A Sweet Cure for Past Wounds (Preview)

Chapter One

Olivia could hear her baby sister screaming from the room next door and knew the request that would soon be shouted in her direction. She sighed, pinning the last of her long blonde hair under her bonnet, and smoothed out the brown calico skirt that had probably belonged to at least three people before her. It was hard to see anything in the reflection of her small, cracked mirror because the sun hadn’t yet risen, but she could tell she looked more tired than a girl of nineteen ought to.

“Olivia! See to baby Grace!” yelled Martha, her adoptive mother, from the front room. Her tone was harsh, and as usual, there was no hint of a “please” or “thank you,” but Olivia had grown accustomed to that.

“Coming!” she called back, knowing that the neighbors would have something to say about all the early-morning yelling. The walls of the building were thin, though Martha and Tom Ray were proud of the fact that they owned both floors of the tall row house.

The first floor house Ray’s Bakery, one of Chicago’s cheapest purveyors of hard loaves and buns. Their small apartment was on top, boasting three bedrooms and a parlor, dining room, and kitchen. It was more than many who lived in the factory tenements nearby had, but it didn’t mean that Olivia didn’t yearn for some fresh air every once in a while. The city could be oppressively busy, with a haze of coal dust lingering in the air at all times. She had a magazine clipping showcasing the mountains of Oregon pinned to the wall above her pillow and often dreamed of what it might be like to take a deep breath in without coughing.

Chaos met her in the main room. Baby Grace was still screaming at the top of her tiny lungs, while her two-year-old brother Jimmy crawled around on the ground, threatening to put a ball of dust in his mouth.

“There you are. Decided to indulge in a sleep-in this morning, did you? Not sure what made you think you deserved that. Take her. She’s been up since three. I’ve got mounds of paperwork to do and I feel like I have flour in my eyes,” Martha said, handing the screaming baby to Olivia without looking at her.

“There, there,” Olivia cooed, bouncing Grace and willing the crying to stop.

“Jimmy! Get that out of your mouth. I swear, if I’d known that one day Tom and I would end up taking care of his sister’s children, we never would have adopted you, Olivia. That being said, I suppose it’s nice that you’re here to help. I’m going back to bed. Your father is already at the bakery and expecting you. Hurry over as soon as the nursemaid arrives,” Martha ordered.

For a woman who was supposed to be a mother to three children, Martha didn’t have a single maternal bone in her body.

Olivia sighed and looked around the room. There were crates full of papers and odds and ends everywhere, stacked on top of one another in messy piles. The bakery was doing so well that they’d opened three new locations around the city within the last year, and the family was meant to be moving to a bigger house in a week’s time—a move for which they were terribly unprepared.

Olivia had been tasked with the packing, but considering she also worked in the bakery, occasionally took care of the children, and served as cook and laundress, she’d hardly had any time for the extra chore. It was difficult for her to celebrate the family’s recent successes as she felt like nothing more than a glorified maid, no matter how many times she was assured of her status as a true family member.

Any time she brought the matter up, either Martha or Tom would go on about how hard they all worked and how difficult it was to manage on such a tight budget. Yet whenever they had company over, all the Rays would do is brag about how well their businesses were doing and how quickly they were accumulating wealth.

It all had Olivia quite confused about whether they’d be dragged to the poorhouse at any moment or buy a mansion on the north side. For one thing, they were able to afford to have someone take care of the children during the day, yet Olivia had to do all the washing herself instead of taking it to the local launderer.

“There’s the little buggers. Good morning, Miss Olivia,” the kindly nursemaid, Mrs. Sellers, said when she finally arrived. It was five-thirty in the morning, and Olivia was already late to start work at the bakery downstairs.

“Grace won’t stop crying about something, and Jimmy is licking the floor. I’m sorry to report the sun isn’t even up and it’s already a trying day.” Olivia apologized for the sticky baby as she handed her over to Mrs. Sellers, then grabbed her apron from where it hung on the door.

“Oh, don’t you worry your pretty little head about that. I’ll get these two cleaned up in no time. How’s Mrs. Ray this morning?” she asked quietly, making a bit of a face as she did. Mrs. Ray’s moods defined the nature of the day.

“Not happy, I’m afraid. The little ones have been awake since three, apparently, though if that were true I’m sure she would have woken me up. I’m sorry, I have to run to the bakery or else Mr. Ray will have my head.”

“You look tired, dear. Make sure you aren’t burning the candle at both ends!” Mrs. Sellers warned.

“As if I have much choice in the matter.”

With another knowing smile passed between them, Olivia finally got out the door and started down the narrow stairs toward the bakery entrance. Like all the other employees, she had to enter through the back. Unlike the other employees, Olivia didn’t get paid. Because she was a family member, her room and board were considered to be her pay.

The bakery was already unbearably hot when she got in, with at least three other people working the steaming ovens. The small kitchen was full of racks of rising dough ready for a second kneading. Olivia said her hellos to everyone, who answered quietly, a key sign that Mr. Ray was in the office. When he wasn’t in, or if he was paying more attention to one of the other Ray’s Bakeries around the city, then the kitchen was a wonderful, home-like place to be. The owner ruled with an iron fist, however, so when he was near, everyone made sure to keep their noses to the grind.

“Here, eat this. You work at a bakery and yet you look as thin as a broomstick!” Henry exclaimed in a loud whisper, pushing some kind of stuffed pastry in her direction.

He was a sweet old man, and the closest thing to a grandfather Olivia could say she had. As head baker, he worked harder than almost everyone else, and Olivia worried the Rays were working him too hard. She and Henry looked out for each other as best as they could.

“I shouldn’t eat that and you know it. Tom threatened to cut my nose off the last time he caught me eating ‘the product,’ and I don’t want to risk that again. Not when I haven’t even done anything worthwhile. Look, I’m still tying my apron,” Olivia noted, pulling the white laces tight around her waist.

“Fine. I’m tucking it in your pocket for later then, but you didn’t see me do it.” Henry winked and slipped the pastry into her apron pocket, turning away before Olivia could stop him. She smiled and laughed for the first and likely last time that day.

Kneading was hard work, but Olivia liked the way it made her muscles ache. It made her feel stronger, as if perhaps someday she could regain control over her life if only she worked hard enough. There was something satisfying about completing a task so fully, from beginning to end. So much of the world swirling around her felt incomplete, like it was waiting on this or that to move forward, but the buns became fully formed, edible things under her very eyes, disappearing into hungry mouths before the end of the day.

Once all the morning baking was done, it was Olivia’s job to open the front of the bakery and arrange the goods in the display cases lining the front counter. She swept, arranged the pastries, and readied the cash register for the influx of customers. While she did so, she hummed songs she made up in her own head and thought about what the other shop girls just like her at the other three bakeries were thinking.

How different were their lives from hers? Did they have real parents who wished them well in the mornings and sent them off to work with full stomachs? The last thing Olivia wanted was to appear ungrateful. She was well aware that she might have lived out the rest of her young adult years at the Chicago Orphanage under wretched circumstances, essentially as as an indentured servant. She was blessed to have been adopted by the Rays, as they so often reminded her.

Eventually, the bakery doors opened and the usual rush of customers came in, all looking to spread their money as far as possible while still feeding all the hungry mouths that depended on them.

“Johnny, why don’t you ask the nice lady for what we need?” a young mother asked her toddler, hiked up on her hip despite his size. The child shook his head shyly and tucked it into his mother’s shoulder.

“Ah, seems he’s too nervous today. You see, he thinks you’re just about the prettiest girl he’s ever seen, and he specifically asked this morning if he could be the one to order the buns today,” the mother explained, further embarrassing the little boy. “We’ll take five of those, and two of the sausage rolls.”

Olivia packed up the baked goods and passed them across the counter to the young Johnny, who blushed as he took the bag for his mother. Olivia found herself staring at the mother and son, astonished at how similar they looked. Their noses had the same slope, and they had the same cowlick on the left side of their faces.

Johnny whispered something into his mother’s ear, and she laughed. “No, my boy, I don’t think she can come to dinner tonight. I’m sure she has her own family to eat with. Her mother would miss her terribly! Sorry about that, what do I owe you?”

The young mother passed over a handful of coins, and Olivia stared at them while they walked out of the bakery hand in hand. It was the kind of motherly relationship she’d often dreamed of, even though she was a grown woman. Her parents had died before she could remember them, and she often wondered what had become of the rest of her family. The Rays always maintained that they had no idea, and nobody at the orphanage had ever been able to tell her anything. Sometimes, she dreamed about trying to track them down, but she’d never had the time or money to look into it.

“Olivia, what have I told you about sneaking pastries in your pockets? If you can eat them, we can sell them. Only I can’t sell that one now that it’s been in your pocket all morning. I’d say I’d take it out of your pay, but as it is, I’ll just have to assign you some extra cleaning,” Tom Ray said angrily, slamming the office door closed behind him.

“Oh, I didn’t—I had no idea,” she started, wanting to defend herself against the charges but not wanting to get Henry in trouble. He was right; she should have eaten the pastry as soon as he’d given it to her. “I’m sorry,” she apologized in the end, giving up.

“Martha’s sent a note down for you. Says she wants you to go to the Lindel fishmonger after work and pick up as much cod as you can get,” Tom ordered, handing her the note. His bone-like fingers were cold against hers as she took the bit of paper.

People were often baffled to meet Tom, as they expected the owner of such a successful bakery to be a stout, happy figure, ideally with a french accent. Tom was just about the opposite in every respect—tall, thin, and a condescending penny pincher who always had a headache because his spectacles were too tight on his nose.

“Do I really have to go to the Lindel shop? The Bushmill one is closer, and—”

“I don’t want to hear any more about it,” Tom interrupted. “If Martha wants cod from Lindel’s, then that’s what she’ll get. And you’d better go eat that pastry outside before I throw it out. I don’t want you getting crumbs everywhere.”

Olivia nodded and bowed her head as Tom disappeared back into the office. Feeling the tears prick at her eyes, she hurried through the back of the shop, shouting for one of the other girls to take over the front.

The alley was muddy, but the cool air was nice. Slung across the rear windows of buildings were clotheslines running back and forth along the lane, heavy with washing billowing in the wind. It was the closest thing to a yard she could enjoy. Ever since the Rays had adopted her at the age of three, Olivia had enjoyed that back alley, running up and down it and making friends with anyone who would stop to chat.

She bit into the pastry, filled with savory potato, and tried not to think about the errand she had to run at the end of the day. The reason she didn’t like to go to the Lindel fishmonger was that the young man who worked there would always stare at her, and not in a flattering manner.

If it stopped at the staring, that might have been enough, but he’d also begun to make comments in recent months—and the comments about how her hand might look in his, or how fine her figure was becoming all made her very uneasy. What was worse was that when she complained about it to Martha, all she got was a scolding for supposedly flirting with the boy.

To escape the misery of her current surroundings, Olivia would sometimes dream of meeting someone who might sweep her off her feet and carry her away as they did in the fairytales. Someone very much unlike the fishmonger. Unfortunately, no one had caught her attention. Some of the delivery boys were sweet enough, but the way they spoke to her, she might as well have been a blacksmith, not a lady.

She knew the parents of young women would do their best to find their daughter’s husbands, hoping to land the best fit for their girls. Her parents (who she never referred to as Mother or Father, only Tom and Martha) grew upset whenever Olivia mentioned it, insulted that she would even suggest leaving their home. In reality, it seemed to Olivia as if they would simply miss the work she did for them, not her company.

In her daydreams, some rich, handsome stranger would wander into the bakery. He would immediately be taken with her and compliment her green eyes, causing color to spring to life in her cheeks. As forward as he would be, he wouldn’t do a single thing that could be construed as inappropriate. Of course, he would fall in love with her at first sight, but remain shy, bringing her small gifts each day and returning to the bakery even though it was nowhere near convenient for him.

Eventually, weeks later, he would profess his love to her and the two of them would embark upon a formal courtship.

At first, she’d be ashamed of her humble beginnings, but this mysterious man would not only accept her for who she is but help her to discover the whereabouts of her family—who, as luck would have it, were descendants of royalty. In the end, they’d be married, live happily ever after, and there would be nothing Martha or Tom could do about it.

“There you are. I’ve been looking everywhere for you!” Henry said in a weary voice, sitting down next to her on the stoop.

“I’m meant to be going to the fishmonger. Do they need me inside?” Olivia asked, jumping to her feet anxiously. There could be dire consequences to further displeasing Tom, namely the hit of a switch to her wrist.

“No, no. I just wanted to sit with you and tell you that Mr. Ray is gone for the day. So the mice may play! I heard him scolding you for the pastry I put in your pocket, so I’m sorry about that.”

“Oh, it’s hardly your fault. He’s supposed to be my father, so you’d think he’d want to see me well fed, but he’s a hard-hearted man. It has served him well in business, I suppose. Perhaps we could all take a leaf out of his book.”

“That’s because you’re too good for this world, dear Olivia. I wish I had a son or even grandson to marry you off to because I have no doubt you will make someone the happiest man in the world,” the old man said, patting the back of her hand.

“That’s very sweet, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be married. I don’t have time to think of such frivolous things,” Olivia replied, despite the fact that she’d been daydreaming about just that only minutes before Henry had appeared.

“We’ll see about that.” The old man’s eyes twinkled.

Chapter Two

Jacob looked out the window of the new L-train, watching the city drift by underneath them. It had been erected just the year before, and though he took it frequently to visit his father, the ride still felt like a novelty to him. It was like riding a train through the sky. Considering how emotionally draining his visits to his father could be, he especially appreciated the ride as a time to relax and clear his mind before getting back to work.

“Pershing Road Station coming up, Pershing Road Station!” the conductor called out from the front of the train.

Jacob straightened up and started paying attention, knowing they were reaching the end of the line. Once the train screeched to a halt, he picked up the paper bags full of food and supplies that he’d put together for his father, ducked his head so as not to hit the top of the train, and walked off, navigating the busy station and dipping between other passengers.

His father’s apartment was only a short distance away from the station, but Jacob slowed his walk the closer he got. It wasn’t that he didn’t like his father, but the visits were difficult for him. Ever since his mother passed away when he was fifteen, Jacob’s father had been on a determined road of self-destruction, slipping into the drink.

To make things worse, once the whiskey got poured, Heath Winterly had a penchant for gambling. Over the years it had gotten just as bad as his drinking, leaving him struggling to pay the rent and unable to take care of himself. Eventually, Jacob had had to make the hard decision to leave his father to his own devices and focus on his own future.

“Who is it?” Heath’s cracking voice demanded through the door when Jacob knocked.

“It’s Jacob,” he stated simply. There was a pause, and then he added, “Your son. I’ve brought some food and so forth.”

Immediately, the door sprung open. Jacob tried not to be disturbed by the sight of his aging father, still wearing his stained sleeping clothes even though it was three o’clock in the afternoon. There was barely any hair left on his head, and the lines on his face were deep. When he was a child, Jacob would stare up at his father’s impossible height, but now he could look down on the man’s shrunken shoulders.

“You’re not my son,” Heath insisted.

“Of course I am. You’re not that far gone, are—”

“My son isn’t half as handsome as you are.” Heath’s drawn face cracked into a smile and he let out a hearty laugh. Jacob joined in, hugging his father with his free hand before walking into the cramped apartment.

“Ah, I got you there, didn’t I?”

“You almost did. Where can I put…” Jacob looked around, trying to find a place to put the supplies he’d brought. There wasn’t a single surface in the whole place that wasn’t covered with dirty clothes, empty bottles, or rotten food. Perhaps his father didn’t need these things, after all.

“Apologies. Got a bit rowdy last night, if you know what I mean. Here, just put it on the table.” Heath pushed some of the debris off the table, sending it crashing to the ground. Jacob took another step into the room, trying not the choke on the rancid smell of the place.

“Right. Listen, you should let me send someone to clean this place up for you. You deserve a real home, and I think if—”

“No, no, no. I’ve told you before and I’ll tell you again, I don’t need some stranger looking after me. That’s not how things ought to work. If you’re worried about me, then why don’t you come home, live with me, and we’ll take care of each other? That’s the way it’s supposed to be. Fathers take care of sons and sons take care of fathers,” Heath babbled, sitting himself down on a small chair inexplicably covered with newspaper. Jacob cleared off a seat nearby.

“I can’t come back and live here, Father, we’ve talked about this before. I need to focus on my own life. I can’t take care of you if you can’t agree to take care of yourself, as well. Besides, I don’t like being a nag. If I lived here I’d constantly be telling you not to drink so much, and asking how much you lost at poker last night.”

“You’ll ask me that anyway,” Heath grumbled.

“Well, you’re right about that, but I won’t today as long as you promise to eat something instead of putting it on a plate and letting it rot away here.”

“Deal. So, how’s that business of yours? Have you been solving crimes left, right, and center?” Heath said dismissively. He didn’t approve of Jacob’s job as a private investigator as he thought that kind of work was like being a rat, and that he might as well work for the police directly.

“It’s going well. I’m able to be pickier about my clients now. I don’t collect overdue payments for creditors anymore, if that’s what you mean. I help people. I work with businesses looking into potential employees and the like. Other things that the police would never do. Recently, I helped a father investigate the man his daughter is in love with. He was suspicious of the man, but he’s an upstanding citizen as far as I can tell. I’ve been invited to the wedding next week.”

“And I’m sure her father was willing to pay a pretty penny to put his paranoid mind at ease,” Heath added cynically.

He wasn’t wrong, but it wasn’t something Jacob liked to talk or brag about. He’d been working as a private investigator for about four years, slowly working his way up from unsavory jobs and clients to some of Chicago’s finest. He was proud to only take the contracts he wanted to and thankful to finally be in an honorable line of work where he was truly helping people.

“He was certainly happy to give them his blessing. Seeing the two of them together… it made me think I might want something like that… someday.”

“What do you mean? You might want to go after a girl whose father doesn’t like you and hope it turns out in your favor?” Heath asked. Jacob was sure he was being purposefully dense.

“No, I mean a wife. Maybe even a family with a child. Or two,” Jacob admitted self-consciously.

This wasn’t the kind of thing he and his father usually talked about. Normally, they both took great strides to keep the talk between them quite surface-level. The more they talked about the weather, whatever new building was going up on the corner, or the grocers that had been shut down last week, the better.

Speaking of the past was painful enough, but there was something about talking of better futures that left him feeling as though they’d jinxed the very possibility that things might improve. Everything for Heath had been steadily getting worse since Jacob’s mother had passed away, and there were no signs that anything was going to get better anytime soon.

Heath scoffed. “A family? Best of luck to you. Although you’re handsome enough, with your dark curls and mysteriously gray eyes. You got my good looks, but I’m not sure where you got those eyes from. Mine are brown and your mother’s were blue. Maybe you’ll get lucky and find someone as wonderful as my Hattie.”

Jacob held in his surprise to hear his father talk of his mother so openly, and with little to no resentment. Tuberculosis had gotten the better of her when Jacob was only fifteen. Heath had done his best to get himself sick, staying by her side for every moment while Jacob was sent away to stay with a cousin while his mother convalesced. Heath never got sick, and Jacob never saw his mother again.

By the time he came back to bury his mother and live with his father again, Heath was in the habit of spending most of the day drunk. Steadily, most of the day became all of the day. Any time he was awake, really, there was a bottle attached to his hand. It wasn’t long before he lost his job and turned to gambling. The debts were so large it was hard to ever see a way out of it.

“If I’m very lucky, yes. How did you two meet again?” he asked, even though he knew the story. Maybe it was that he’d just had the joy of bringing a happy couple together, but Jacob was in the mood for reminiscing about the past. Nostalgia had never seemed so attractive.

“Oh, I was just a young thing. Working in textile delivery at the time, running sheaths and sheaths of fabric to tailors and seamstresses around the city. New York, of course. Your mother had just started doing the easy mending for one of the bigger shops in town, and she had to check the deliveries. I think it was love at first sight. I won’t soon forget her dark blue eyes under eyelids that hung low under the weight of her lashes. Gave her a real dreamy look. My goodness, the way I’d go weak at the knees at the sight of her.”

Jacob laughed at his father’s sentimentality, picturing him as a young man without the heaviness of the world upon his shoulders.

“And of course, I was a bit of a scallywag at the time,” Heath continued with the tale. He reached for a bottle of whiskey and started pouring. Jacob refused a glass but he didn’t stop his father. It was so rare for them to be getting along like this that he didn’t want to ruin the moment.

“A scallywag?”

“Well, I fancied myself a bit of a ladies’ man. I was constantly giving flowers to girls I thought were pretty and flirted with just about everyone on my route. But Hattie… Hattie changed everything. I got her to agree to go out on the town with me one night. She told me she was leaving for Chicago in three weeks and nothing was going to hold her back. I begged her to stay, said I was falling in love with her. She said, ‘If you’re falling in love, then you can follow me.’ We were married two weeks later, just two nineteen-year-old fools taking on the world.”

Jacob shook his head and chucked. “I still can’t believe you moved all the way to Chicago for a girl you barely knew. Whom you married, no less.”

Heath shrugged. “I just knew there was no one else in the world for me. I can’t explain it. When she told me she wanted to open her own shop and that Chicago was the place to do it, I believed her. And she was right! Everything worked exactly according to plan, until… it didn’t.”

Eager to stay in the positivity of the moment, Jacob dragged his father back toward the happy memories.

“Remember how we used to go down to the lake every Sunday after church? We’d rush into the water, then you’d yell something about there being sharks, and then we’d run back out, laughing and screaming at the same time.”

Heath laughed heartily until it turned into a hacking cough. “As if anyone would ever believe there’d be sharks in Lake Michigan,” he said once he’d recovered.

“That was the fun of it. It would have been terrifying if I’d actually believed you.”

“Have you seen the waterfront recently? Just a mess of barges and cargo ships. Not like it used to be at all. Industry is taking over, making this whole city a smelly mess.”

“A Sweet Cure for Past Wounds” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

On the eve of her nineteenth birthday, Olivia Birch decides that enough is enough. Over the course of her life, her adoptive parents have treated her like a servant, making her feel unwelcome. Thus, she flees her only home to find her birth parents who forcefully gave her up when she was just a baby.

Is there a place in the world where she can finally feel loved?

Jacob Winterly knows his troubles are about to begin as soon as he lays eyes on the beautiful and determined Olivia. As a private investigator, he made a rule for himself a long time ago; he would never accept a job that involved emotions. Yet, faced with Olivia’s charm, he finds himself powerless to refuse.

Could she hold the key to his destiny?

In an attempt to locate Olivia’s parents, Jacob and Olivia embark on an unpredictable journey through the wilds of Colorado. Along the way, the two find themselves pulled to one another, building an unexpected bond that feels like fate. Will they find the strength to see their destiny through, or will outside forces tear them apart once and for all?

“A Sweet Cure for Past Wounds” 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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