was greeted by cold, dark empty rooms and felt a pang in her heart that it was just a memory from the past. Her parents had passed away nearly eight years ago. It felt like it was an eternity and a day ago, all at the same time.
May lit a lamp and then went about preparing supper with a long sigh. She managed just to put the food on the table when Charlie came home from work.
Her stomach had been in knots since she had left the Reeds’ home. She hated even to imagine telling her brother about what she had overheard. She had considered not mentioning it and just waiting and hoping that Lily would slip up and tell him herself.
But May knew that it wasn’t fair to Charlie to wait that long. If she were Charlie, she would want him to tell her.
May almost giggled at the idea of herself with someone running after her. No one in town had ever shown much interest in her, or maybe she had just been too busy to notice if they had. May had a feeling it also had to do with the fact that her overprotective brother was sheriff of the entire town.
“How was your day? Did you finish all the work at the Reeds’ place?” her brother said as he came into the kitchen.
His sandy brown hair fell into his eyes, and his shoulders were hunched, showing just how tired he was.
“Yes, I did, kind of. I did leave the clothes on the line to dry for the night.” May had to stop herself from lying. She wanted this evening to go like every other evening that she welcomed her brother home from work, but she knew that would be wrong.
“What happened?” Charlie’s voice suddenly switched to his big brother stern voice, the one that May knew so well. He used it every time he had to scold her for something or needed to know the answer to something, like now.
“Can we talk about it after dinner?” May was hoping he would say yes. At least that way, only she would be miserable through their meal. She had a feeling that once Charlie heard what she had to say, he was going to lose his appetite.
“Does it have to do with me or you?” Charlie sat down at his usual spot at the table, keeping his eyes on May.
May noted that neither she nor Charlie had stopped sitting in their childhood seats at the table. Her parents’ spots were always free. It was a sad sort of honor that they had continued for their deceased parents.
“It has to do with both of us in a way, but mostly with you,” May finally said reluctantly.
“I had better hear it now. If you wait until after dinner, I won’t be able to concentrate on my food,” Charlie said, placing his elbows on the table and propping his chin in his hands.
“You’re going to be very upset when you hear it. Then you won’t even want to eat. Are you really sure you want to hear it now?” May knew he could still change his mind.
“Yes, tell me now, May. Whatever it is, I am sure I can handle it. It can’t be that serious.”
“When I was working at the Reeds’ place, I was going back into the house to get the other clothes that needed tending to. As I came around the corner, I heard Emily Reed talking with Lily. It wasn’t my intention to eavesdrop, but when I heard what she was saying, I just stood there and listened. I was pretty shocked to hear her say that …”
“My Lily?” Charlie interrupted her.
May had to keep herself from cringing when Charlie called Lily his. She knew that he would no longer think that way and would be frustrated with himself for ever calling her that when he knew the truth about her and what she thought about men in general.
“Yes, the Lily that you have been seeing for the last year, although I’m not sure you should say that she is yours,” she said with a dubious voice.
“Why not? Go on. What did she say? Did you say hello to her? We are supposed to go on a picnic together on Saturday. You are invited to come with us, of course.”
“No, um … I didn’t say hello. She was talking with Emily about us, and I just stood there and listened, and they didn’t see me.”
“You know what Ma always used to say about eavesdropping.” Charlie gave her a disapproving look. “She would have been very upset to hear that you were doing that.”
“I know, I know. But they were talking about us. I felt that I couldn’t just walk away, and I didn’t want to walk into the room where they were either.”
“Well, you have me curious now. Please tell me what they said.”
“They said a lot of things, but Lily said … well, she said that she was also interested in the banker’s son because she wanted to marry someone with lots of money,” May blurted out.
Since she had overheard the conversation, she had been trying to think of a gentle way to break the news to Charlie, but it had been easiest, and she believed the least cruel just to put it out there and not draw it out any further.
“What? You must have heard wrong.” Charlie looked horrified, very similar to how May had felt when she had first heard Lily say it.
“I promise, Charlie, I didn’t hear wrong. They said a lot of things about it.”
“Hold on; I need a moment to think. Surely she hasn’t been just playing me all this time.” He first looked hurt and then angry and then sad.
Charlie stared down at the table, and May knew that he would have more questions. She only hoped she could answer them adequately. She didn’t want to hurt her brother more than she already had or more than was necessary.
Charlie’s head swirled with frustration and anger. How could what his sister was saying be true? Could Lily, the girl he had gotten to know for an entire year be interested in someone else, despite the plans for the future they had made together?
“Tell me everything that you heard,” Charlie demanded after several moments of silence. He had suspected that something was off about May from the moment he had walked in the door.
He knew that she would desire to hide details from him to make him feel better or spare his feelings, but he couldn’t allow her to do that.
“I – they said a lot of things …” May’s cheeks were red, and she was staring down at the floor as if she had been the one to do him wrong.
Charlie reached out and put his hand over hers. “It’s okay; I can handle it. I will get over it, but I need to know. I’m sure it was hard for you to tell me about this, but it is better than letting me find out the hard way.”
May nodded and met his gaze. “They talked about a lot of different things, but Emily was defending you. She said that Lily was lucky to be with you.”
“What did Lily say, May?”
“She said that she wanted someone rich that could take care of her expensive tastes and that she planned on seeing if the banker’s son was interested before she left things off with you. And she said if another man came along, that would be even better; she would leave that option open as well. I was shocked to hear her say those things!”
Charlie nodded and held up his hand for her to stop. He had thought he wanted to hear all the things that she had to say, but he realized now that the details were not as important as the fact that she was not faithful to him already even before they were married.
He knew that a lot of people wouldn’t believe their siblings, but he knew that May would never lie to him. She had enjoyed Lily’s company as much as he had, and he could tell by the look on her face that she was equally devastated.
“Thank you for telling me, May. I know it must have been hard for you, but it was the right thing to do.”
May nodded. “It was, and I’m sorry. For what it is worth, I think she is wrong. You can provide adequately for her, and besides, money isn’t everything.”
Charlie nodded and stood. He knew that what May was saying was true, but he was too heartbroken to acknowledge it right now.
“I am not feeling so hungry tonight. Would you mind terribly if I just skipped dinner?”
“That’s fine.” May stood and began to clear away the dishes that were still full of food that had looked delicious moments before. “I’m not really hungry either.”
Charlie nodded and turned, heading back to his room. He needed to spend some time alone and think about what he was going to do now. He would have to confront Lily, and he wanted to prepare for what he had to say.
He and Lily had discussed marriage, children, their future in this town, and now all of that was gone. He had always known that he and she had shared slightly different values and that she was from a higher-class family, but he had honestly thought that she loved him.
He had certainly loved her. He had poured his resources and his time into being there for her for the last year.
He pulled off his boots and lay down on his bed, staring up at the ceiling. If he wasn’t so against saloons, that’s where he would be right now. He had decided early that alcohol would never have a place in his life after he had seen it ruin so many families and relationships.
At first, he felt so tense and restless he didn’t think sleep would ever take him. He ran through multiple imaginary conversations with Lily and imagined how she might react to the various ways he could confront her.
Little by little, Charlie’s beating heart calmed, and his breathing came slower. He was drifting to sleep, and he decided to let himself go to it. He would think more about things the next day when he had a clear head and a good night’s rest.
“I can hardly believe it. What are you going to do?” Charlie’s deputy was leaning against the wall of the sheriff’s office, giving him a look of sympathy that made him even more upset than he already was.
He didn’t need his deputies pitying him. He just needed a solution to what was going on.
“I am going to talk to her and tell her that I know the truth.” Charlie had decided that morning that he needed to confront Lily. She couldn’t think that this sort of behavior was excusable without consequences.
“What about after that? You know that her uncle is probably going to be mayor next year. I can’t expect that her family will believe your side of the story. They will think you just changed your mind with no good reason, and it’s your word against hers.”
“I know.” Charlie stroked his chin. He had thought of a plan that morning for what he was going to do. He had a feeling that his deputy, as well as most people who knew him and May, would not like it, but he had no inspiration for any other way. “We are going to leave Spring Bluff.”
“What? You can’t be serious.” His deputy looked as if he had punched him in the jaw. “Who will be sheriff?”
“Who knows? Maybe you? I am done being sheriff of this town. What has it brought me? You know, for so many years, I have thought that taking care of people was my job. First May, and then this town, but the truth is, I think it is time for me to care for myself now. And I think I need a new start.”
There was a bit of silence in the little office. “Where will you go?”
“I don’t know, maybe west. I have heard there is ranch land out there. Maybe I’ll try my hand at that. I want a family one day, and it seems that a sheriff isn’t the type of man that a woman will want to settle with. A sheriff’s life is unpredictable and dangerous, you know.”
“Things won’t be the same without you, boss if you leave. I wish there was a better way.” His deputy pushed off from the wall and walked over to the desk. “If you need to go and find Miss Lily, I can hold things down around here,” he offered.
Charlie nodded his gratitude and left the sheriff’s office. Thinking of leaving Spring Bluff was painful. He and May had a life here. It wasn’t much, but it was the life that they had shared with their parents and the life they had built over many hard years.
But the thought of staying and seeing Lily around town, possibly becoming the wife of another man all because he couldn’t provide her with what she wanted, was even more painful. He had made up his mind. It was time for a fresh start. They needed to go somewhere new and start a new life.
They had made a lot of memories and shared a lot of adventures in this town, but it was time for a new chapter in their lives. It gave him a small sense of excitement and contentment to imagine a fresh start in a new place where no one knew them at all.
Charlie rehearsed the things he was going to say to Lily as he made his way over to her house. He pushed the rage that he had felt the night before deep down into his stomach. He would need to keep that reigned in.
This was all so sudden. Of course, any person would like more time, and most people would take more time to process things and decide what to do, but not Charlie. He hated hanging on to things and wallowing in indecision.
He was ready to take care of these issues and leave them behind him so he could go on to a future that had nothing to do with Lily Jones.
When he arrived at her house, at first, he was hit with a wave of memories, all of them good with himself and Lily and May, and then he remembered the conversation with May last night.
All of that was over. It took courage and determination to knock on the door. A few moments later, Lily’s mother answered the door.
“Why, Charlie, what a surprise! I will tell Lily you are here.”
Charlie didn’t bother with the proper greeting. He just nodded and then stuffed his hands in his pockets, waiting for Lily to come out.
She didn’t disappoint, and a moment later, she appeared. She looked beautiful, just like she had every other time he had come to visit her or spent time with her, but this time, her smile looked insincere, and her eyes full of lies.
“Hello, Charlie, what are you doing here? I thought we were seeing each other on Saturday? You are a bit early.”
“We were, but I’ve come to say goodbye.” Charlie kept his voice even, unemotional. He didn’t need to tell Lily everything he thought of her, just enough to be rid of her.
“What do you mean? Goodbye? Where are you going?” Lily giggled.
Charlie took a deep breath. Of course, she thought this was some sort of joke. She probably couldn’t fathom how her little plans had leaked out.
“I am moving out west,” Charlie said flatly.
“What? I don’t understand.” Lily began to look a bit shocked and pale. If Charlie hadn’t known better, he would have felt sorry for her, but instead, he felt that anger rising again and had to remind himself to keep it under control.
“I suppose you don’t understand. Let’s just say that your plans didn’t work out, Lily. I am not going to be your backup plan to the banker’s son. I am going to find a woman who actually loves me and has the decency not to lie to me and waste a year of my life.” Charlie managed to keep his tone down so that everyone passing by in the street couldn’t hear his little rampage, but it had the desired effect on Lily.
She turned a pale sickly color and opened and closed her mouth rapidly as if she’d forgotten how to breathe for a moment. “What in heaven’s name are you talking about? Of course, I love you Charlie. We’ve talked about marriage.”
“Talking about marriage does not mean that you love me, Lily. Stop lying. I know the truth. You might as well be honest with me the last time you see me.”
As soon as Charlie said the words, it was as if a mask slipped from her face. “It is nothing personal, Charlie. How can you blame a girl for trying to secure her best possible future?”
“Is that how you saw all of the time we spent together? A possibility for your future? I saw it as our future, our only future. You have no heart, Lily. What you have done is unforgivable.”
“If it makes it any better, I never meant to hurt you, and I really did plan on marrying you at one time,” she answered, twirling a strand of loose hair around her finger.
“I see. No, it does not make it any better. One day, you will be on the receiving end of your ill doings, and I wish I could see that day, but unfortunately, I will not be around here to be a witness to it.”
“You were serious about going west?” Lily looked a bit taken aback. Charlie wondered if she had thought she could still convince him to forgive her or persuade him to go back to their previous plans.
“Yes, very serious.”
“But that is so rash, so sudden. Shouldn’t we think about this for a few weeks first?”
Charlie gave a dry chuckle. “There is no we anymore, Lily. This is goodbye.”
Charlie turned and walked down the small path that led to Lily’s home and back on to the main town road. He had come to do what he had needed to do, and he felt surprisingly good about it. It was obvious that May had been correct. Lily was not sincere about her declarations of love at all.
That was the last time he was going to talk with Lily, and hopefully, the last time that he would ever see her. His heart still throbbed with pain from everything she had done, but he knew that there were better things ahead of him. Hopefully, one day he would have an honest woman who wouldn’t disappoint him.
“A Gracious Love to Redefine Her” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
May has lived with her protective brother Charlie since her parent’s passing. When her brother is betrayed by the young woman he’s courting, he decides to leave their hometown and his broken heart behind. At first, May is skeptical about the move, but when she meets a handsome stranger, she feels much more confident about this unexpected change in their lives. But as she becomes smitten with him, will she be able to keep herself from harm when danger lurks?
Wesley and his brother have always been loners and there is a good reason for that; Wesley’s brother has gotten on the wrong side of the law more than once. Nevertheless, Wesley has finally managed to settle down with his own blacksmith shop in a new town. When he helps a beautiful young woman in trouble, he never could have imagined the change she would bring to his life. Will his dangerous secrets jeopardize their budding relationship, costing him his only chance of true love?
When an enemy from the past surfaces and targets Charlie and May, second thoughts will overwhelm and frighten her. Wesley has to make a choice between family and love while May will find herself tangled in between. Will May and Wesley be able to make the life-changing choices they need to in order to keep each other safe? Could they dream of a life together beyond any doubt?
“A Gracious Love to Redefine Her” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.