Allison Graham pulled the brim of her bonnet down over her eyes to shield herself from the incoming stream of dust kicked up from the intermittent wind. She walked through the center of the town, and smiled at her neighbors and friends as she made her way down to the large house where she lived.
The afternoon light was already beginning to fade and caused the shadows on the ground to stretch out further around her. Allison had been having so much fun in the town, but she knew that it was never wise to leave it too late to get home.
The town of Torrevia was fairly busy, but there had never been much of a history of crime or unrest. Allison could still hear the distant chorus of chatter, the sound of stagecoaches rumbling over uneven ground, and the hoof-beats of the horses pulling them.
She walked through the gates to the more residential side of the town, where there were many houses and friendly neighbors that she enjoyed spending time with.
Allison smiled as she thought about the tight-knit community and how they were all so kind to her large family.
She rounded the corner, and finally the two large structures appeared in front of her. They were great, white buildings, much grander than the others in the town, but tucked away so that they weren’t marveled by foreign eyes too often.
“You’re back!” Virginia cried as she walked across the porch and down to where Allison was approaching her.
Virginia was her younger sister by two years, with features almost identical to Allison’s; dark, long hair and even darker eyes, although Allison’s eyes held more hazel in their tone.
“Yeah, it was really busy today,” Allison remarked as she pushed her bonnet back. Once they made it to the porch, the shelter was enough for the wind’s force to ebb against them.
“I bet it was, since it was market day,” Virginia said, and chuckled as though it were the most obvious thing in the world.
“I got some things, some new ingredients that I hope to put into my cooking.” Virginia didn’t need to be told twice about this as she took the bag off of her and glanced inside. “Come on, let’s go in, there’s lots to be done. Have you seen Ally?”
“No, not for a while actually,” Virginia said, while still looking inside of the cloth bag.
Before walking into the house, Allison narrowed her eyes as she looked at the other building next to her family home. Some said that it was strange for families to live so close to one another, but they had always been close with their cousins and Allison didn’t see an issue with it.
Their uncle was very close with Allison’s father and the two of them had long ago decided that they would settle down next to one another. Allison didn’t mind being so close to her cousins, especially their eldest; Ally.
She sighed as she thought about the many times that people had mistaken them for sisters or even twins, not cousins. Allison needed to find her, as she needed help with preparing the big family meal that was meant to commence in only a few hours.
It had become something of a tradition; they would cook for all of their family and have them under one roof so that they could all be closer and talk about their day.
However, for the women of the house, the event had turned out to be a lot more stressful than anticipated. Allison enjoyed her role in the home, but it was a monthly event that she could often do without. It suddenly brought out a side of her that she didn’t even know she had; the side that kicked into action and tried her hardest to make sure that everything was perfect.
While looking at the neighboring house, Allison narrowed her eyes as she thought about the last time that she had seen Ally. It hadn’t been that day, but she was struggling to remember if she had seen her yesterday either.
With a perplexed frown on her face, she followed her younger sister inside and tried to clear her head, thinking about what needed to be done.
“Virginia?” she called out as she started to gather the various new ingredients that she had bought from the town.
“When was the last time that you saw Ally?”
“I’m sure she’s just off in the town somewhere – you know what she’s like. You should also know by now that there’s no point worrying about where that girl has got to; she’s a wild one after all.”
Virginia spoke as though it was nothing, but Allison felt strange about the situation. She couldn’t understand why; however, she was sure that something was wrong. It wasn’t normal, even for Ally.
The sound of plates crashing and idle chatter filled the room, and Allison sat beside her cousin as they watched the scene around them unfold.
“I told you I’m not much of a cook,” Ally shrugged as Allison piled up her plate with enough to fill her up for about a week.
“You’re not bad, and the food is clearly going down well,” Allison chuckled as she gestured to the family members around them that appeared to be enjoying their food.
Ally had always been slightly modest, but this was something new that Allison hadn’t seen in her cousin before. Recently Ally had been much quieter; she hadn’t been talking too much unless spoken to. Allison had noticed, but she hadn’t said anything about it yet.
“Are you all right?”
“Hm? Oh, yeah, I’m fine. I was just thinking about tomorrow and how I want to go into town.”
“I don’t get why you enjoy it so much. I thought the reason that we live in the houses that we do was because we liked the seclusion of it,” Allison said.
“Oh come on, you know that I don’t do well in a place like this. I want to go horse riding again soon at one of the ranches, but Father told me that I can’t go for a while.”
“I don’t know where you get your energy from,” Allison shook her head and chuckled.
“At least I actually want to go out there and do something,” Ally huffed.
“I want to as well, it’s just that you want to go much further away,” Allison smiled after taking another bite of her food. “You know, for someone that looks so much like me, we really do have very different opinions about what we want from life.” Allison chuckled. It was something that they heard all of the time and that simply caused them to roll their eyes – the idea that they should be sisters instead of cousins.
She had never thought that it was a particularly original joke, but people still seemed to want to make it.
That had been almost a month ago, when it had been Ally’s turn to prepare food for the family. But Allison shook off the thoughts and quickly got to work.
The cooking ensued and filled the large house with the smells of cooked beef and seasoned vegetables. It was a heavy smell as the meal continued to simmer. The meat had been worked all day for the meal, and Allison wanted it to be perfect.
“Something smells incredible,” The booming voice of her father sounded from the kitchen door.
“Thank you, but I thought I told you my rules about coming in the kitchen if you’re not going to help.”
“I know,” Russell said and held his hands up in defense. “I just thought that I would come by and tell you that you’re doing a good job. I see how much you stress about these things.”
Allison’s expression softened at her father’s words; they had always been close, and she was thankful to have him in her life. Her relationship with her mother had never flowed as well as the one that she had with her father.
“Thank you, Father. Now off you go and I’ll call you when it’s ready,” Allison chuckled and shook her head as he wandered off.
“Right, I think all we can do now is just wait for it to cook.” Allison stepped back and wiped her hands on the apron that she wore over her skirt. She had made the mistake when she was younger of thinking that she was skilled enough to not need to wear one when cooking. However, Allison had learned the hard way that her stubborn attitude wasn’t correct at times.
“That sounds like a great plan, I’m exhausted,” Virginia sighed as she sat back at the kitchen table.
“All you did was peel the potatoes,” Allison laughed.
“It was hard work!” Virginia fired back.
“All right, well thank you for the help. You’re better than the others at least. Don’t tell them that I told you that.”
They both laughed at the thought of the conflict that such a statement would bring to their family. Allison enjoyed having such a large family with many siblings and cousins – it made things interesting and she was never bored when they all got together for an occasion. However, the only downside to it was the children that were much younger than her; there was a distinctive gap in both maturity and understanding of the world.
Dealing with her four younger siblings and five cousins had taught Allison that she didn’t have a high level of patience with them at all. She tried to listen and to understand what they would tell her, but as soon as the subject would divert to playing games or running around, she would quickly refuse and resign herself to the kitchen.
That was why she enjoyed the company of both Virginia and Ally; they were the closest in age and so they wanted to do things that were more suited to their age.
“Can you go call Ally?” Allison asked her younger sister. “I really want her to come and help since I helped her with the last one, it’s only fair.”
“Fine, but I don’t want her to take her annoyance out on me if she doesn’t want to come.”
“Just make it clear that I’m the one asking.”
They both knew that Ally had an iron will, and it was incredibly difficult to make her do anything that she didn’t want to.
“All right,” Virginia groaned and quickly got up to leave the kitchen. “Anything else, my lady?”
“Oh come on, don’t be like that.” Allison shook her head at her sister’s sarcasm. Without saying another word, Virginia left the kitchen in search of their cousin.
Allison enjoyed the alone time to make sure that everything was going to plan. It also allowed her to get a head start on the cleaning for afterward. She was rather neat as she worked, but there were a couple of spillages from the sauce that were going to need mopping up.
As she worked, Allison’s thoughts drifted to the thoughts of cleaning in a home of her own one day. It was an exciting thought for her, to think that there could be a man out there that wanted to marry her.
She thought of herself as quite outgoing in the town, especially within the community and in the church. She wondered if she had already met the man that might one day be her husband.
Allison smiled to herself as she thought about this, the idea that she would have her own abode to look after and to be proud of. Sure, she took pride in helping to maintain her family home, but it was clear to her that this was her parents’ home, not hers.
Allison wanted the freedom to make decisions about the place and to have a husband that would come home happy every night to a beautiful house. She knew that she was getting to the age where that was expected of her, and Allison simply couldn’t wait.
Perhaps that’s what the dinner is about, she thought to herself. Perhaps Father wants to make an announcement about it so that I can find someone good enough for his expectations.
Despite being close to him, Allison was aware that meeting her father’s expectations was a challenge that few would be able to rise to. His views on marriage were rather strict; Allison’s future husband was going to have to live up to a lot of pressure to succeed.
Her stomach fluttered as she thought of herself taking on the tasks of running a household and fulfilling her role in society without the help of her parents.
Allison checked on the meat, which had been cooking well and had softened significantly; she knew that her family preferred it when it was very tender. She smiled at the premature thought of her family appreciating her efforts. That was why she did it, after all; the praise was something that Allison had always loved to receive. It made her feel as though her efforts were valued and gave her a much-needed place in the household.
“I can’t find her,” Virginia spoke up as she appeared in the doorway.
“Isn’t she just next door?” Allison frowned as she thought about where her cousin could have got to.
“No, I’ve just been and asked, Christopher thought that she was over here with us.”
“Oh.” Allison’s brow furrowed even more as she tried to remember if Ally had said anything to her. “Could she just be in town?”
“Where else could she be? She has to be in town.” Virginia shrugged it off; she didn’t seem that bothered by it.
Allison was beyond confused as to why her cousin had chosen that moment to be so mysterious and frustrating. She wanted to get ready to plate up the meal, yet they were missing a family member.
“You know what she’s like, she could just be off on an adventure of her own,” Allison sighed as she pushed her dark hair back.
“But you mean inside of the town though, right?”
Allison shrugged at this. In honesty, she had no idea what she meant by her own words, and knowing Ally, she really could be anywhere.
“Have you told her parents that she’s not here?”
“No, I didn’t want to worry them,” Virginia sighed.
Allison knew that her Aunt Mary and Uncle Christopher would already be worrying about it.
“So you just left?” Allison blinked in shock at her younger sister.
“Well, I wanted to tell you about what had happened before anyone else found out.”
“Okay, well now we need to tell people that we can’t find her.” Allison said as she glanced back at the meal that was almost ready.
“But what about-”
“I think we’re going to have to prioritize our cousin over a meal, Virginia.” Allison cut her off as she knew what she was going to say.
Ally had a tendency to do things like to disappear at rather important moments. Allison had never been on the receiving end of the disappointment, but now she had and she didn’t like the way it made her feel. She wanted to trust her cousin, she really did, but Ally made it difficult when she did things like that.
“Is Laura around?” Allison thought as they walked out of the kitchen for a moment.
“I don’t think so, I haven’t seen her. Surely if Ally’s not around then Laura wouldn’t be either.”
Laura was Ally’s best friend; the two of them had grown up together. It was the kind of friendship that nobody tried to get in the way of. Allison knew better than to try and break them apart.
“Come on, we need to go and tell them. This could be serious, after all.”
Virginia followed her sister with a frown on her face. Allison wasn’t sure what was pulling her to go and make sure that her cousin was all right, but she didn’t like the sense of dread that was building up inside of her.
“Where do you girls think you’re going?” their father’s voice called as they crossed the main hallway and reached the front door. “Shouldn’t you be getting the last-minute preparations in place for dinner?”
“We will father, but we can’t find Ally,” Virginia explained.
“Oh, you know that girl will be around here somewhere,” Russell sighed as he glanced back in the direction of the kitchen.
“Nobody knows where she is though, Father, and we can’t find Laura either. Aunt Mary thought that Ally would be here with us.”
This seemed to get the message across to him that something was wrong. Allison breathed out in relief as he looked as though he was about to tell them that they could go. However, before he could do so, the sudden burst of the door opening startled the three of them.
“Chris, what are you doing?” Allison’s father asked as both Christopher and Mary walked into the room. They both seemed very flustered and looked around with wild eyes.
“It’s Ally,” Mary exclaimed while putting a hand to her chest. Allison noticed that she appeared awfully faint. “She’s gone!”
“Gone?” the three of them said almost in unison.
“What do you mean gone?” Allison’s father walked over to them and frowned.
“She’s taken a small case of luggage and we can’t find her!” Mary cried as she fell to her knees. They all lurched forward to try and comfort the woman, but Christopher beat them to it.
“It’s all right; she can’t have gone far, not on her own. You know what Ally’s like, she probably has just gone to stay with Laura for the weekend.”
“Why wouldn’t she tell us where she’s gone?” Mary sniffled as she held onto her husband as though he were a crutch.
“She’ll be back soon,” Allison’s father spoke up to try and calm down his sister-in-law.
“I think we should call the sheriff, there’s got to be something that he can do.”
“Come on Mary, you’re being too dramatic about this. We’ve only just noticed that she’s gone; I’m sure that you’re just jumping to conclusions.” Christopher was trying to reason with his wife, but it was clearly no use.
“I’m not being ridiculous; I haven’t seen her all day! Girls, have you seen her?”
Allison realized that all attention was now on her and Virginia, and she felt her cheeks heating up at the sudden eyes that met hers.
“Uh, no.” She muttered and looked down. “We thought that perhaps she would have been at home or in the town center. I was down there not too long ago, but I didn’t see her.”
Mary continued to cry and Christopher sighed as he shook his head. However, neither of them seemed too surprised that this had happened.
Allison had to admit even to herself that the thought of Ally running off for a while wasn’t totally shocking. She was known for being rather wild in her ways, and so getting the sheriff involved would do them no favors.
“What could she have possibly done this time?” Christopher groaned as he pulled his wife close to him and hugged her tightly.
“I’m sure it will be fine, Chris. We’ll keep an eye out; why don’t you go and help Mary calm down a bit?”
“What about the meal?” Allison whispered under her breath to her father.
She knew that it certainly wasn’t the most important thing at that moment, but it was almost ready. Her father flashed her a warning look saying that it wasn’t the time to be sitting down and pretending to be a happy family. Allison sighed as she realized that he was leaving it up to her to decide what to do with the meal.
Slowly, she walked back to the kitchen since there was nothing she could do to help the situation but feed the rest of the family.
The dinner was awkward for them all. Although Allison wished that her family had been more prepared for the sudden change in treatment from the other townspeople.
The word spread like a plague; it was able to seep in through the walls and get past the barriers of secrecy with no issue. Allison wondered who it was that had told someone outside of the family, but there were too many people that knew inside of the family circle to start pointing fingers.
The day wore on and by nightfall, they were still no closer to finding out where Ally had gone. There was no money missing, only some of her clothes and most precious belongings including items of jewelry that her mother had given to her. Allison was completely stunned when the realization hit her that Ally really was gone.
On that first day, it had been almost surreal to consider that Ally was truly gone. Everyone wanted to believe that she was simply staying at someone else’s house in the large town. It was a completely understandable assumption to come to; however, it was clear that she wasn’t coming home any time soon as the days started to bleed into one another.
Allison felt incredibly stiff as they filed into church on the first Sunday without Ally. The rest of the congregation had clearly heard about the situation and Allison kept her head down to avoid meeting the eye of any of the nosy people around them. She shuddered and sat in her seat at the end of the pew. Virginia was by her side and appeared just as uncomfortable ,shifting in her seat.
“People are staring at us,” Virginia whispered to her as the service started.
“Just ignore it, I’m sure they’re just wondering where Ally is, like we are,” Allison muttered back as she kept her eyes ahead of her.
The last thing that her family needed was any more bad marks against them like being seen talking in church. Allison pressed her lips together and made it through the service without saying anything else to anyone. However, just as they stood for the final hymn, Allison caught sight of someone for the first time.
It was Laura.
She was standing on her own away from her family and wore a rather sour expression as she mumbled her way through the words of the hymn. Allison’s frown increased as she realized that Laura was probably the most likely person to know Ally’s location.
The service ended and Allison didn’t wait for the family to get up and leave; she decided to take matters into her own hands. Through the bustling of chatting voices and leather boots on hard wooden floor, Allison could hear her family from behind her. They were clearly confused as to why she was rushing to get out of the church.
She was thankful when the fresh late-morning air hit her face as she emerged from the crowded building. The church building was not merciful in regards to trapping heat inside, but Allison quickly walked on without a break to make sure that she could catch up with the mousy-haired girl before she could get away.
“Laura!” Allison called out as the girl stopped walking and finally turned around to face her.
“What is it? I saw you looking at me in the church.”
Allison was taken aback by how harsh Laura’s tone was toward her. She was normally such a quiet and unassuming girl that it was rather strange.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to stare; it’s just…well you know how we’re going through some things at the moment. We don’t know where Ally is, and I was just wondering if you knew anything about it?”
“Why do people keep assuming that I know something? You’re the one that’s family, after all, I thought that you would be the one to know.”
Allison was shocked at how quickly the girl in front of her had managed to turn this around on her. Laura’s features were surprisingly sharp, and when she scowled, as she was at that moment, it pronounced the harshness of them even more.
“I don’t know anything, she didn’t talk to me before she left. But weren’t you with her the day before? Did she say anything to you about where she could have gone? Or even just how she could afford to do something like this?”
“I don’t remember anything. I know that if it was something dramatic, I would have noticed that something was wrong and tried to stop her. But she didn’t say anything to me.” Laura shrugged and sighed as she turned around to see her family waiting for her. “They think that I know something too, just because I talk to a lot of people outside of the family. I don’t know anything, and that’s the truth.”
Allison was shocked that Laura wasn’t more upset about how her best friend was nowhere to be found. She thought that it would be the kind of thing that would trouble her, but Laura was acting as though the entire thing was just an inconvenience for her.
“I’ve got to go, I hope you find her though.”
“Thanks,” Allison said, and let out a heavy breath as she watched the girl go. She had never been close with Laura, but she had also never known her to be quite so harsh for no reason.
She turned around to see that her own family was waiting for her with quizzical expressions on their faces.
“And she said that she didn’t know anything?” Virginia scoffed as they walked back around to the house.
“I know, I thought that if Ally had told someone about this entire thing, it would have been Laura. But it seems that she doesn’t know anything on the subject.”
“She could have been lying,” Virginia offered, but Allison frowned.
“No, I think she was telling the truth. Why would she lie about where Ally is? It’s not like Ally was in any trouble or anything, she had no reason to leave.”
“But Ally always wanted out, didn’t she?” Virginia was thinking out loud, but it did make sense. “She wanted to go on adventures. Do you remember when she would tell us about the far-off places that she wanted to go and see with her own eyes?”
“I do, but you know as well as I do that a woman like her wouldn’t last two seconds out there on her own. Besides, Ally has no money – how do you propose that she’s going to travel far enough to see all of those places?”
“I’m…I’m not sure,” Virginia muttered, and kept her gaze on the path ahead of them. “It was just a thought.”
“I know, but we’re going to have to be a lot more logical about this,” Allison said as she tried to think of a plausible scenario that would explain where Ally could have gone with minimal money and traveling capabilities. “Did she take a horse?”
“Not from the stables, no.” Virginia shook her head.
“She could have taken another horse.”
“Where would she get another horse from? Surely if someone was missing a horse, it would be something that they would try to get to the bottom of fairly quickly?”
“I guess so.” Allison groaned; it seemed that every idea already had a good enough explanation.
Allison took comfort in the kitchen and spent most of her time there to avoid having to face the outside world. It was such a shift in attitude toward the family in the town. People were confused, and some were even suspicious that the family themselves had done something to Ally. Allison shuddered at the thought, but she knew that couldn’t possibly be the answer to any of it.
“I heard people talking about Ally still in town today,” Virginia groaned as she walked into the kitchen and sunk down in one of the chairs at the table.
“What are they saying now?”
“They’re confused why the sheriff isn’t involved if it’s that much of a serious issue.”
“Because she hasn’t been taken, she’s packed a bag and left, how can the sheriff help us? She’s a twenty-one-year-old woman – old enough to make her own choices without having the sheriff on her tail for it.”
“I guess so,” Virginia sighed and shook her head. “I can’t believe that she would just leave.”
It had been almost a week since Ally had left, and with each day that passed, Allison was starting to come to terms with the situation. She began to realize that Ally’s disappearance actually wasn’t that surprising. Ally had always spoken of life out on the road, traveling around and discovering new places while acquiring new stories to tell.
Allison couldn’t believe that they had all just ignored this fact and not expected it from her.
“You think we should tell the sheriff?” Allison narrowed her eyes at her sister.
“I think that it might help to squash some of the suspicions in the town,” Virginia nodded. “I know that there are a lot of people that know about this now, and I just think that it might help the situation.”
“But what can the sheriff do, if anything?” Allison continued to frown at her sister.
“He can just stop the rumors from spreading by being seen talking to us.”
“Do you really think that’s a good idea?” Allison winced as she thought about the concept of the sheriff poking around in their business.
“What have we got to lose?” Virginia shrugged.
She was only two years younger than Allison, but she had noticed that sometimes Virginia acted as though she was the oldest out of the two of them. She had grown up very fast over the past few years, and Allison was shocked by how much she had shown her maturity lately.
“Also, I heard that Aunt Mary tried talking to Laura too.”
“What?” Allison’s eyes widened as she thought about the implications of that encounter.
“Yeah, it wasn’t’ good, apparently.” Virginia sat up in her seat and adjusted the position of her blouse that she had tucked into her skirt. “Laura didn’t like how we keep on coming to her with questions. Apparently, she’s still standing with her decision that she doesn’t know anything.”
“Do you believe her?”
“It’s been a week and she’ adamant that she doesn’t know anything.” Virginia held her hands up as though she was surrendering to Laura’s words. “I don’t know in all honesty; I want to believe her, I really do.”
“Me too, I just wished that Laura was clearer about this. It would make everything so much easier.” Allison folded her arms across her chest as she leaned against the counter.
“Is there anyone else that would have seen anything? Anyone that we could talk to that might know something?”
“She could have spoken to anyone,” Allison sighed as she thought about how big Torrevia was and how many people Ally knew.
“This is why we should get the sheriff involved!” Virginia groaned in annoyance. “He’ll be able to get people to speak up about information that they might not have wanted to give to us. They might not even think that the information is of use until he prompts them.”
Virginia has a point, Allison reluctantly thought to herself. She didn’t want to admit that her younger sister was right – it was just another notch on her ego after all.
“Fine, talk to Father and Uncle Christopher about it – I’m sure that they’ll be just as accommodating about this.”
Virginia rolled her eyes and left the kitchen. They both knew exactly how slim the chances were of either of the men getting the sheriff involved. Allison’s uncle did have a good relationship with the sheriff, but she knew that at the end of the day this came down to pride. Neither of them wanted to be seen having to go to the station about a relative. It wasn’t the kind of image that they wanted associated with the family.
“His Heart Driven Promise” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Allison Graham enjoyed living in the bustling town of Torrevia with her tight-knit family. What she had always dreamt of is finding a good match in town to marry and stay close to her parents. However, when her cousin Ally runs away without her family’s consent, the consequences will be devastating for Allison’s life and reputation. Disgraced by a situation she never intended to be a part of, Allison will be accused of having tricked a total stranger, Joe, who mistakes her for Ally. Will Allison manage to clear things up and get to the bottom of this misunderstanding? Will she discover how Ally is involved in this mysterious incident?
Joe Stevens has been determined that he will never find his one and only love, after his heart got broken. Still another trouble is awaiting him on the horizon when Ally enters his life and deceives him by stealing all of his savings. Her unexpected betrayal throws him onto the same path with Allison’s, in a bid to track her down. To his surprise, though, spending more and more time with Allison, he will soon have to choose between the dark desire of vengeance and his deeper need for redemption. Will he give love another chance, even if his past taught him otherwise? Will he have faith in Allison’s intentions and help her work everything out?
Allison and Joe are about to find themselves in a whirlwind of crimes, treason, and distracting conflicts. With such a rough start, can they ever hope to understand one another, let alone find love? Will they manage to find the culprit who lured Ally away from her family, getting her into serious trouble?
“His Heart Driven Promise” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.