Jessamine walked slowly down the porch steps, her eyes fixed on the horizon. Her heart was heavy and she was angry, but she was trying to hold it in. She was at a loss, unsure of what to do next.
Her mother and father, scholars who created textbooks for the local schools in Marigold, Virginia, had just informed Jess that one of the young teachers, Joe Smith, had asked her father for her hand in marriage. And her father had accepted.
It didn’t matter what she wanted. If she’d been asked, Jess would have said no. She hadn’t been courting Joe and had no interest in him, whatsoever. He was handsome and had family money, but she found him to be quite the wet blanket when he attended social events her parents held at their large house in the heart of Marigold.
Her parents were well-liked and, by default, Jess and her sister, Cora, were also known around town. She and Cora were identical twins with opposite personalities. They often clashed, but Jess had a feeling Cora was going to blow a gasket when she realized their parents had married Jess off first. She’d pleaded with her parents not to make her go through with it, but they were determined.
Why couldn’t he have chosen Cora? They looked the same. But Jess knew the reason why. Cora was a bit standoffish and often repelled people with her brash and abrasive personality. Jess, on the other hand, genuinely cared for others. She always wanted to know how they were doing and if she could do anything to help them, she usually did her best to do just that. And more, if she was able.
Her sister’s unfriendliness had now cost Jess the rest of her life. She wasn’t the kind of girl who held grudges, but she was having a hard time containing the anger she felt at her parents for not listening to her, for forcing her to go through with something that would be permanent – for the rest of her life.
Marriage. If she chose not to remain married, the scourge of divorce would follow her wherever she went.
Jess stood at the bottom of the porch steps, her arms crossed in front of her chest and her eyes narrow. She realized she was squeezing her arms too tightly and released her grip, trying to relax.
But how could she relax? She was about to be chained to a man she didn’t love.
She fought back tears, turning when she heard the screen door open and footsteps step out onto the porch. It was Cora, glaring down at her, both hands placed firmly on her hips. Her brown eyes were flashing with anger.
Jess braced herself and turned away from her sister.
“Don’t you turn your back on me, Jessamine Anne Flores!” Cora yelled out, stomping down the steps behind her.
Jess took in a deep breath and held it for a moment, trying to keep herself calm.
Cora moved around her like a snake, getting in front of her sister to confront Jess directly. Jess figured Cora would be upset, but she was going overboard with her attitude. It wasn’t Jess’s fault their parents had offered her out first. She wasn’t responsible for the men’s lack of interest in Cora.
“You aren’t Ma, Cora,” Jess said firmly. “You don’t intimidate me, especially when you say my full name. What’s that supposed to be? Some kind of insult? You call me by my full name and expect me to bow to you for it? None of this is my fault. I would have gladly had Mr. Smith ask for your hand, instead. But he didn’t.”
“I know he didn’t!” Cora shrieked. “You managed to wile your way into his affections. It’s always about you, isn’t it? You always get everything!”
“I didn’t ask for this,” Jess pointed out, trying not to yell back at her sister. It made her throat hurt and sometimes, she lost her voice. She’d learned early on that there was no out-yelling Cora Flores. She took another deep breath to keep herself from tearing into her sister. She was already upset enough without Cora confronting her about something she had no control over.
“You’re a liar!” Cora yelled out. Jess thought maybe the girl had lost her mind. She shook her head, pulling her eyebrows together in confusion.
“Why are you so mad at me? I didn’t do anything.”
“You know full well why, Jess. Don’t play coy with me. I see through you. Twins, remember?”
“Being a twin doesn’t mean you know what I’m thinking or feeling. I have to marry Mr. Smith whether I like it or not. And I don’t know if I want to be Jessamine Smith. That’s just so plain.”
“You’re trying to distract me with petty annoyances,” Cora retorted in a deadly, sneering voice. She took a step closer, almost nose to nose with Jess. She poked one finger in her sister’s chest, just above her breast. “And it’s not going to work. I know all about you. I know what you’re thinking. And if you think you’re going to be happy, you’re wrong!”
“I never said I was going to be happy.” Every muscle in Jess’s body was stiff as a board and her nerves were tingling with desperate anxiety. She didn’t want to marry Joe. That was the last thing she wanted. For a moment, she contemplated asking Cora if she wanted to switch places. No one would ever know, she’d say, and they could both get what they wanted.
Unfortunately, not only did Joe know Jess was a twin, he was not particularly fond of Cora. He’d made it perfectly clear, Pa said. He would know it wasn’t Jess. Cora wasn’t like her, and everyone knew it. At least, everyone in Marigold did.
Jess didn’t care if it was the only offer. She didn’t want to accept it.
“I wish you’d just leave and never come back,” Cora hissed before shoving Jess’s shoulder and stomping back to the front porch. Jess turned halfway and looked at her sister with mournful eyes. She knew what she had to do.
Three days later, Jess put her plan into motion. Cora was so angry, she wouldn’t speak to Jess or even look at her – which, in a way, was a blessing to Jess. It made her decision so much easier.
She set out one last time for a ride on Bella, her beloved horse. How she would miss the animal. She’d been riding the horse for ten years, since she’d been just ten years old. Bella had been her birthday present.
Though her heart was heavy, Jess knew she was doing the right thing. She’d slowly been weeding through her things and packing bags, unwilling to let Cora or her parents find out what she was doing. Her plan was to go west on the train that left very early Friday morning, which was tomorrow. They wouldn’t know what happened to her. That was just the way she wanted it.
She was leaving her mother a note, though, so the woman wouldn’t worry. It wasn’t that her parents didn’t treat her right; they did. But marrying her off to Joe Smith when they knew that was the last thing on Earth she wanted, it was just wrong. It proved to her that her parents didn’t really care about her happiness.
And that was fine with Jess. She had an independent soul, and at twenty years old, had a good head on her shoulders. She could take care of herself.
She and Cora received a weekly allowance from her parents, which she’d been saving for nearly four years. She’d spent the money when she was little on silly things like ice cream at the parlor or to play a game at the festivals the town threw for every holiday. But when she’d turned sixteen, she had decided to start saving most of it, just in case she needed it when she was older.
Jess thanked her sixteen-year-old self when she made the decision to take the train West. She would use that money to help her get by until she found a sewing shop or another menial job she could do. What she really wanted was to go to one of the big colleges being erected throughout the United States. She didn’t know of any on the west coast, but if she tried to enroll, the school would contact her parents and they would just come and bring her back. They would force her to marry Joe Smith, and she would be miserable the rest of her life.
She rode Bella slowly along the slight upslope of the path that would lead her to the top of Sugar Hill, right behind her parents’ home. It was the best view, letting her see the valley where the town was located, the mountains that surrounded it, the waterfalls that plummeted from the top of Sugar Mountain – which was much larger than Sugar Hill and rose up to the Heavens on the opposite side of town – and the long, winding creek that made its way through Marigold.
It was a lovely little town with its own postal service, restaurant, barber, beauty salon, and many more amenities it was often hard to find in smaller towns. Soon, the 20th century would be upon them and Jess knew things were sure to change.
Still, she couldn’t imagine how, and vowed to come back to see it someday, when her fortune was made. She stopped on the trail when she reached the peak of Sugar Hill and looked down.
“It’s such a beautiful place, isn’t it?” she asked Bella, leaning forward to stroke the animal’s neck. “I’m going to miss it, I think. And I’ll miss you, too, lovely Bella. I hate to have to abandon you at the train station, but I know they will bring you back here to your home. I don’t have any other way there, not with my bags and everything in tow.”
Leaving Bella behind was the hardest part of her plan. But riding the animal across the country was an even worse idea. It was much too dangerous for a young woman like her, all alone. She didn’t want to be in danger. The train was much safer. She would ride until she reached a nice destination in the West, somewhere she didn’t think her family would be able to find her. After a decent amount of time passed, perhaps she’d let them know where she was, just to ease their fears.
The note to her mother would be vague. Jess would express how much she regretted having to leave, but that her parents had given her no choice. She was being forced from her home in order to live a happy life. It really wasn’t fair. Since she didn’t know where she was going, it would be impossible to tell her mother even if she wanted to, which she didn’t.
She’d been fighting off depression ever since she’d made the decision to leave. She wished she didn’t have to part on bad terms with her sister. Cora was a hard woman, stubborn to a fault. Although the fight they’d had was not her fault, she still felt guilty, as if she should have handled the situation differently.
She was aware that Cora had no friends, at least none that Jess knew of. She’d always tried to fill that spot, to be the person her sister could turn to when she was down. And Cora did. Through the years, whenever her heart was broken, she’d come to Jess. When she had trouble of any kind, Jess was right there for her. That’s what sisters were supposed to do.
But their relationship was damaged by the things Cora had said to her since the marriage proposal came to light. She’d been vicious and vindictive with her tongue, snarling and sneering at Jess, making snide remarks about her appearance, her clothes, and even her voice, which was very similar to Cora’s, just like their looks.
That was why the three days of silence since their big blow up had been such a relief. Jess could easily ignore the nasty looks her sister gave her – even at the dinner table, with no discipline from her parents – but the words hurt Jess’s feelings, whether she wanted to admit it or not.
The urge to leave home had strengthened over those three days, making her long for Friday to arrive. She’d left all her most precious treasures out and would put them in her bag tonight.
Her heart pounded at the thought. She was almost there. It was really going to happen. Jess was so nervous, she was shaking.
She sat atop her horse, looking down from Sugar Hill for a solid twenty minutes, watching and observing the townspeople as they moved around. She knew them all, as the population of Marigold was just 450 people at last census.
She would miss some of them, too. But she would make new friends wherever she wound up. She was the friendly and outgoing sister. Cora was not.
She turned the horse away from the town a bit reluctantly and went down the other side of Sugar Hill. She knew she would come across Copperhead River. To her, the river was another hiding spot, a place where she’d always gone when she needed time to be alone. The recent rains had probably made the river rise, and she was curious to see how much.
“I’m gonna miss all of this, Bella. I wish I didn’t have to leave. But going West is the best option for me. I’m not a child anymore. I do need security and protection, but I really don’t want Ma and Pa to tell me who I have to marry. That is just so… old fashioned!”
She shook her head and continued. “I know you’d feel the same, and you’d tell me so if you could talk to me.” She dropped her eyes to the horse, gazing at her fondly. “You’ve heard me complaining and praising both, haven’t you, sweet girl? You’ve been such a good horse. If you were younger and I was a man, I’d take you with me – I’d just ride on out West and stop where I stop. But I need the train, don’t you see, to keep me safe.”
Bella would agree if she could. Jess was sure of it.
She refused to believe even for a moment that her plan was in any way reckless or dangerous. She had to go. She had no choice.
She could never marry Joe Smith, the teacher. Handsome or not, he had a dull personality and a dry wit Jess didn’t care for. She wasn’t going to marry him. She was determined.
“I just can’t marry him, Bella. I know you want me to just do it and stay, but… oh, I just can’t!” Her frustration came out in her tone. “Poppa never should have accepted on my behalf. It’s my life, not his.” Her voice came out clogged with the tears that filled her throat. In her heart, she knew what she was about to do was one of the most dangerous things she could ever embark on.
She should have asked her best friend, Lynn, to come along on the ride with her. She had invited Lynn to stay the night so she could tell her about it. She dropped her eyes down to Bella. Maybe Lynn could come with her to the train station and bring Bella home. No one would be the wiser.
When Jess and Bella reached Copperhead River, Jess stopped the horse and stared out at the rushing waters. If she had a dramatic flair, she would have thrown herself into that river and drowned instead of running away. She would become a legend in Marigold and probably all of Virginia. News of her plight would reach the West coast and they would all mourn her, wondering why she didn’t decide to live and travel out to where they were.
She smiled at her thoughts, one of the few smiles she’d enjoyed in recent days. Of course, no one would know if Jess drowned in the river. And no one other than her family and friends would remember her. She wouldn’t be known as “the Lady in the River.”
She wasn’t about to toss herself into that water, anyway. Its name was appropriate, as the river was filled with Eastern Copperheads, one of the three deadliest snakes in Virginia. Its venom was strong enough to take down a lumberjack with just a drop.
Jess didn’t know if her father had told her that just to scare her and keep her away from the rushing river when she was young, but she chose to believe it. Even as an adult, she always stayed a few feet away on the shore and if there was any movement around her, she immediately retreated. Bella didn’t like the snakes any more than she did.
She scanned the water. It had risen several feet with the recent rains, just like she’d thought it would, and it swept past her as if it urgently needed to get somewhere. She followed the path of the water with her eyes, wondering what it would be like to traverse such waters.
“It looks really dangerous, doesn’t it?” she asked her horse in a low voice. “I wouldn’t want to get stuck in that.” There was no reason for anyone to put a boat on the river. The snake problem virtually eliminated any chance of good fishing, and the water was usually running too fast, anyway. She’d never seen anyone attempt to swim Copperhead River.
The mere thought of it gave her chills. Shivering, she scanned the surface of the water. Jess always got the feeling that, someday, she would see something and be forced to go out in the water. The only thing that would make her do something like that was if she saw one of the children from town, out there trying to show his or her bravery to friends. She’d been dared to do just that when she was still at the schoolhouse, but she’d had the good sense to tell them no.
When she’d been called a chicken, she had vehemently defended herself, saying, “Of course I’m afraid! I don’t want to die. And I sure won’t die in Copperhead River over a bet with the likes of you about whether or not I’m brave!”
Once she’d left the schoolhouse and had grown up a bit, Lynn had told her that because Jess stood up to those who were daring her, the rest of the kids had the same courage to say no when they were dared. She said Jess had probably saved a bunch of lives without even realizing it.
Jess sighed heavily. “Bella. Should I go? Should I? I might die out there.”
Bella snorted and tossed her head up and down. Instead of a signal for “yes, you might,” the first thought that ran through Jess’s mind was that she could die right there in Marigold, too. Nothing stopped death. It would occur wherever you were. It was a part of life.
“Dear God,” she murmured under her breath. “Please give me the wisdom to do what’s right for me and not make a mistake. I don’t want to hurt Momma and Poppa, but I can’t marry Joe Smith. I can’t. Please, God, help me.”
She looked up at the blue sky, noticing that the white tufts of clouds floating by were lined on the bottom with gray. That meant more rain was imminent. Flooding was likely a possibility. That was one thing Jess wouldn’t miss. There were frequent floods in Marigold because of its position between Sugar Mountain and Circleback Mountain. Copperhead River was an offshoot of the many streams and rivers flowing through the area. When it rained heavily for a long time, they rose – and often threatened the town with major destruction.
But Marigold was still thriving and growing larger every year. People were coming without anyone leaving. New businesses popped up every other month. Jess was especially proud when a doctor came to town with his wife and opened a clinic. She still remembered hearing her parents discuss it in the other room while she was reading in the library. She’d stopped focusing on her book long enough to listen to their expressions of joy.
“Well, I’ll be hornswaggled,” she heard a female voice say behind her. She spun around in the saddle, smiling, recognizing the voice of her friend, Lynn.
“I can’t believe you’re here, Lynn,” she said laughing. “I just thought how I should have invited you on this ride and you could just go back home with me. And here you are!”
“Yes, I’m an answer to your prayers, Jess. Don’t you know that?”
Lynn pulled up alongside Jess and stared out over the river, a smile plastered to her face.
“You really are, Lynn. Sometimes, I think you really are.”
Lynn just gave her a sidelong glance and a smile. She wasn’t serious and Jess knew it. Lynn had a sweet soul and the voice of an angel. It was like she’d aged to twenty, but her voice had stayed that of a child. Her tinkling laughter could make anyone smile. Jess sometimes wished her own voice sounded like that.
“So, what are you doing out here, Jess? Just taking a ride?”
“Yeah, you know how much I love to ride. I’m gonna miss—” She stopped abruptly. She hadn’t said anything to Lynn about leaving yet. When she halted her words, Lynn’s eyes darted to her.
“What are you gonna miss? Why aren’t you going riding anymore? Is Bella sick?” The growing concern in Lynn’s voice made Jess quick to respond.
“No, no. Bella’s fine. For an older horse, she’s still powerful and strong.”
“I didn’t think she was an old horse,” Lynn responded, scanning the horse. “And you should be careful, saying that. You’ll hurt her feelings.”
Jess giggled and leaned forward to pat Bella on the neck. “I didn’t say she was old. I said she was older. She’s 16, so I guess to us that might be about middle aged. She’s healthy, though, so I expect her to live for a while.”
“If Bella’s fine, then why aren’t you going riding anymore?”
Jess sat back in her saddle and looked out at the water again. The sound was comforting. Several times when she’d wanted to escape, she came out to the river just to sit and listen to it.
“I’m not giving up riding,” she said, finally. “I… I was talking about something else.”
She glanced at Lynn, who was giving her a curious look, frowning. “You are a mystery, Jess. Sometimes, I don’t understand you at all.”
Jess smiled at her friend, trying to defuse the awkward situation. “I’m sorry, Lynn. I was thinking out loud.”
“Well, you should explain such weird ramblings, Jess. People will think you’ve lost your mind.”
She laughed, turning Bella away from the pounding water. “Come back to the house with me, Lynn. Unless you have something else you want to do. Do you have your things to stay the night?”
“I do, yes.” Lynn glanced over her shoulder at the bag attached to her saddle.
Jess nodded. “Okay. I’m starting to get real hungry, and I need to eat something before I faint dead away.”
“Okay.” Lynn turned her horse and followed Jess back down the path, telling her a story about her brother and sister. Their recent shenanigans had gotten them in trouble with their parents, and Lynn thought it was hilarious. While their pranks were always harmless, Lynn’s parents were furious whenever the two pulled something.
Jess was only half listening. She laughed when appropriate and caught the gist of the story, but she was preoccupied with how she’d felt when her secret had almost been inadvertently revealed. She was anxious to tell Lynn, but it had to be at the right time. Now was not that time.
Jess still had some things to think about.
The time was drawing close. Her heartbeat sped up as she pictured herself boarding the train, waving goodbye to Lynn. She would swear Lynn to secrecy. She trusted her friend. Once she told Lynn why she had to leave, Jess knew her friend would agree with her. It was the only way to avoid a horrible life with a man she didn’t love. She didn’t want to bear his children. She didn’t want his last name. She didn’t want to be in charge of his large home.
She wanted to be in control of her own life and who she chose to marry. There was no man in Marigold she was interested in, so the only solution was to look elsewhere. Her parents would never agree to that. They wouldn’t even let her accept her own marriage proposal.
Which she wouldn’t have done.
Which was precisely why her parents had done it for her.
“Don’t you think that’s the craziest thing?” Lynn said, laughter in her voice.
Jess realized she hadn’t heard the last part of Lynn’s story but laughed anyway, feeling guilty. “Oh, yes,” she replied. “Simply crazy!”
Both young women laughed as they went down Sugar Hill toward Jess’s home.
They were up later than the rest of the family, which gave Jess the perfect opportunity to bring up her plan.
“You remember earlier today, when I said I was going to miss something but I didn’t finish what I was saying?”
Lynn gazed curiously across the kitchen table at Jess. “Of course, I remember. It wasn’t that long ago.” She giggled, another sound that filled Jess’s heart with joy, making her smile despite what she was about to say. She was surprised by how nervous she was to reveal her plan to her friend.
“Well, I’ve made a decision and I want to tell you about it. You’re the only one who will know, and I want you to swear you’ll keep it a secret.”
The look on Lynn’s face went from amused to serious in an instant. “What is it? What are you going to do?”
Jess hesitated, staring down at her cup of hot cocoa, thinking of the right way to start. “Well, you see, my poppa has accepted a marriage proposal for me.” She stopped when Lynn gasped, then met Lynn’s eyes with her own, nodding. “Yeah, they want me to marry Joseph Smith, the schoolteacher.”
Lynn frowned. “Joe Smith? He doesn’t even live in Marigold. Why would they want you to marry him?”
Jess shrugged. “I guess he’s the only one who’s asked. And Poppa likes him.”
Lynn shook her head. “I’m sorry to hear this, Jess. I see why you’re going to miss this place. You can take Bella with you, can’t you? Surely, Mr. Smith would allow that.”
Jess’s heartbeat sped up even more. “I’m not going to marry him.”
“You’re not?” Lynn’s expression brightened a bit. “So you’ve convinced your parents not to make you marry him?”
Jess took in a deep breath and let it out slowly. “No. They won’t budge.”
Her friend looked confused again. “I don’t understand. How are you going to get out of it?”
“I’m leaving town. I’m heading West.” Jess glanced over her shoulder at the closed door of the kitchen. She could only hope no one was standing on the other side, listening. Like Cora. If Cora knew what she was going to do, she would tell their parents immediately and ruin all of Jess’s plans.
When she looked back at Lynn, she noticed her friend’s face had turned white as a sheet.
“You’re going to the West? By yourself?” Her voice was terribly concerned. Jess felt sorry for putting such a burden on her good friend.
“Yes. I don’t have a choice, don’t you see? I can’t stay here and marry him. I can’t go wherever it is that he lives. He’s visited Poppa many times, but we have never gone to his house.”
“He has family money. He has a big mansion in Darry.”
Jess nodded. “Yes, I know. That’s where I’d be living, I guess.”
“It’s a lovely estate,” Lynn said thoughtfully. “I’ve only been there once with my poppa and I thought it was so beautiful.”
“I’m sure it is,” Jess replied with a measure of confidence. “But I don’t want to live there, or with him. I don’t want to have his children or have anything to do with being the mistress of his house. I want to be free to make the choice on who I marry.”
“He’s a good-looking man,” Lynn pointed out weakly.
Jess shook her head. “It’s not just the fact that Poppa said I would marry him and won’t back down from that. It’s Cora. She has been particularly hateful lately, and I’m not sure why. I thought it was because she wanted to be married first. Maybe she should look for someone for herself.”
“You’d think that’s what she’d do. She’s just as capable of finding a man as you are. Why doesn’t she? She could arrange to get married before you so she wouldn’t feel so left out.”
“No one has asked her to marry him,” Jess explained, keeping her voice low. She hated to speak ill of her sister, but Cora wasn’t about to say anything nice about her. She felt like a child in a schoolhouse fight. With her own sister.
“That’s not your fault,” Lynn insisted. “Maybe she should try not being so stubborn and hard-nosed all the time. She acts like a child.”
Again, Jess glanced over her shoulder toward the door. When she turned back, she noticed Lynn’s face was bright red.
“I’m sorry, Jess, I didn’t mean to insult your sister. She has good qualities. She’s… she’s clever. Smart. Right? She loves you. She’s your sister; she has to love you.”
“I’m sure she does. I love her, too. But she is so hateful, and I don’t see any reason why I should stick around when no one wants me here. Joe is my father’s friend, not mine. And I wanted to know if you will help me with my plan.”
“How can I help you?”
Jess felt a measure of relief that Lynn wasn’t trying to keep her from going. She’d expected Lynn to say something, though, and what her friend had said was perfect. She’d tried to defend Cora to the best of her ability.
“I need you to help me pack up the last of my things and go to the train station with me. There is a train leaving for the West at five o’clock in the morning, and I want to be on it.”
Lynn shook her head, sighing. “Oh, Jess. It’s so dangerous in the West. Why do you want to go there?”
Jess shrugged. “I figure it’s the best way to get lost.”
“You’re trying to get lost?” Lynn frowned.
“No, hopefully that won’t happen. I mean, I want to get away from here and not be found. Hiding from the family, I guess is a better way to put it.”
“Well, that’s a relief. I thought you were trying to put yourself in danger even more than you already are.”
Jess smiled softly. “I don’t want to be in danger. I do know how to shoot a gun and defend myself, but I’m hoping I won’t need to.”
“It doesn’t sound like you have a destination, though. You won’t have any friends. You won’t know anyone. How is that not dangerous?”
“Of course, it’s dangerous,” admitted Jess. “But life comes at a risk. I refuse to be tied down to a man I don’t want to be with. I won’t marry him. I don’t care what my parents want.”
Lynn nodded. “I understand. I’ll help you, Jess. But just so you know, my heart is heavy, and I will miss you very much.”
“I’ll miss you, too,” Jess replied, reaching across the table with her hand out, her palm up. Lynn put her hand into Jess’s and Jess squeezed. “You’ll always be my first best friend.”
“I’m already jealous of the best friend you make wherever you’re going.” Lynn grinned, squeezing back.
The two women went quietly up the stairs. Jess’s nervousness was peaking. She would get a few hours of sleep after her things were packed, and they would leave before anyone in the family knew they were gone.
“I need you to do one other thing for me, Lynn,” she said while they were putting the last of her valuables in protective sacks. Lynn looked up at her from where she sat on the edge of the bed, placing the sack on her lap.
“Once I leave on the train, I need you to bring Bella back here and put her in the stables. Without being seen. Can you do that?”
“I’ll try. If I come back and your family is up looking for you, what do I do?”
“I suppose you can just leave her near the house. She will come back on her own; she’s a smart horse.”
Lynn nodded. “Okay, I can do that. She is smart. And she’s beautiful, too. Such a unique patch of white on her nose.” Lifting her hands, she measured out a long horse nose in front of her own, indicating where the design on Bella’s nose was. “I’ve never seen a horse with white on their head and nose like that and nowhere else on her body. Such bright copper hair. She’s gorgeous. I know you were proud when you got her for your birthday. I remember the party.” She laughed abruptly. “We had such a good time that year. How old were you? Ten?”
Jess nodded, also remembering the party with a great deal of fondness. “Yeah, to be young like that again. It’s just too bad.”
“It sure is. But we can’t dwell on that, right? We had a great childhood together and watched each other grow up. I will so miss you, Jess. I really, really will. You don’t know how much.”
When Jess looked at her friend, she felt like she did know. Because she would miss Lynn just as much.
“I’ll send you letters,” she promised, fully intending to keep it. “And you can write me back when you know where I am. But you can’t tell…”
Lynn said, “your parents” at the same time as Jess said, “my parents.” The two laughed softly, not wanting to wake anyone up.
“I will write to you, Jess. I promise.”
Jess walked over to the bed and sat next to her friend, taking Lynn’s hand in her own. “Thank you for being such a good friend to me, Lynn. You’re the only person I will trust with this. I knew you would help me.”
“Well, I think it’s simply foolishness,” Lynn said, making Jess’s heart drop into her stomach. “But I understand why you’ve chosen to do it. I think I might choose to run away, too, instead of having to marry a man I didn’t love and spend the rest of my life with him.”
“I’m so glad you understand, Lynn. I love you.”
“I love you, too, sweetie.”
The two embraced with tears in their eyes.
“A Love Thicker than Blood” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
All that Jessamine Flores ever wanted is to be happy. When her parents arrange to get her married to the very man that her twin sister is deeply in love with, her life is turned upside down. Jess’s only option is to run away, taking a train with no destination and little hope. When she makes a new friend on the train and gets introduced to her charming brother, her life finally seems about to take the right turn. But will she dare to follow a road she has never chosen before, with her heart as a compass?
Cooper Tremaine has everything a man could ever want: he is a hard-working rancher and his coffers are full. And even though the only thing he lacks is a sweet love, capable of shaking his world, his aching past makes it hard for him to trust anyone. When his sister brings home a charming friend, he suddenly finds himself uncertain of what to think. Will he allow himself to trust Jessamine, and discover that she is different from any other woman he has ever met? Or will he stay away from love once again, fearing that he might get hurt?
Jessamine and Cooper find the chance to learn a lesson for life, and develop unprecedented feelings by each other’s side. But could their happiness last? When Jess’s past comes back to haunt her and keep her from the love she’d always wanted, how will she call for help? Will Cooper be capable of following the signs and even risk everything to save her?
“A Love Thicker than Blood” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.