Hearts and Dreams of the Frontier (Preview)

Chapter One

May 1875

The Ellis Farm

Xander’s End 


June Ellis couldn’t recall a time when she hadn’t lived on this farm. She knew she hadn’t been born on it, they had moved out to this place when she was about three years old, but she had no memory of the other place before. But why would she? It had been twenty-one years since the Ellis family moved out to Idaho and the place before hadn’t left much of an impression. It seemed that her life had truly started out here with her hands in the soil. 

As she worked now, on hands and knees planting the corn kernels in the rich earth, she felt a sense of immense peace fill her. This was her life and she loved it. 

A couple of rows over Charlie, her younger brother by around ten years, was moodily thumping the kernels into the ground. He was pushing them deeply into the tilled earth with far too much force. They should only be around one and half to two inches deep, no more. Jabbing his stick into the soil way beyond the mark where he was supposed to stop, meant those kernels were unlikely to sprout and grow. 

“Charlie,” June said with a tired sigh. “What are you doing?” 

“What do you mean?” he asked, turning his dirty blonde head so his hazel eyes could search hers. “I’m planting corn, same as you.” 

“Really?” she asked, sitting back on her heels and wiping a strand of her brown hair from her eyes with the back of her hand. “Because from over here it looks like you’re ramming that stick into the soil too deep.” 

Charlie looked from her to the stick in his hand, already deep in the soil passed the mark. 

“And they’re all bunched up together. They’re never going to grow like that,” June chided him. 

“Perhaps, there is something on the young man’s mind,” Jason Ward, their new farm hand suggested. He was another row over and regarding her with those deep green eyes of his that seemed to see everything despite the fringe of dark hair that hung in the way. 

June thought him ever so handsome. He was only about three years her senior which meant they should be able to talk to one another. However, she was still a little shy with him, since he’d only been at the farm for around three months. 

“Yeah,” Charlie said. “Why do I have to help with this? We got Mr. Ward now, surely, I can go and do something more interesting with my weekends than working the fields.” 

June shook her head. How could she explain to her silly little brother that soon he would be a grown man and would have to look out for himself. He would eventually inherit the farm. It would only make sense for him to know how to work the land and running off with his friends, getting up to mischief wasn’t going to accomplish that. 

“Come on, Charlie,” Mr. Ward said, kindly. “Why don’t you start closing the holes down this row? It’s a lot less troublesome.” 

Charlie sighed. “Fine. I guess it’s all right.” 

Mr. Ward smiled at June. 

He had a way about him that she appreciated. It was a deep silence as though none of this day-to-day nonsense that got her so riled up sometimes, she wanted to scream at the sky, bothered him. None of it could move him.

 Perhaps it was his stillness that Charlie responded to so well. They were already fast friends. It was just June who was lagging in that department, most likely because she always felt a light blush starting when she had more than a two line conversation with Jason. It was getting better the more time she spent with him and soon she hoped not to blush at all. 

“Thank you,” June said. 

Jason nodded. 

With Charlie being productive again, June continued with her work. She wished there was a better way to plant corn but there wasn’t. At least not that she knew about. And so here she was, on her hands and knees with a stick and a bag, going down the ploughed row of their first field. 

Soon they would move into the second field and plant another crop of corn. Then they would move onto the third and plant wheat and the fourth already had sugar beets in it coming up nicely. The last frost should have come and gone and the winter storms as well. The ground was well moistened, and Jason had rigged up an irrigation system leading water from the creek right down the rows of crops. He was a smart man.  She was glad her father had decided to hire him. Jason was a hard worker who kept to himself most of the time. He only spoke out when he needed to. Like with Charlie there. That would have ended in a fight. 

Despite having raised Charlie from the time she was ten, when their mother died bringing him into the world, Charlie always thought of her as his annoying older sister. And she was that. But he had a special place in her heart. Sometimes she thought it was because of his blonde hair. Their mother had had blonde hair and every time she looked at her brother that mop of blonde on his head would remind her of the mother she missed so much.

Well, that was not the kind of thing she should be thinking about. She had work to be getting on with. 

“Come on Charlie, let’s see if we can beat your sister and do more rows than her,” Jason said, eyeing her under the brim of his hat. 

June regarded Charlie and Jason. The latter was smiling in a most impish manner that only strengthened her resolve to join the competition. Games like this were becoming commonplace now, a way for them all to get the work done while having some fun together.

“Do you accept the challenge?” Charlie asked, cocking his head on one side. 

Nodding June said, “All right. I accept. You’ll be eating my dust soon enough.”  Putting her head down she moved with greater speed. Of course, it wasn’t fair, with two of them they could move faster, except that Charlie in his excitement kept messing up and they had to go back and fix his mistakes. 

There was every chance that June would win. All she had to do was knuckle down and plant like crazy.

June’s focus was pulled once again from her planting when the sound of horse’s hooves and the jingle of harness filled the air. Looking up, she spotted the buggy as it came down the hill towards them. They were working by the fence and the buggy was heading for them. 

“Who is that?” Charlie asked. 

It took almost nothing to distract him from his work, and he had his ears pricked up like a little rock rabbit. 

“Oh, it’s Mr. Church,” June said with disgust. She didn’t like their neighbor. Heaven knew she shouldn’t judge a person. After all, was she without sin? Hardly. But still, she couldn’t help it. Preston Church was a little younger than her father and as oily and slippery as a snake that had just shed its skin. 

He kept coming around and speaking to her father. The visits always upset her father and she hated that. 

“Is the competition still on?” she asked, realizing that she’d stopped working for a moment. Gosh, she was as bad as Charlie. 

“You bet ya,” Jason said, still with his head down making holes and planting. 

“Oh drat,” June said. “I’m still going to win.” 

“You’d better get a move on then,” Jason said with a chuckle. 

June resumed her planting, but she kept one eye on the approaching buggy. 

It was almost at the fence. 

June moved one row over and began to fix the mess Charlie had made. Jason and Charlie continued their work, also stolidly ignoring the buggy intent on winning the competition.

 June’s father was working close to the fence. He stood and went to speak to Mr. Church as the man pulled up beside the fence. 

Dressed in far too fine a suit for being out in a field, Mr. Church climbed down from his buggy’s driver’s seat and walked over to the fence. 

“Good afternoon, Frank,” he said in a loud, booming voice. “I see you have the whole clan out here today.” 

“Morning, Preston,” June’s father said. “We have to get the corn in the ground if we’re hoping for it to grow.” 

“Yes, I should imagine so,” Preston said. “I had my boys planting all of my crops last week.” 

June’s father nodded. “Well, to each his own. I would have thought that cold snap two weeks ago would have put you back some.” 

“No, but I didn’t come here to talk about planting crops with you,” Mr. Church said, smiling. 

June rolled her eyes,; glad he wasn’t paying attention to her. She could usually feel his gaze on her. It felt like he was always undressing her when he looked her way. It was most uncomfortable. 

“Hey, we’re winning,” Charlie said, as he and Jason passed June in the next row. 

She’d been distracted again. What was wrong with her? She tried to focus but the conversation between her father and Preston drew her attention again. 

“Then what can I help you with?” her father asked, now leaning on the fence. 

“It’s a matter of some delicacy,” Mr. Church said, his eyes darting quickly over the field to where June, Charlie and Mr. Ward were still working. June watched him out of the corner of her eye, not trusting him near her father. 

“Walk up this way with me then,” her father said, heading along the fence in the opposite direction to June and the others. Mr. Church walked with him. 

“What do suppose that is about?” Charlie asked. He and Jason were at the end of their new row. June was falling behind.  

“It’s your father’s business,” Jason said. “Now come on. There’s a storm coming, and we’d best get finished with this field. Not to mention a competition to win.” He glanced at June. “You doing all right there?” 

“I’m fine,” she said, but she was lagging badly now. There was no way she would win. Still, she tried but the boys were working well. After a couple more minutes June conceded defeat. 

“Well done, you beat me,” she said. 

“Oh, well,” Charlie said, grinning. “Better luck next time.” 

“Yes, well, can I be on the two-person team next time?” she asked. This hadn’t been a fair race at all. 

“I’d have you on my team,” Jason said, his tone light. The idea sent shivers through June and made her smile.  

Looking around, June saw the thick, gray clouds heading their way. The wind was starting to pick up now, fresh and cool. Jason  was right. Those thunderheads were heading their way. 

“Come and help me finish my row,” she said. 

Charlie and Jason both came and soon they were steaming ahead with her making the hole, Jason depositing the kernel and Charlie closing up. 

No one noticed the two older men returning until Mr. Church spoke again.

“Well, if you change your mind,” he said. 

“Preston, you know my answer, and it’s not going to change,” her father said. 

“Right,” Mr. Church said. Then raising his hand to them all he waved goodbye and got back on his buggy. Soon he was heading off the way he had come. 

“What did he want?” Charlie asked. 

Their father regarded him. “Nothing.” 

“Didn’t seem like nothing,” Charlie said. “Why won’t you tell me? I’m supposed to be learning about running this place, Father. How must I do that if you won’t tell me things?” 

“I tell you everything you need to know,” their father said, pointedly. His tone was sharp, like a knife and Charlie shut his mouth. Their father was not happy. Something Mr. Church had said was bothering him. “Come on, we need to get done. There’s a storm coming in.” 

June went back to work. She didn’t have too much left to do. Jason and Charlie were working well as a team, punching holes and dropping in seeds, before covering them up with soil again. June picked up the pace. 

A cry filled the air. 

June shot up onto the her feet. Looking around, she eventually found the source of the cry at the fence. It was her father. He was doubled over, holding his stomach. 

“Father!” she cried and rushed to him. As she reached him, Charlie and Mr. Ward close on her heels, she saw that he wasn’t holding his stomach, but his arm. “What’s happened? Are you all right?” 

“No! Darn it!” her father said, his eyes glassy with pain. “I was bitten. Darn rattler just came at me!” 

“Where is it now?” Mr. Ward asked, his stick at the ready, possibly to kill the snake. 

“It went off that way, into the grass,” June and Charlie’s father said, pointing to the wild patch of land beside their field. “Here, take my belt. Maybe if we—” 

His words ended in a cry of pain. There was blood seeping between his fingers. June had to pry his hand off the wound to get a look at it. While she was busy with that, Mr. Ward pulled his own belt from his trousers and tied it around her father’s upper arm, above the bite. He pulled it tight. 

The wound stopped bleeding so badly. 

“Charlie, go and get the cart!” June said. 

For once her little brother didn’t fight with her. At fourteen, he was perfectly capable of harnessing the horses to the cart and bringing it to the field. He was off in a flash, running at full speed across the field and then out and across the yard to the barn. 

“Let’s get him in the shade of this post,” Mr. Ward said. 

Together, June and Mr. Ward moved June’s father into the little bit of shade. It hardly mattered, since the clouds were racing up to cover the sky. The wind was becoming cold, like a winter storm, and the clouds had the blue-black look of hail to them. 

June and Mr. Ward exchanged looks. If the weather closed in before they could drive the hour to town, there was every possibility that her father simply wouldn’t make it. The roads in some spots were impassable when it rained as the creeks and rivers would flood. There were three to cross before they reached Xander’s End and it was the closest town. 

If they went the other way it would be four hours to Wagon Hill. June’s father didn’t have that kind of time. She could see it in his face, how pale he was, shivering and shaking as though he had a terrible fever. 

“Should the venom be doing this to him so quickly?” she asked. 

Mr. Ward swallowed hard before speaking. “If the snake bit a vein then maybe. I’ve seen men die awfully quickly from rattler bites when that happens. If it hit muscle, we might have time, but we won’t know until we get him to the apothecary.” 

June nodded. 

Charlie arrived with the cart. It took a lot of work to lift her semi-conscious father onto the cart. June sat in the back, cradling her father’s head in her lap. Charlie sat up front and seemed determined not to turn around, while Mr. Ward drove the cart. 

There was no question about it. All of them would go to town to try to save Frank Ellis’ life. June could only hope he would hold on long enough for the apothecary, a kind man by the name of Mr. Edwards, to help. 

The world seemed to be disordered and unreal. June had only experienced this state once before. It had been the day that Charlie was born, and their mother died. It had felt like this, wrong as though it was nothing but a nightmare that she was bound to wake from in time. Yet it hadn’t ended, it had only faded as life without a mother became the norm. 

June couldn’t face this happening again. She couldn’t lose her father as well as her mother. Could fate and God really be that cruel? Could they take the only parent that Charlie knew away from him? And like this? So suddenly that the mind was reeling from the shock and all last words would have that unreal feeling to them. 

She clung to her father, holding him tight, as though she might fend off the grim reaper with her body if he came near to claim his prize. 

Thunder rumbled overhead and fat drops of rain began to fall. 

“I’m going to try the straight road,” Mr. Ward said, over the wind that had picked up suddenly. “The storm has only just started. The bridge should still be all right to cross.” 

June nodded. “All right. Just hurry.” 

He nodded and urged the horses on. Charlie sat like a statue on the driver’s seat. June didn’t know what to do for him. Should she try to talk to him? 

Her father was groaning. The venom was causing him terrible pain, and he rocked and shuddered in her grasp. She held onto him. 

“Don’t you dare die on us,” she said. “Don’t you dare. You have to hang on. You have to. We need you.” She was crying but thanks to the rain she had no idea how much of the wet on her face was her tears and how much was rain. 

They reached the bridge over the river. It was low and already the water was starting to rise to cover it. Mr. Ward didn’t hesitate at all. HShe urged the horses onto the wooden platform. The cart came rolling behind them. As the rumble of their passage filled the air, June gritted her teeth. 

If the rain had been falling in the higher altitudes flood waters could reach the bridge at any moment. The water kept rising and rising, and the current began to grab the back wheels of the cart. Mr. Ward urged the horses on with a flick of the reins and a shout. They moved faster somehow, and the cart came clear of the water. 

“We’re going to get you to Mr. Edwards now, Father,” June said to her father as she held him. “We’ll get you there soon. Just keep holding on.” 

Did he even hear her? 

She had no idea. Perhaps. Perhaps not. There was no change to the pained expression on his face as she spoke. Perhaps he was in some nightmare land of his own, trying to battle the monster of the snake venom in his veins. Who could tell? 

Xander’s End was not a large town but as they drove in under the arch that held the town’s name on it, June felt herself relax a little. They had made it. 

Mr. Edwards’ apothecary store was on the main street and Jason drew to a halt right outside. There was a line of people waiting to see the apothecary, but they all stood aside when the cart rolled up and Jason helped June’s father down. 

Between them, June and Jason managed to get her father up the steps and in through the door. Mr. Edwards was behind the long wooden counter that ran the length of the store handing out bottles of tinctures to a woman at the front of the line. 

“Oh dear,” he said when he saw June, Jason and her father. “Come, bring him in the back.” Lifting his counter doorway, he let them into the back section of the store.

“I’ll wait here,” Charlie said.

June nodded. All she could think about was helping her father.

The air was thick with the smell of alcohol and herbs that always permeated the apothecary’s store. The room at the back was the treatment room and had an examination table and a counter with a whole lot of implements on it. 

June never liked coming in here and she didn’t want to stay this time either. But this was her father. She had to stay. t

Jason left and went to get Charlie from the front room. June stayed and held onto her father’s hand, answering Mr. Edwards’ questions to the best of her ability. The apothecary inspected her father and then turned to the counter holding several bottles he had brought into the room with them. 

“Now, I don’t know if we’re in time but, this may help,” he said. 

June’s father began to cough. It was a gurgling, wet sound, as though he had too much phlegm in his throat. She helped him up and he spat out blood all over her shirt. His eyes were red and starting to bleed too and something red dripped from his nose. 

It happened so quickly. June’s father coughed and coughed and then collapsed back on the table and lay still. 

June stared from her father to Mr. Edwards and back again. 

“Help him!” she cried. “Help him, he’s not gone. He can’t be!” 

Mr. Edwards hurried over and felt for a pulse. His expression told her everything. 

June collapsed to the floor, sobs wracking her body as Charlie and Jason came into the room. A moment later her brother had thrown his arms around her and they sat together, desperate in their grief.. 

Chapter Two

July 1875

The Ellis Farm

Xander’s End 


Three months later.

The air was rich with the smells of summer as the corn lolled lazily in the breeze. Jason Ward twisted an ear of corn off the stalk and placed it in his basket. The crop was good. Only a couple of plants had succumbed to pests and been eaten, the rest were healthy. To top it, the yield was good too with plenty of ears just waiting to be picked. 

The corn stems were higher than he was tall, and he couldn’t see June and Charlie through them, but he knew they were there. Since Frank Ellis’ untimely death, Jason had felt his role at the farm changing. 

Where he had been hired as a hand, just there to help out, he was now the man around the place. June relied on him and they had started working together as a cohesive team. She knew she could count of him to tackle whatever needed doing, by her side and help to guide her. 

In the three months since her father’s death, Jason couldn’t help but feel that he and June had come together. He had noticed her the first day he arrived. Tall and slender she was also smart, caring and a joy to be around. He didn’t dare hope it could be more than a wonderful working relationship, but hope was sneaky and was always there in the back of his mind prodding him to try and see what else could become of this. 

Charlie was trying to be helpful and cooperative, but he was so wracked by grief still that he tended to throw more tantrums than a fourteen-year-old should. It would be a challenge to get him back on track. Jason only hoped that he and June would be able to pull it off. He thought they would, together. Charlie needed them both as when he was angry with one of them he could always speak to the other. 

As he worked the breeze bent the corn stalks and for a moment, Jason caught a glimpse of her. 

And then there was June. 

Beautiful June with her long dark hair that fell to her waist when she let it loose. With eyes like warm chocolate and a smile that was so sweet it would give him a toothache just to look at it.

As the corn moved she caught his gaze and for a moment, they smiled at each other. 

That was new too, her holding his gaze, sharing a smile and often the lightest touch of her hand on his shoulder. She was warming to him, but Jason was careful not to push it. She was still grieving for her father, and he didn’t want to seem to be taking advantage.  

The moment passed, the corn coming between them again and he moved on picking another ear and then another. 

When Frank was alive, he slept in the barn. Now that he had passed on, June had asked Jason to move into the house with her and Charlie. There were three bedrooms, a luxury to be sure, and it seemed silly to waste one. She had also insisted it was better for them all. The barn was drafty and cold at night. 

Jason had agreed knowing it would make him sleep easier to know that both Charlie and June were under the same roof as he was. It was easier to keep them safe this way. 

He picked another ear of corn and wiped the sweat from his brow. The sun was hot and the air dry. It was a typical summer’s day. Clouds were darting across the endless blue sky, but they wouldn’t amount to much. Not in the way of rain. He would have to go and water the wheat and beets later. They were coming on nicely too. It should be a good year for crops. 

A whistle sounded. It was Charlie. 

June responded with one of her own and Jason responded last. 

It was a way to talk to each other when there was little hope of speaking. Another long whistle followed by a short one and then another long one. 

Someone on the track to the farm. Jason picked up his basket and walked to the edge of the field, gently pushing the plants out of his way. As he reached the edge he saw who it was. There was no mistaking the buggy and the dappled gray that drew it. 

“What does he want?” June asked as she too emerged from the plants. 

“I guess we’ll find out,” Charlie said, sitting on one of the fence poles on his sister’s other side. “Are you going to come in with us, Jason?” 

Jason nodded. Formalities had left the farm along with Frank. There was no space for Mister and Miss under that roof. The three of them were a team now, trying to make sure that Frank’s belief in them hadn’t been misplaced. And along with the role of primary farmer, Jason was also the farm’s protector now. 

They walked back to the farmyard bringing with them the full baskets of corn. Some would be stored to dry and have meal made of them. Others they would take into town and sell. 

“I’ll put the kettle on,” June said, shooing chickens out of her way as she aimed for the house. “He’ll be wanting tea.” 

“I don’t think we should serve him anything,” Charlie said, hotly. “Why doesn’t he realize that we don’t like him?” 

“Because he doesn’t,” Jason said, watching the buggy come in through the open gate. 

And all too soon, before he was prepared for the encounter, Mr. Preston Church drove into the farmyard scattering chickens as he came. 

“Ah, Jason,” he said, as though they were old friends. “Take care of my dear Lucille, won’t you?” 

He meant the horse. 

Jason nodded but said nothing. He found that keeping his tongue firmly behind his teeth was the best way for him not to say what he was thinking. It had served him well in the army and it did so now again. 

“Sullen fellow, ain’t he?” Preston asked as he greeted June in the yard. She had come out of the house to greet him as her parents would have insisted she do, had either been alive. Or so she insisted. 

She shot a look at Jason, her eyes begging him not to make a fuss. He wouldn’t of course, because she didn’t want him to. He nodded and smiled. She smiled in response and her expression eased a bit as she ushered Preston into the house, his polished shoes gleaming in the sunlight. Before closing the door, she cast one last look Jason’s way; a longing look that he knew meant he shouldn’t be long. 

Jason took the horse by the reins and led her to a trough of water. He didn’t unhitch her. Hopefully they could get rid of this nuisance man and get on with harvesting the corn before the birds came to eat it. 

As Jason took care of the horse, he considered her owner. That man was too clean for a farm. Jason wondered if Preston did anything on his own land himself or if he had other people to do it all for him. He suspected it was the latter. 

Word around town was that Mr. Church had inherited a vast fortune when his father died. What Preston’s father had done for a living, no one knew. Jason thought he had to have been a stagecoach robber, a pirate or something like that to have so much money. The man seemed to ooze gold from his pores. 

Lucile was a docile horse and she seemed thrilled with the contents of the trough, so Jason left her there. 

He went for a quick wash at the water barrel beside the house to take the dust from his hands and face. Then he entered the house, still drying his hands on a rag. 

Everyone was in the parlor and the kettle was only just starting to boil. As it whistled loudly, Jason picked up a dish towel and took it off the hook over the fire. June came hurrying into the kitchen. 

“He insisted on sitting in the parlor like he’s proper company or something,” she said in a hushed voice. “Thank you for helping with the kettle.” 

“Let’s make the tea quickly and see if he won’t leave after,” Jason said, smiling impishly at her. 

She rolled her eyes at him playfully. 

“This looks like another of those long visits,” June said, shaking her head and taking the kettle from him. Their fingers touched and they both let them linger ever so slightly. Then June continued.  “You won’t believe it but he practically took inventory of the place as he sat down. Jason, I don’t like this. How long do we have to keep doing this for? Surely, there comes a time when we can decide who comes into this house and who doesn’t.” She sighed, pouring the water into the teapot. “It’s our house, we live here.” 

“You can decide he’s not welcome any time,” Jason said, soothingly. 

She looked up at him, searching his eyes for something. Then she sighed. “I guess it would be silly to alienate our neighbors. Father always said that in times of trouble a friendly relationship with the neighbors could be invaluable.” 

Jason sighed. He would dearly like to meet Preston at the gate with a shotgun aimed at some essential part of his anatomy.

Taking down cups and saucers and fetching teaspoons from the drawer, Jason said, “Well, then we have to serve tea.”. He put it all out on a tray and when June had added the tea pot, everything was ready. 

She went first, carrying the tray into the parlor and Jason came behind her. A strange look that might have been jealousy crossed Mr. Church’s face when he saw Jason. What could that possibly be about? Jason didn’t worry about it. Instead, he took a seat in one of the chairs in the room and watched the rich man. 

Mr. Church perched on the sofa by himself. June sat in a chair opposite with Charlie on the one beside her. They stared at Mr. Church. 

“I thought I would come by and see how you are getting on,” Mr. Church said. “You’ve been through such a tough time. Your father going so quickly from a nasty snake bite like that. It was tragic.” 

June nodded. “Yes it was. We know he’s watching us from heaven, giving us the strength to carry on,” she said. 

Mr. Church smiled politely but it seemed forced. June ignored his discomfort and began to pour the tea. 

“I’m sorry we didn’t have the tea ready, Mr. Church,” June said. “If you had just let us know you were coming over and what time to expect you, we could have had things in place a lot quicker.” 

“Oh, that’s no problem,” Mr. Church said, his smile dipping as he glanced Jason’s way. “I was just out this way and thought I would pop in.” He accepted the cup of tea June handed to him. 

“Oh?” June said. “That is kind of you. Don’t you think so, Charlie?” 

“Don’t drag me into this,” her little brother said, testily. He rose from his seat in a huff. “I have work to be getting on with. The corn isn’t going to pick itself. If you were a farmer, you’d know that.” Charlie directed the last bit of his tirade at Mr. Church. 

“Charlie!” June said in her most admonishing tone. “Apologize.” 

“No,” he said and stalked out. 

Jason shifted in his seat. Should he go after the boy or let him cool his heels? Maybe the latter would be better. There was no talking to Charlie when he had his back up. Anyway, there was no way in hell that Jason was going to leave June alone in the parlor with this man. Absolutely no way. 

“Oh, don’t worry, June,” Mr. Church said magnanimously, waving Charlie’s words away with a hand. “He’s a young boy who lost his daddy. I should think that acting out was a normal thing for him to do. He needs to express all that anger and frustration.” 

What was this man playing at? Now he was suddenly an expert on raising grieving young men. Charlie was a young man, not a boy. He was fourteen almost fifteen years old and capable of a lot more than that man sitting like a toad on the sofa knew. It made Jason angry, and he had to bite the inside of his cheek to keep his tongue and his angry words behind his teeth. 

June shoved a teacup at him. Jason was momentarily startled. He stared at it without really seeing what it was. Then he took it and thanked her. 

For a while Church went on and on about the things that interested him. The topics ranged from his farm to his plans for the future. Jason listened and something prickled in his mind. Church was building up to something. He had come for a very specific purpose today. 

Suddenly he was pulling something from his pocket and placing it in front of June. She stared down at a small box that now lay on the coffee table. Jason stared at it too. Chocolates. The ones with fillings. That must have cost an arm and a leg to get out here. How had Church done it and why? 

Jason didn’t like this. Something was wrong. 

“Oh, I couldn’t accept those,” June said kindly, handing them back. “My parents said never to accept gifts from a man if its not your birthday and you’re not courting him. I wouldn’t want to disregard their rules, considering the circumstances.” 

“Is that so? Well, we can remedy that,” Mr. Church said. 

Here it came, Jason was certain of it. 

“I think we can at least fix one part of that rule,” Mr. Church said. “It’s not your birthday, is it?” 

June shook her head. He chuckled as though he had made a joke. 

“I know it’s not,” Mr. Church said. “So, then, would you consider stepping out with me? I can take excellent care of you and your brother. You won’t have to toil so in the dirt day in and out to put food on your table. That would be my job and I do it rather well.” 

The look on June’s face seemed to throw a girder in front of Church’s train of thought. He faltered. “June, are you all right?” he asked, leaning forward and trying to take her hand. 

 She jerked it backwards. “I’m fine,” she said, blinking slowly as though trying to cut her thoughts into smaller pieces she could manage. “I can’t step out with you.” 

“What? Why not?” Mr. Church asked. 

June shook her head and rose to her feet. She walked to the window and looked out over the yard. Jason’s eyes never left her. 

“My father died just over a month ago,” she said, slowly the words causing her pain as she spoke them. “I can’t think about courting someone now. It’s too soon. I feel like I would be disrespecting my parents. Please don’t ask me this again.” 

Mr. Church’s expression had become strained.  “Of course, I understand,” he said. Then rising from his seat, he put his cup down. “Well, thank you for the tea.” 

“Do you have to go?” June asked. 

“Yes, I believe I do,” Mr. Church said, patting his waistcoat as though looking for something in the pockets. “I believe I must depart.” 

As he headed for the door, June picked up the box of chocolates and handed it to him. “Don’t forget these.” 

Mr. Church regarded them as though they were a viper about to strike. In the end, when June didn’t back down, he took them and placed them back in his pocket. 

Outside, Charlie had the buggy and Lucile all ready to leave. He had turned them to face the gate. Mr. Church’s face turned beet red as he climbed onto the driver’s seat and took the reins. 

“Maybe in time you will be more receptive to my offer,” he said. “Once you know how harsh this life can be you’ll come to your senses.” 

June shrugged. “It’s been pretty hard already,” she said. 

Mr. Church laughed but there was no humor in it. “Just you wait and see.” He flicked the reins and Lucile began to pull the buggy through the yard, scattering chickens again and out of the gate. 

All three of them watched him drive up the track and away from the farm.

 June sighed. “I’ll go put the tea things in the sink. We need to get the rest of the corn in the barn.” 

“Yes, ma’am,” Jason said, tipping his broadbrimmed hat. 

She grinned at him and playfully swiped at the brim. She missed but it was a near thing. Jason grinned back at her and for a moment they held each other’s gaze. He was partial to her and there was no denying it. Whether June felt the same was a mystery to him. There was no way to know. But she certainly didn’t like that puffed up peacock of a man, and that was good enough for Jason. 

They went back to work that afternoon, picking the corn right into the evening. By the time they came in, the sun had set leaving only the last streaks of light across the sky. The bugs were out in force, some fireflies, others just moths determined to die in any flame they could find. 

Sitting around the dinner table, they ate fresh salad from the kitchen garden and cold roast chicken from the night before.   

After dinner, while Jason washed up, he listened to Charlie doing his lessons. The boy was tired and not in the mood. He tried resisting June’s insistence that he do the work properly, but in the end she won out. She always did and he read his pages of Wuthering Heights and did his sums. 

When he was done, June sent him to bed and Charlie went. He scowled and moaned but Jason guessed he was kind of glad of it. The young man was tired and needed his rest. 

“You could have found a less womanly book for him, you know,” Jason said, as he sat at the kitchen table opposite June. “Wuthering Heights is so full of things a boy just doesn’t care about.” 

“I know, but it’s all they had at the general store in town,” June said. “It was that or Moby Dick, and I know he hates that book. He’s read it twice now.” She sighed. “I could try him on the works of Shakespeare or maybe one of the poets.” 

“I think they haven’t written a book that Charlie will like yet,” Jason said. “It would have to be something with a lot of daring and adventure. Who knows, maybe he’ll learn to write those kinds of stories in his spare time.” 

“Maybe,” she said. She took his hand in hers and gave it a squeeze. “Thanks for staying with me today. I didn’t want to be alone in the parlor with Preston Church. He makes my skin crawl.” 

“I didn’t think you should be alone with him,” Jason said, squeezing her hand back and still not letting go. “I don’t trust that man.” 

“Me neither. We need to keep an eye on him,” June said. 

Jason nodded. 

Reluctantly, they let go of each other’s hands. June smiled at him. “I’m really glad you’re here,” she said. 

“Me too,” Jason said. “I can’t think of any other place I would ever want to be.” 

Her smile was warm and it sent shivers through Jason. 

They locked up the house and went to their separate bedrooms from there. Jason wished June a good night and they lingered in the hallway, staring at each other. This had been happening more and more lately. He didn’t know what to do about it. Should he talk to her about it or would that be odd?  

He went to bed and fell asleep quite quickly. 

Jason had troubled dreams. He always had troubled dreams, and they were always the same. Every night he saw the fire, he saw the scared eyes in the pale face, and he knew he couldn’t save them. But this time when he woke it wasn’t to the screams of children but the frantic, urgent clucking of hens in a lot of distress.

“Hearts and Dreams of the Frontier” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

June Ellis, burdened with the weight of her father’s legacy, inherits the family farm upon his untimely passing. The responsibilities that rest upon her weary shoulders seem insurmountable. As she struggles to tend the land and care for her younger brother in a world marred by uncertainty, love seems like a distant melody.

Will love’s gentle touch ever breathe warmth and hope into June’s life?

Jason Ward, weary of the battlefield’s relentless echoes, yearns for a respite, a haven of tranquility to heal the scars etched upon his soul. Fate, with a tender hand, guides him to the Ellis farm, where he assumes the role of a farmhand. There, destiny draws him into June’s world, embracing them in an unexpected dance. However, their serenity is shattered when sinister bandits invade, leaving a trail of destruction in their wake.

Can he shield her at whatever the cost?

June and Jason, with every fiber of their being intertwined, embark upon a shared journey to save not only the farm that binds them but also the cherished town they call home. Through the storm’s relentless fury, their love blossoms. But can they overcome the bandits? Amidst the beauty of Idaho, their tale unfolds…

“Hearts and Dreams of the Frontier” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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