The barn was a musty place. Katie liked it. Even though some people complained of the smells or the sounds, she enjoyed the time she spent there. Today, it was a bit chilly out and the hard work of doing the chores was doing her good. She tried to keep up the movement, to move right on to the next task. The cows called greetings to each other, and sometimes Katie liked to imagine they were sending greetings to her too.
Katie grunted as she tossed another forkful of hay into the feeder for the cows. Her shoulders ached, her eyes were tired, her legs trembled, and it was not even sunrise yet. She didn’t know how she was going to feel by the end of the day. She thought at first that once she got used to doing the heavier chores around the ranch, her body would not protest so much. She gripped the pitchfork tightly before setting it back in its proper space. Maybe she just needed more practice. Seven months ago, the ranch hands had walked out. They could not take the angry stares from people in town or the mean jabs and the constant assumptions.
Katie brushed escaped strands of hair out of her face. She hated all of that too, but there was no choice but for her to deal with it.
“All right then, that should keep you good for the day.” Katie shook her head. Now she was talking to cows. She stacked up the empty milking pails and surveyed the area of the barn with a keen eye. Leaving things clean and orderly was something she always made sure to do. Larry was not great at doing the same, so there was always a mess or two to pick up after him.
Before leaving the barn, she picked up a wicker basket sitting by the doorway. She still needed to get to the chickens. Just keep your chin up and keep moving. This won’t last forever. Katie’s optimistic thoughts made the rare appearance every once in a while. They were so rare, she didn’t really believe them anymore. She would have thought that a year was enough time for the town to get over their unfounded prejudices that had slowly ruined her life, but in fact, they hadn’t. I don’t need them! Pa and I can handle things just fine. Katie smiled to herself. It seemed that her mind was determined to fill her with positivity today.
Katie made sure to latch the chicken coop door behind her. There were times when she forgot, very unpleasant times where she spent the rest of her morning chasing down hens and trying to convince them that their home was not so terrible. Katie almost laughed out loud when she slid her hand under the seventh hen to find yet another smooth, slightly warm egg.
“I’m glad you all have been getting down to business. You know how much we need your eggs,” Katie spoke to the row of hens that were watching her intently. Of course, none of them could understand her. “We will have a nice breakfast today, much obliged,” she added with a mock bow. Katie ignored the feathered birds giving her their puzzled looks, filled her basket with eggs, and headed back to the house.
The sun was just peeping over the horizon. It was making the air shimmer with a soft hazy gray light. Combined with the morning dew, it really was a beautiful sight to behold.
She took the now heavy basket of eggs and walked across the yard to the cabin. The thin layer of dew sparkled in the morning sun and made her stop in the middle of the yard. It was breathtaking. She stood still for a moment trying to commit the picture to memory. When she reached the cabin, she let herself in quietly, just in case her father was still asleep.
“There you are, I was just about to come out and find you. You should really wake me up in the morning.” Her father was sitting in the parlor with a stern look on his face. From the looks of it, he had just finished putting on his boots. His wooden cane was standing nearby, leaning against one of the simple parlor benches.
“You know I don’t mind doing the chores in the morning. Larry does a lot too. You shouldn’t push yourself on that leg.” Katie watched as her father stood. The wince of pain on his face was unmistakable.
“Just because my leg is not what it used to be, doesn’t mean that I can’t do some things around here, you know. You shouldn’t be left to do everything.” Her father’s face fell, dejection written all over it.
Having other people do the many things that he had always done himself had been hard for him to accept ever since his accident. He did not like stepping back and letting Katie run the ranch. But she couldn’t let him take over and do things yet. She needed him around and he wouldn’t be around if he drove himself into bedrest again because of his injury. That had happened once before, and the weeks had been tiring at best ever since. Besides the normal farm work, she had to find time to care for her father.
“I know that you want to help, and you do help. You manage decisions about what we are supposed to plant. You tell me what to buy in town, and you do so much more. You don’t have to feel bad, Pa. I have everything under control.” Katie managed to push back the blush that wanted to accompany her lie. She did not have anything under control. She managed to make it look like things were under control, by making sure that the things that were falling apart evaded her father’s eyes. Hiding things from her father would only last so long. Katie walked into the kitchen on weary legs. She was tired. She had gone to bed long after the sunset the night before, trying to make sense of the finances for the ranch. Despite her efforts to manage every cent, things were not looking good for them.
“Fine, I’ll read the paper while you make breakfast if that’s all right.” Her father’s voice trailed into the kitchen after her.
Katie smiled softly. The fondness she had for her father was special. Her eyes grazed the copper pots and pans hanging against the cabin wall. They reminded her of her mother every single time she saw them. If only her mother were still there. Then things would be so much better. Her father wouldn’t be so alone, and she wouldn’t have to figure everything out on her own. Katie’s throat tightened and her hand trembled against the pan as she took it from the wall and set it on the stove. There was no time to think of such things right now.
As Katie stirred, chopped, and cooked different things for breakfast, she hummed a tune. She loved to cook. It was something that took her mind off of all the worries that rested on her shoulders. There was also the challenge of coming up with something delicious with few ingredients. When everything was hot and ready to be eaten, she set out two plates, forks, and cups and dished up the food. She took a step back and surveyed it with pride.
“Pa, breakfast is ready.”
“Coming.” The sound of her father’s cane tapping on the wooden floor preceded him. A second later, he stood smiling in the doorway. “It looks lovely. You’ve outdone yourself again.”
“It’s nothing, pa. You need a good breakfast to keep up your strength during the day. Besides, we never know how many meals we have left so we should always enjoy each and every one of them.” Katie fought down the sadness at the sentiment.
“You have learned well, my dear.” Her father’s expression became a bit sad as he sat down at his place.
“Do you still think about Ma often?” Katie asked. She normally avoided the topic of her mother, but right now, it felt like a good time to bring it up.
“I think about her every day and usually more than once a day. Your mother, she was something special. I know you are doing your best and we are surviving, but things will never be the same without her.” Her father’s eyes were filled with sadness.
“I know. I think that she had these special powers to keep everything going. She always knew what to do. I don’t know, things were so perfect when she was alive.” Katie’s eyes moistened. Another reason that they rarely spoke of her mother was that neither of them was good at keeping their emotions from surfacing and taking over their entire existence.
“Speaking of your mother, I need another shirt. I know that you hate going into town, and I haven’t wanted to bother you, but my last one is pretty much ruined.” Katie knew that the shirt her father was speaking of was one of the last ones that her mother had purchased for him.
“I need to go to town for a few other things, so I’ll pick up the shirt while I’m there.” Katie ignored her father’s remark about her hating to go to town. It was true. She hated her trips into town. The scornful glares and mean comments followed her everywhere. Even though some people made a minimal effort to at least be cordial to her, it wasn’t enough. There were still so many others who didn’t hide their disdain. The events of almost a year ago had altered how everyone in town looked at them, apparently forever. People who had been their friends for years now gave them sideways looks as if they were looking at the lowest of the low when she and her father passed on the street.
Katie had adjusted to the feeling of being an outcast. It had taken what seemed like forever, but she had done it. She no longer cared quite as much when people refused to acknowledge her. It hurt just a little less when people were unkind or mean to her. What hurt the most were the things that people said about her father. Her father was no criminal. Even though he’d been friends with one, it didn’t change the fact that he had never broken a single law during his entire life. But no one wanted to hear that. They wanted someone to blame for everything that happened a year ago, and her father was the easiest target.
“You all right?” her father asked.
“I’m fine. Sorry, I just got lost in my thoughts for a moment. Do you think all of this is going to blow over eventually? Maybe we should go to a different town and start over, somewhere where no one has ever heard of us before.” Katie had thought of it more than once. The idea of packing their few belongings into a wagon and going somewhere where no one knew their past or who they were was a wonderful thought. It was often the chief material of her daydreams and desires.
“We can’t just move away. We have put a lot of work into this ranch. We just need to be patient. Sooner or later, Red is going to mess up, and when he does, the sheriff will catch him and put him behind bars. Then everything will be cleared up and the townsfolk will no longer have a reason to hate us.”
“How can you be so sure?” Katie asked.
“I can’t be positive, but it is at least what I am hoping will happen. Just be patient and wait.”
Katie bit her lower lip and nodded. She wanted to tell her father that Larry was having more and more trouble with keeping up with the extra work around the place and that she really didn’t have enough money to even pay him the next month. She wanted to tell her father that she was tired, that the burden of the ranch and the town hating her, and the finances were all just too much for her to bear. But she kept everything to herself, just like she always did. He was dealing with enough. He knew of her struggles. They were his struggles too. She just had to be patient and trust in the value of hard work. Hopefully, soon it would turn some sort of profit.
“All right, Papa. I am going to get ready to go then.” Katie stood, clearing the dishes. She paused by her father, leaning down and planting a soft kiss on his head. She knew it was unexpected, but she couldn’t help herself. Sometimes she felt like her father would fade from her life just like her mother had and then she would be left all alone in the world. She didn’t know if she could handle that.
Her father nodded and gave her a soft smile as she left the kitchen. Katie committed it to memory. Of course, she wouldn’t always have her father, but she certainly hoped that there would be a long time with him yet.
She hurried to her room, put her hair into a stricter bun, and pulled a shawl over her shoulders. Whenever she went into town, she did her best to look as perfect as she could. A year ago, the gang that terrorized the town had finally been caught and brought to justice. The only downside to the victory was that her father had been pinned as a criminal. Even though no one had ever found any evidence against him, people were certain he was guilty because of his friendship with the gang leader, Red. Cassie had tried telling people the truth. Her father tried sharing what happened when he found out that Red was a criminal. He had been shocked. He wanted nothing to do with Red. There was no way for her or her father to have known what Red was up to in his spare time. But the townspeople didn’t want to listen to them. No one wanted to think that they could be wrong about Katie or her father. Katie tried not to focus too much on those depressing thoughts, which were more persistent than she thought they could or should be.
Once she was properly dressed, she went to the cupboard and pulled out enough money from the little tin can that she had used to save up the few bills and coins, for the supplies she needed. She accompanied that with the basket of eggs she had collected the past few days and then left the cabin on her way to town. She made a mental note to try and get some more hens as soon as she could. If she had more hens, she could maybe sell more eggs. When her mother was alive, she had kept nearly double the number of hens and made a good amount of money from the eggs alone. Katie hated that there were so many ideas she had to improve the ranch, but she rarely followed through because of time. For now, she needed to focus on the task at hand, which was taking the eggs to town.
A soft wind moved Katie’s curls. She had natural curls that she had inherited from her mother. While she loved that she’d inherited her mother’s hair, there were days she hated how unruly her curly hair could become. She took in a breath of fresh air and a streak of sadness rushed through her. What she really wanted to be doing right now was riding across the field into the woods. She loved riding, especially when she was able to go out for a good amount of time. But right now, she hadn’t had much time for herself, much less time to go riding.
Katie hummed a soft tune as she went. It was a peaceful day that conflicted with the turmoil inside her mind. She couldn’t get her thoughts centered on where they needed to be. She kept thinking about what would happen if everyone in town never got over the unending lies they believed of her father. She was also thinking about the fact that they were running out of money. She wouldn’t be able to pay Larry much longer. She knew that she couldn’t ask him to work for free. Not only would it not be fair, but he wouldn’t be able to pay for things he needed with a job that didn’t pay him. Larry was almost as old as her father and things weren’t that easy for him either. He tried to hide how he was getting slower with the chores and how hard the bigger jobs were for him, but Katie saw it. After everything that had happened, Larry was the only one who had stuck with them through it all. She was so grateful that he stood up to everyone’s wrong thinking and lies about her father, but even so, she knew the time would come when she could no longer afford to pay for his services.
The walk into town was not a long one. It was around a quarter of an hour getting there. She was grateful not to pass anyone she knew on the way. It was easier that way. She knew that her father hadn’t done anything wrong, but that didn’t mean that it was easier to see the angry looks from the townspeople and others who she had once considered friends. When she passed the first building coming into town, she stopped to catch her breath. The normal anxiety that accompanied her on every single one of these trips flowed through her.
“You can do this,” she whispered to herself. She gripped the basket of eggs a bit tighter and hurried down the street toward the hotel. The hotel bought the eggs from her and used them in their meals for their guests. The owner of the hotel, Leann Thomas, wasn’t much different from everyone else in town. Leann thought that Katie’s father was guilty, but she didn’t think that Katie had known about it, so she at least treated Katie civilly. Katie never stopped to tell her that she had been as much of a friend to Red as her father had. She didn’t need to cause any more problems in town than she already had.
When she arrived at the hotel, she made sure to go around the building and use the back entrance. She didn’t want to draw attention to herself if there was anyone in the front area. She let herself in and then stood off to the side as people worked around her, busy with their own tasks for the day. She was standing in the kitchen which was full of activity since it was still the breakfast shift. She watched as cooks piled plates high with delicious-looking food. Then others took the food out to the dining area where the guests were waiting.
“Katie, what can I do for you this morning?” Leann’s voice caught Katie off guard. Katie turned to greet the owner of the hotel. She was shorter than Katie, by a few inches at least. She was bubbly and liked to fill every extra second with words and laughter. Katie didn’t know anyone who didn’t enjoy being around Leann, herself included.
“Leann, I brought you more eggs. The hens stopped laying for a bit, but they seem to have picked it up again.” Katie held up the full basket of eggs to prove her point.
“Thank you, Katie. You know we can always use eggs. Take them over to the cook. He’ll pay you the normal rate.”
“Thank you, Leann.” Katie smiled once more before hurrying across the busy kitchen. She pushed down the swell of feelings in her stomach. The cook didn’t like her, but he had never caused her trouble before. There was no reason he should today. He had his back turned to her as he stirred something in a pot on his stove. Katie cleared her throat and waited. After what seemed like several very long minutes, he turned with a frown.
“L-Leann said to bring these over.” Katie held up the basket.
“Count ‘em. Put them in the basket there and tell me how much we owe,” he said briskly. Mr. Harris always got right to the point. He motioned to an almost empty basket of eggs on the counter nearby and turned back to the stove. Katie hurried to obey. She counted out the eggs, filled the basket, then told him how much he owed her. He scowled while he fished the coins out of his pocket. Katie was relieved when she realized that the amount was almost half of what she needed to pay for a new shirt for her father.
“Thank you.” Katie didn’t wait for anything else to be said. She left the bustling kitchen with the smells of salt pork and fresh biscuits and her empty basket. She had several more stops to make and hoped to make it home with plenty of time to prepare lunch. Katie decided that the market was the best place to go after the hotel. She needed a few vegetables and today was one of the only days that some of the farmers in the area gathered to sell their goods. They would sell whatever vegetables they had to others in town who didn’t have gardens or who dedicated themselves to something else. There was a good amount of money to be made from selling at the market and a good number of customers to benefit from it, like herself. Katie scolded herself for not keeping a closer eye on her little garden at home. The vegetables had not come up yet, and because of that, she was wasting valuable money on vegetables this month.
Katie stopped at only the necessary stands. She requested exactly what she needed, not hesitating, and quickly began the task of filling her basket. When she finished going through the market, she had barely spoken a dozen words to anyone. She was ready to get back home and be away from the prying eyes and the whispers.
Katie quickened her step, ignoring the dust she kicked up with every single step. The general store wasn’t that far off. She took the steps quickly. Mr. Nolan, the man who owned the general store was the worst person in town when it came to the rumors. He never kept his thoughts to himself, and the past few times that Katie had come to town, he’d been particularly hostile toward her. She understood why Mr. Nolan was that way. His business was one of the main ones targeted by the gang run by Red Johnson. Mr. Nolan had lost everything, and he’d had to rebuild everything. Katie felt bad for him, but she wished that he didn’t blame her father for something he had nothing to do with.
Katie winced at the sound of the little bell above the doorway. Almost everyone in the shop turned to look at her. There were two or three other women shopping around the store. There was also a rancher that Katie recognized, along with his son who was the town’s deputy. As Katie passed them, her eyes locked with the deputy. She had seen him around town a few times. He had never said anything to her, neither kind nor otherwise. He had light brown hair that fell over his forehead into his eyes, a square jaw, and interested eyes. For that split second, Katie felt curious about him. She wondered where he stood with everything that went on in town. He was the deputy after all.
The sheriff was fairly kind to her and her father, so she wondered why the deputy hadn’t done the same. Maybe it was because he was new to the job and still didn’t know how to stand up to the pressure that was put on him by the rest of the town to shun them. Katie waited her turn, and when she got to the counter, she set her basket on the ground for a moment. Mr. Nolan observed her with narrowed black eyes. They reminded her of crow eyes. Dark and unfeeling.
“If it isn’t Katie Asher. What are you doing here?”
“I–I need a blue shirt for my father. You sell those here, don’t you?”
Mr. Nolan nodded. “We do sell them here, but not to thieves. I have been tolerant for a while now, Katie, but you and your father have never really been welcomed in my store.”
“I just need a shirt. I can pay.” Katie riffled through her apron pocket to bring out the money. “I’m not asking for charity.” She was used to the insults that were thrown around by the people in town. She tried to think of things from their viewpoint, of how they were robbed from and terrorized by Red Johnson and his gang. She tried to imagine what it would be like if she were on the outside, having been robbed by the gang, and had she known that her father was a good friend to Red. She had to admit that it seemed suspicious. But she wished that people would listen when they tried to explain the truth.
“I don’t want your ill-gotten money here.” Mr. Nolan’s voice grew louder. He had never been this mean to her before, but maybe that was because, in the past, she had come in when the store was practically empty. Now there were several people in the store, and they were all watching the exchange with interest.
For some reason, Katie felt her gaze drift to the deputy. He was standing a few feet away, by his father who had a scowl on his face. The deputy’s eyes widened but he didn’t have any expression on his face. He had a look of neutrality and uncertainty. His eyes were moving between Katie and Mr. Nolan as if he were trying to guess what would happen next. Katie was almost certain his name was Logan. She had heard him mentioned a few times in town. She had never approached him herself. Before the gang was taken down, she had always been busy, or too shy, and then after the gang was put behind bars, she didn’t approach anyone anymore.
“I just got this money from the hotel. I sold my eggs to them. You can ask if you don’t believe me.” Katie focused back on Mr. Nolan. There had to be something she could say that would make him stop. “I don’t want any trouble. I just need a shirt for my father.”
“I’m going to tell you one more time. I am not going to sell you anything here, Katie. Find somewhere else to buy things because I am done serving criminals. You and your father shouldn’t even be allowed to live in this town after what your father did. Just because there is no evidence against him doesn’t mean that he isn’t as guilty as Red.”
“My father never did anything that any of you accused him of. He has never participated in anything the gang did.” Katie’s eyes stung and tears threatened to break out from the corners. She usually didn’t try to defend her father anymore, or herself. It was pointless and only brought on more difficulties. But standing there being attacked by Mr. Nolan, she couldn’t help herself. “You have no proof because he wasn’t involved. He would never steal from any of you.” Katie looked around, searching for a friendly face. For a second, she thought she saw a moment of sympathy pass over Logan’s face, but it was gone so quickly she wondered if she had only imagined it.
“You think we are all dumb? Your father was best friends with Red Johnson. Red spent more time in your home than he did in his own. There is no way that he was a criminal without your father knowing. Your father was protecting him. He probably knows where he is hiding even now.” Mr. Nolan shook his head as he addressed the crowd. “You have some audacity coming into town and expecting to be treated like everyone else when we know what you are responsible for. Red took our livelihoods. His gang took our savings, burned our barns, killed our animals. Your father is as much of a criminal as Red for protecting him and you are as bad as both of them for protecting your father. Now get out of here! And don’t come back.” He raised his hand as if he wanted to strike her.
Katie felt like she couldn’t breathe. Her chest burned and her throat tightened. Suddenly the store seemed too small. The walls closed in on her as if they were going to crush her. She grabbed her basket and spun around, racing for the door. She went so fast, she almost tripped. As she passed, her shoulder brushed Logan’s. Even though he wasn’t participating in the whispering and the head-nodding going on with the rest of the customers, he did nothing to stop Mr. Nolan’s little demonstration. He looked embarrassed. As soon as Katie was outside, she was unable to hold back the tears. They streamed down her face as she swiped them away, trying to erase the terrible anger that twisted in her middle.
She needed to get her emotions under control and school herself before she got home. There was no reason for her father to know of the trouble she had found in town. She wanted to keep things as normal as possible for her father. After all, he didn’t deserve any of this any more than she did. By the time she was almost home, most of her tears had dried. Katie stopped by the well out in front of the cabin. She pumped some cool water and splashed it over her face. Once she was satisfied, she scooped up her basket and turned toward the cabin. As she did so, she nearly ran into Larry.
“A Heart Full of Flowers” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Katie Asher and her family have been outcasts in their own town ever since her father was falsely accused of being involved in a gang. Worn down by people’s hostility and struggling to keep the family ranch going, she desperately hopes for things to get better. All of a sudden, a lifeline arrives in the most unexpected way when odd jobs around the ranch start to get mysteriously finished. Poking around, she is surprised to find that her secret helper is Logan, the local deputy. Katie doesn’t know if she can trust him, but she deeply appreciates his help. Will she get past her suspicions and let him get close? Will she let down her guard and trust him with her heart?
Logan Bolman has been keeping secrets for the last year that would change things for a lot of people, including Katie. As the deputy sheriff, his life is devoted to keeping everyone safe though, no matter the cost… Seeing the awful way Katie is treated by everyone makes him determined to do something nice for her. Yet as he continues to help her around the ranch he realizes that what he feels is bigger than mere compassion. Before long, he finds himself looking forward to every moment they spend together. When people from his past put Katie in jeopardy, will he manage to protect the woman he is falling for while staying loyal to his duty?
What started as a small act of kindness will soon blossom into a special bond. As they grow more familiar, Katie and Logan find themselves magnetically attracted to each other. When faced with terrible danger though, will they be ready to trust each other beyond all doubt? Will the powerful light of their love dissipate the lurking threats that are set on breaking them apart?
“A Heart Full of Flowers” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.