The Echo of a Forgotten Vow (Preview)

Chapter One

June 1882

Dallas, Texas

This wasn’t the life that Maddie Carver had signed up for when she married Jeremy two years ago. As far as she knew, marriage was a contract between two people. It shouldn’t include the groom’s mother.

She had tried so very hard to get along with Mrs. Carver. She had tried to be understanding, caring, patient. She had tried for Jeremy’s sake, for his peace of mind, but now that he was gone, Maddie couldn’t seem to find the strength inside herself to try anymore.

The decision she’d made that would change her life forever was taken and there was no going back. She was leaving, and there was nothing anyone could do about it. She had to go for her own sanity, or she would crumble to dust at the hands of her manipulative mother-in-law.

Pulling the dresser drawer open with more force than it needed, Maddie couldn’t catch it in time as it spilled all her stockings and chemises onto the floor. Well, fine, if that was how this was going to play out, then so be it. She put the drawer back into the bureau and bent to pick up her things.

There came a knock on her bedroom door.

She ignored it and set to work packing the spilled garments into her trunk. If she engaged, then a whole wave of guilt would wash over her, and she might lose her nerve. This was the best thing for her, to make a new life somewhere else. Living here with Mrs. Carver would be like having no life.

Bang! Bang! “I know you’re in there!” Mrs. Carver yelled through the wood. “Being childish and trying to hide from the world won’t make things better, Maddie. You have a duty to my son’s memory to take care of me.”

“No, I don’t. Nowhere in the vows did it say that I had to stay here and be your slave,” Maddie said under her breath. She searched her conscience once more to see if it had anything to add. It didn’t. She was doing the right thing. Leaving Dallas and Mrs. Carver was the best thing for her. It had to be. She couldn’t bear to stay here another moment.

Scrunching up her clothes in her desperation to leave, Maddie thrust them into the trunk with no mercy or thought about how they would look when she came to unpack them. She grabbed blouses and skirts from the hangers in the wardrobe until her hand brushed against one of Jeremy’s shirts, and she paused.

She had made him that shirt. It was powder blue, and he had always looked so fine in it. Sighing, she touched it one last time. She hadn’t had the heart to give his things to the church for the charity box yet. She still felt he might walk through the door at any moment and ask her to sew a button on his shirt for him. He was always losing buttons, no matter how hard she tried to keep them attached to his clothes.

She ran a hand over his trousers and felt the tug of him there. But he wasn’t there. It was only her memory, and that could go with her. Still giving his clothes away … it was such a final thing to do, as though the person they had belonged to no longer had a space in her life.

That wasn’t true, though. What she’d had with Jeremy might have blossomed into true love if his mother hadn’t been hanging around all the time, criticizing everything that Maddie did, constantly putting her nose into the couple’s affairs. Still, she had liked Jeremy a lot and had even begun to love him a little. But all that was over now. It was time to move on.

“Maddison! Come out this instant! Jeremy wouldn’t approve of how you’ve let the house go to wrack and ruin. Now come out and polish that silverware properly. I should be able to see my face in it.”

Poor silverware. It was polished so much it might end up being polished away entirely. The furniture had the same problem, according to Mrs. Carver, and was always dusty despite Maddie having spent hours cleaning, polishing, and shining it until it practically glowed by itself. The hearth was always sooty, the food tasteless, and the laundry not done to Mrs. Carver’s exacting standards. It didn’t matter how much Maddie tried to please her mother-in-law, it was never enough, and she had a feeling that nothing ever would be.

Was that why Maddie had never managed to truly love Jeremy, despite her best efforts? He was a good man, and her folks had liked him a lot, even loved him as a son-in-law. They had left her here in Dallas with him, with a feeling that she would be well taken care of and loved. They hadn’t bet on Mrs. Carver living with the newlyweds and never giving them a moment’s peace. Maddie almost wished she had moved to Chicago about eight months ago when her mother and father had gone. She could have, and no one would have said a word. However, she had stayed out of a sense of duty to Jeremy, a need to make things right with his mother. Maddie realized she was no closer to making things right with Mrs. Carver than she had been the day she met the woman. What a waste of time and effort this had all been.

Was it almost a year now that Jeremy had been gone? Maddie couldn’t believe it had taken her this long to decide it was time to leave.

“Maddie! You come out here now!” Mrs. Carver bellowed. The door handle rattled as though she was trying to open it.

Maddie shook herself and stuffed the rest of her clothes into the steamer trunk that lay open on the bed.

“Maddie!” Mrs. Carver yelled again.

“I’ll be right out,” Maddie yelled. She didn’t have to say that she was going to be leaving and never coming back. Mrs. Carver would get the message once she saw Maddie’s steamer trunk coming down the stairs with her.

“You impertinent girl!” Mrs. Carver snapped. “How dare you make me yell at you like this for so long before answering? Jeremy said you would be a help to me in keeping this house clean. And look, a few months after his passing, and you’re already shirking your duties. Typical of the youth today. I don’t know what he ever saw in you!”

Maddie gritted her teeth and prayed for the strength not to say what she was thinking. Oh, how she wanted to tell Mrs. Carver that she was horrible and Maddie would never stay with her. Even if her only other option were to become a soiled dove in a brothel, she would rather do that than live in this house one more moment.

There was no question about it. She was definitely doing the right thing leaving. She just couldn’t take the constant verbal abuse anymore. If she stayed, Maddie was afraid everything that made her who she was would be ground into dust under Mrs. Carver’s heel.

Why hadn’t Jeremy agreed to buy a house of their own when they were married? Surely, that would have been better, away from his mother’s eagle-eyed distaste? Surely, their married life would have been much, much better if Mrs. Carver hadn’t been hovering on the landing outside their door every night and never leaving them alone to have a meal together or anything.

Maddie had felt like an unwelcome guest in this house for two years, and she was done with it. She was done with all of it. She would leave Dallas and all its horrible memories behind. It was time for her to strike out on her own, to do what she should have done years ago, and become her own woman.

She had only married Jeremy because her folks liked him so much, and he’d been a good friend. As her mother had put it, “You don’t have young men knocking the door down, Maddie. Take the good opportunity lying in front of you.” She had done just that, and how had it turned out? Badly, she was saddled with a difficult, horrible, and frankly rude mother-in-law and no husband to act as a buffer.

Well, that would not be the rest of Maddie’s life. She was only twenty-four years old, and she had prospects. She was a darn good seamstress, and she had options.

In fact, she even had a job lined up.

It had been a couple of weeks ago. Maddie had been paging through the newspaper with no particular interest in any of it when something caught her eye. It was an advertisement from one of the little towns near Dallas. Pulling her Bible from her bedside table, she opened it to the advertisement she had cut out.


Must be clean, hard-working, and sober.

Well, Maddie was all those things and good with a needle to boot. There were a few other stipulations, including a willingness to travel to the little town of Welcome Springs.

The moment she read it, she knew that advertisement was for her. It was her ticket out of a life she no longer wanted to live.

She had written to the owner, Mrs. Weyland, and told of her experience making clothes and how she would love to move to Welcome Springs. When the reply from Mrs. Weyland arrived a short while later asking her to come to town, she was thrilled and responded immediately, saying she would be there in a week.

It hadn’t been easy buying a train ticket without Mrs. Carver finding out. She didn’t like to let Maddie go out by herself. Heaven knew what the old woman thought she got up to when she went into town on her own, but she determined to stop her. So, Maddie had been forced to trick the old lady, leaving her in a coffee shop with her friends and saying she was going to the post office when she was actually going to the train station.

Maddie had such butterflies in her stomach that day. They had fluttered around, so she thought she might be sick. She had hurried to the train station down Main Street and had bought her ticket as quickly as she could. Then she’d stopped in at the post office to send her parents a letter telling them of her plans. She would send them her new address when she settled in Welcome Springs.

And now it was time. There was nothing left to do. Everything was in the trunk and waiting to go. Her ticket for the train leaving that morning in less than an hour was in her pocket.

Maddie looked around the room for a last time and sighed. She had thought she might be able to be happy here, but with Jeremy gone, there was nothing for her here. Nothing at all.

“Goodbye, Deputy Sheriff Jeremy Carver,” she said, looking longingly at his side of the bed. “I hope you can understand and forgive me for doing this, but I have no choice.”

She pressed her hand to the pillow that had cradled his head when he was alive and steeled her nerves.

If ever she was going to leave this place, now was the time.

Closing the clasps on the trunk, she listened for more of Mrs. Carver’s insults. She had fallen silent. Perhaps she had gone back downstairs to think up horrible new things to say to Maddie. It wouldn’t surprise her to know that the old woman had done that. She was spiteful and mean with no provocation.

Maddie’s trunk had wheels, and once she had it on the floor, it was easy to move. She pulled it by the handle and unlocked the door. Opening it carefully, she peered out to see if Mrs. Carver was lurking on the landing.

For once, she wasn’t.

Maddie rolled the trunk down the stairs, letting it go first.

When she reached the bottom, her mother-in-law’s voice rang out.

“What is that?” she demanded.

“I would think you would know a trunk when you saw one,” Maddie said tartly. She began to head to the front door.

“Where are you going?” Mrs. Carver demanded.

“Away,” Maddie said. She had no intention of telling this woman where she was headed. That would be a disaster.

“Away? But who will take care of me?” Mrs. Carver asked, her eyes wide in surprise.

Maddie turned and regarded the woman who had brought Jeremy into the world. He hadn’t taken after his mother except for his lips. Those had been thin, like hers. Everything else must have come from Jeremy’s father. Perhaps his wonderful, friendly personality had come from his father, too.

“Mrs. Carver,” Maddie said solemnly, “I can’t do this anymore. I never signed up to be your housemaid. I was your son’s wife, but since he is gone, I feel it’s time I move on and find a new place to live. I would thank you for your hospitality if there had been any, but since there hasn’t been, I will simply say farewell.” She held out her hand to shake Mrs. Carver’s.

The old lady, her hair iron gray and her demeanor about as warm stared daggers at her.

“I can’t believe it,” she said. “You ungrateful—”

Maddie sighed, opened the front door, and dragged her trunk out into the street. She closed the door on Mrs. Carver, who was still yelling obscenities at her.

“Well, good riddance to bad manners,” Maddie said, quoting her mother. She knew the expression was wrong, but her mother always said it that way with a grin. It made Maddie smile, too, as she walked into her life and her freedom.


The train ride to Welcome Springs took until the late afternoon, and Maddie was quite excited to arrive in her new town the same day as she left her old one.

When the train pulled into the station, which was only a wooden platform, Maddie stepped out of the compartment and stood looking around. For some reason, she had expected Welcome Springs to be a smaller version of Dallas. It was such a thriving, vibrant city since the railway came through there that Maddie hadn’t really given any thought to her new home not being like that. After all, it was also on the railway line.

Yet, as she looked out over the rolling grassland dotted with houses here and there and a main street where the buildings only started about a hundred yards from the station, she began to realize that life would be very different here. It was exciting and a little scary to be out on her own in a new place with no idea of where to go. Perhaps it was good that the main road was right there, only a short walk away.

The people who had disembarked from the train with her all moved to the steps that led down to the hard-packed dirt below. Buggies and carts were waiting there, the horses stamping their hooves in impatience.

Crates and boxes of vegetables and suchlike were being loaded onto the train as other people stepped into the carriages to go on their journeys. Welcome Springs was certainly busy for a little town.

“Excuse me,” a timid-looking woman said as she gently brushed Maddie’s arm.

“Oh, I’m sorry,” Maddie said, stepping to the side. “I didn’t see you there.”

“No,” the woman said, her voice soft and her eyes pleading. “I wanted to ask … are you Miss Carver?”

Maddie stopped, surprised that anyone would know her name here. “Missus, actually.”

“Oh, I do apologize,” the young woman said. “I’m Elise Cooper. I work for Mrs. Weyland at the haberdashery. She sent me to welcome you to Welcome Springs.” She drew in a breath. “Welcome.”

Maddie beamed. Elise was a short girl, slightly plump, with large brown eyes peeking out at the world from under a curtain of curly black hair that framed her face. Maddie had always wanted jet-black curly hair but had been saddled with boring brown hair that didn’t seem to do anything for her. At least to her mind.

Thrusting out her hand, she said, “It’s so good to meet you, Elise.”

Elise smiled timidly and took her hand to shake it. Then, looking around, she asked, “Is it just the trunk?”

“What?” Maddie asked, still distracted by all that was going on around her.

“Your luggage, is it just the trunk?” Elise asked.

“Oh, yes,” Maddie said, nodding. “I managed to get a lot in there.”

“We can take a buggy then,” Elise said. “Or we can walk if your trunk has wheels.”

“It does,” Maddie said. “After sitting on that train all day, I could do with a walk.”

Elise nodded, and they headed across the platform and down the steps. As they walked, Maddie bombarded poor Elise with questions about the town. What was it like living there? What was Mrs. Weyland like as an employer? Where was a good place to stay in town?

“Hold on,” Elise eventually said. “What do you want me to answer first?”

“Oh dear, I’m sorry,” Maddie said, biting her lip. “I’m just so nervous and excited to be here. This is the first time I’m stepping out and being independent.”

“And your husband?” Elise asked. “You said you were married. Is he coming here too?”

“Goodness, I hope not,” Maddie said with a chuckle. “That might cause a stir.” And then, realizing that Elise had no idea what she was talking about, she added, “He was a deputy sheriff in Dallas and was shot in the line of duty.”

“Oh, no! I’m so sorry for your loss,” Elise said, her expression turning mournful.

Maddie wasn’t good in these situations. She didn’t like talking about Jeremy’s death or anything related to it because it hurt, so she tended to be blasé about it, brushing it off as though it were nothing and changing the subject.

“Don’t worry about it; it was a year ago,” Maddie said, shaking her head.

They were walking up the main street now. People passed by them, but the street was not as busy as most Dallas streets were. It was odd to see so few people around.

Something was happening up ahead. There were a few cries, and some people stepped hurriedly to the side. Maddie stared, not understanding what she was looking at.

“Get out of the way!” Elise cried.

Maddie turned to her and frowned. Out of the way of what? And then she saw it. A man was running down the street with a sack in his arms. It looked ungainly, and as he ran, cans began to fall from the top of it where it wasn’t closed properly.

He didn’t stop to pick them up. That was odd.

In a flash, he was right in front of Maddie. She stepped to the side, but he had chosen the same side to run to, and they collided with a groan and an expulsion of air. Maddie went down heavily, landing on a can.

“Ouch!” she cried.

Suddenly, an arm was around her, dragging her up, and she found the man with the sack and the cans glaring at her. He twisted her around, and something cold and sharp bit into her neck.

“Hold still,” the man growled at her, bathing her in his foul breath.

Maddie tried not to move a muscle.

Chapter Two

June 1882

Welcome Springs, Texas

Deputy Sheriff Levi Callahan ran down the main street of Welcome Springs in pursuit of a thief. Sadly, it was something that was happening more and more lately. It seemed that the railway coming through Welcome Springs hadn’t been such a wonderful idea. Along with the ease of getting the local farmers’ goods to other towns up and down the line, it had also given the riffraff from other towns the means to get around with a greater amount of ease.

Since the railway came through there about ten years earlier, things had been going from bad to worse from a crime point of view. Robberies were by far the most common crime in town now, and mostly, they were perpetrated by outsiders, people who didn’t even live in Welcome Springs. They would catch the train, come to this sleepy little town, and then rob the citizenry.

Well, Levi had had it with all that. He and his fellow deputy sheriff, Andy Landers, were not taking this nonsense any longer. He was going to catch this thief and send him off to the marshals in Dallas to face the music.

Luckily, he’d been out on the street patrolling when the cry went up from Mr. Perkins’ general store. Levi had worked out what was happening quickly and had started running shortly thereafter. It meant that he wasn’t far behind the thief. A couple of steps more, and he would have caught the man if not for the woman with the steamer trunk getting in the way.

Perhaps she was from some little town out in the middle of nowhere where deputies running down suspects wasn’t something a person saw often because she had just stood there like a statue. The thief ploughed into her, and instead of getting up and running on, the man decided to use her as a hostage.

Levi pulled up short just in front of the man and held out his hands. His gun was still holstered at his hip, and he tried to look as non-threatening as he could. The thief held a knife to the woman’s throat. It was clear what his plans were.

“Okay,” Levi said, panting a little. “Okay, let’s not do anything hasty.”

“Back off!” the thief yelled. “I’ll slit her from ear to ear.”

“I have no doubt you will, but that will ruin your chances of getting out of here alive,” Levi said as calmly as he could manage. His heart was hammering in his chest, and it wasn’t all from the run down the street. A good portion came from the fear he felt. If he said the wrong thing, this woman was dead.

Her green eyes were large with fear, too. She was clearly trying not to do anything to upset the man holding the knife to her throat. That was understandable. He would most likely be as compliant as he could be while waiting for the right moment to strike.

The thief had clearly thought about his words. “So then maybe me and my new best friend here will take a walk to the train station. You can have her back when I’m safely on the train and heading out of here.”

A whistle sounded shrill in the air. The train was about to leave the station. The man seemed to realize that as panic filled his eyes. His hand that held the knife at the woman’s throat dipped, and Levi knew it was his one chance.

Stepping forward with lightning speed, he grabbed the hand the man was holding the knife with and twisted the wrist to make him let go. Then he turned his body into the man’s, jabbing him in the solar plexus with his elbow while effectively pushing the woman out of the way with his body. She stepped aside, and Levi twisted the man’s arm around behind him and got him down on his knees, gasping for air from the solar plexus blow.

It was a move that Levi and Andy had been working on in their spare time. With the increase in crime, it was important to have ways to subdue criminals without shooting them. Too many times pulling a gun resulted in the wrong person being shot or in a bystander getting hurt. Levi didn’t want that. Not again.

“Okay,” Levi said as he pulled the man to his feet, the knife lying on the sidewalk out of his reach. “Let’s get you to the station.”

“Levi!” a voice called. It was Andy; he was coming down the street with a pair of handcuffs in his hands. “Let me take him. You go and see to the hostage. She’s looking ready to faint.”

Levi turned, and sure enough, the woman who had been held hostage was looking pale and glassy-eyed. It was while he was assessing her condition that he noticed how pretty she was. He hadn’t noticed before because he was so intent on the thief and catching him. Now, with the danger gone and in Andy’s hands, Levi took a moment to see her.

“Ma’am, are you okay?” he asked, walking over to where she and her friend stood.

The woman blinked and turned her green eyes on him. They were an odd olive green that Levi had never seen before. They were quite lovely and coupled with her golden-brown hair and full pink lips, she was adorable.

“Ma’am?” he asked.

She jerked and seemed to pull herself together, her hand flying to her neck, where there was a tiny drop of blood but no visible injury.

“I believe I’m fine,” she said, as though she could hardly believe it. She rubbed her neck with her hand. “Yes, I think I’m okay.” She smiled, and Levi’s heart skipped several beats. “Thank you so much, Deputy.”

“Levi Callahan, ma’am,” he said, offering her his hand.

She took it and shook it. “Ms. Maddie Carver,” she said. And turning to her friend. “And this is my new friend, Elise Cooper.”

The friend Levi knew. She was a local and had grown up here with him. Despite that, he hadn’t landed on her name the moment he saw her. She was always so quiet that he had often forgotten she was there.

He smiled at Elise. “Are you okay?”

She nodded. “I think so.”

“Well, if you’re both okay,” he said. He wanted to get to the station, but another part of him wanted to find out more about this woman, Maddie Carver, who had clearly just arrived in town. Being a gentleman and walking the ladies to their destination wouldn’t be a bad thing to do. Not when they had just suffered such a scare. “May I walk you to your destination?” he asked.

“That would be wonderful,” Elise said. “The streets are simply not safe anymore.”

“We’re working on it,” Levi said.

Elise nodded. “I know.”

“Let me take your trunk,” he said to Maddie. She handed him the handle, and he began to trundle it along the road. “Where are you staying in Welcome Springs?”

“I don’t know yet,” Maddie said. “I was going to go and see my new employer, Mrs. Weyland, at the haberdashery first and then find lodgings.”

“Perhaps try the Comfort Inn,” Levi suggested. “Mrs. Atherton runs it. It’s a good place to stay while you’re getting on your feet.”

“Thank you, that would be wonderful,” Maddie said, smiling.

They walked up the street, passing the bathhouse, the saloon, the general store, and then turning up a little side street. This street was lined with trees and houses. The Comfort Inn had a large sign outside the fence. It was a house that Mrs. Atherton had converted into an inn. She was an older lady, and her husband had passed on years ago. She made her living supplying travelers with good, clean rooms and substantial, if not delicious, meals.

When they arrived, Levi opened the gate for the ladies to go in first. Then he brought in the trunk, hefting it up the steps to the front porch. Maddie opened the door to the inn, and they went inside.

The inn smelled of polish and roses from the bouquet that stood on the reception counter. Everything was neat and clean, just as Mrs. Atherton liked it. Levi had stayed here a couple of years ago before finding his own lodgings. He now rented a little cabin up one of the other streets in town and was happy living on his own.

Back then, both his folks had still been alive. Now, it was just his mother, him, his sister, and his brother. His sister, Georgina, still lived at home, and his brother Eddie had moved to Dallas. Levi, being the eldest, had felt a need to go out on his own, which was when he had made use of Mrs. Atherton’s generous hospitality.

“Oh my goodness!” Mrs. Atherton cried as she came into the reception carrying a stack of linen in her arms. “If it isn’t Levi Callahan. What brings you to my humble establishment? Need a room? You were such a lovely guest. So very clean. Although, that doesn’t seem to be the case today. Just look at your shirt!”

“What’s wrong with my shirt?” Levi asked, and then he saw it. A cut along the sleeve. It must have been while he was twisting the knife from the man’s grasp.

Mrs. Atherton, a tall, well-turned-out lady with graying brown hair in a perfect bun, tutted and shook her head. “Well, no matter. I see you have the seamstress with you. Is my new jacket ready?”

“Not yet, Mrs. Atherton,” Elise said in her small voice. “It will be tomorrow.”

“Oh, well,” Mrs. Atherton said, looking annoyed but not surprised that her order wasn’t ready. “What can I do for you?”

“I would like to have a room, please,” Maddie said.

Mrs. Atherton nodded. “All right. And how long would you like it for?”

“I don’t know yet,” Maddie said. “I just arrived in town.”

“Ah, I see,” Mrs. Atherton said. “And how will you be paying for the room?”

“With cash,” Maddie said, frowning.

“Let me put this another way. I can help you with a room for tonight, and we can take it from there,” Mrs. Atherton said.

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