A marriage of convenience binds them together. Is the game of fate enough to strengthen their love?
After saving an injured man at the Dawson Ranch, Prue’s life changes forever. Arranged to marry a wealthy man, her life was set out for her. But when her noble act is misunderstood, her reputation falls to ruins. A marriage of convenience is the only way to salvage her honor. Will she be able to show her new husband that love is the only way to salvation?
Joseph’s parents died a few years ago at the hands of a cruel miner threatening to steal his family’s land. Vowing to stay away from marriage, his plans change the moment Prue saves him from an accident. He’ll do everything to protect her honor, even if that means breaking his vow. Is getting married to her enough to show him the way to peace?
An unexpected accident brought them together. But when attacks torment the Dawson family, their love is put to a test. Will they overcome their difficulties and put their past aside?
Ruddock, Texas, 1863
Joseph wiped the sweat from his forehead with the back of his cuff and swung the hammer that was in his other hand, pounding a nail into the board. He tested the strength—it was stuck fast to the post.
“Earle, toss me another fence board,” shouted Joseph.
“I want to help,” said Clementine, her arms folded across her chest.
“You can pass the next one, Clem,” said Joseph. His younger sister was helpful in her own way, and what she lacked in skill, she more than made up for in spirit. But this was not the time for high spirits; this was the time for pure brawn. Nails needed hammering, wood had to be cut, and the fence had to be built so that the cattle would not run off again.
“What about the swing that Pa built?” asked Joseph. “Sure is a fine day to relax in the sun.”
“That’s women’s work,” countered Clementine. Earle did not say a word as he passed one fence board after another.
“Ma isn’t sitting in the swing.” Joseph hammered at the board as he spoke. He glanced over at their mother as she slowly poured a bucket of water into the small valleys that their father was carving through the land. With the hot weather, water was a precious commodity, and not a drop was to be wasted.
“Well, it’s child’s work,” replied Clementine, unfolding her arms and holding them awkwardly at her sides.
“You should enjoy being a child while you still can,” whispered Joseph, but his words were lost among the soft beating of hooves on dry earth in the distance. Red dust was kicked up into the air as more than half a dozen horses rode toward the ranch. Joseph looked over at his father, taking his cue from the man he admired most in the world.
Carlton Dawson had ceased his work, and he stood with his arms folded on top of the metal plow, looking toward the men riding in. Joseph could not see his father’s face, but he could tell by the way that his shoulders were tensed that this was not an agreeable meeting.
“Take your brother and sister inside,” ordered Lucinda, placing the bucket on the ground and wiping the sweat from her own forehead.
“Inside,” ordered Joseph.
“What about you?” asked Earle, standing up as straight as he could so that he could appear as tall as his older brother, but he fell a few inches short.
“This is men’s work,” said Joseph.
“I’m a man,” said Earle.
“No, not yet.”
“Men’s work,” scoffed Clementine.
“Just get inside,” ordered Joseph. He tried to keep the fear from crossing his face, but he could feel the tension in his cheeks, and that was reflected in the eyes of his siblings. They did not question him anymore and ran into the house. The door was closed, and shadows lurked in the window.
The riders were almost on them when Joseph took his place beside his mother and father.
“What are you still doing out here?” asked Lucinda.
“I’m a man now, Ma,” replied Joseph. He was sixteen, but only just.
“Leave him be,” said Carlton. He looked down at his son, and there was a mixture of emotion there, but the one thing that Joseph could not shake was the fear. He felt it coursing through his own body, and he had it confirmed in his father’s eyes. Carlton placed a hand on his boy’s shoulder, squeezing it a little too firmly.
The thundering of the hooves grew louder until the man in front pulled on the reins, bringing his horse to a stop with some snorts and braying—the men behind followed suit. Joseph could feel his insides trembling, but he knew that he needed to remain strong for his family. His father let go of his shoulder. Joseph had half a mind to run inside and grab their rifle. He could not see any weapons on the riders, but he was sure that they were carrying them.
It was not the man at the front who dismounted first, but the slightly older man from behind. When he dropped to the ground, two others followed suit while the remaining four remained mounted. There was a brief glimpse of a rifle as one of the horses at the rear turned in a circle. That iced the blood in Joseph’s veins.
The leader stepped forward until he was only three paces from Carlton. He wore two things on his face—a smug smirk that brought instant dislike and a scar under his left eye shaped like an inverted ‘v.’ No one said a word. When the silence became unbearable, it was Joseph who stepped forward to speak first.
“What are you doin’ here? This is our land.” As soon as he spoke the words, the confidence drained from him. Even more so when the scarred man’s smirk widened. He stepped away from Carlton and moved to where Joseph was standing. He took Joseph’s face in his hand, squeezing it roughly, and he turned it from side to side as if checking an animal for signs of disease.
The man laughed before letting go of Joseph’s face. “Carlton, I’d keep my children in check if I were you. Don’t want them gettin’ into trouble, do you?”
His father did not reply, standing his ground in front of the men and horses. Joseph did not dare look up at his mother. He did not want to see the look on her face. The scarred man left Joseph be and returned to his father, stroking the long black mustache that hung down almost to his chin. When he stood a few paces from Carlton again, he pushed aside his leather jacket, thumbing his belt and resting his hand there—revealing the gun on his waist.
Joseph took a deep breath, holding in his gasp. He wished that he had run and got the gun, but it was too late now.
“This is our land,” the man said, repeating Joseph’s words. “That’s not entirely true now, is it?”
“I’ll have the money for you in a week,” said Carlton. “You know that I’m good for it.”
“Do I?” asked the man. “Seems like you’ve been gettin’ more and more behind on your payments, Carlton. Now, I’m a fair man, no one can deny that, but even fair men lose their patience eventually.”
“A fair man!” scoffed Lucinda. “A fair man wouldn’t add more and more interest to the loan. We could’ve paid that off months ago if you hadn’t changed our deal.”
“Costs go up and down,” said the man. “Should I not feed my men?”
The men on the horses gave a collective murmur.
“Or keep them in liquor or women?” added the man with a smile.
That caused more of a cheer to erupt from the men.
“Let me give you a word of advice,” said the scarred man, moving in close to Carlton. “Don’t let your child or wife speak on your behalf. If you have somethin’ to say, you can say it to me, but don’t hide behind them.” He gestured passively toward Joseph and his mother. “I’m a fair man, no matter what your wife might think, but I don’t appreciate being spoken to like that by a child or a woman. Now, we can conclude this business and be on our way, but I’ve decided to add ten percent to what you owe.”
“What!” shouted Lucinda.
Carlton raised his hand, shaking his head, and his wife quietened down. “You know that we can’t pay that,” he said.
The scarred man sighed and shook his head. “I don’t know what to do anymore, I really don’t. So, here is what we are going to do. I have drawn up an agreement.” He stuck out his hand, and one of his men handed him some papers. The scarred man considered them for a second, running his eyes down each sheet. “You agree to transfer me half your land, and your debts are repaid.”
“What!” gasped Carlton. “You know I can’t do that.”
“Can’t do it? Or won’t do it?”
“Carlton, don’t sign those papers!” shouted Lucinda.
“This land has been owned by my family for over a century,” said Carlton. “I won’t even consider it.”
“That’s a shame,” said the man. “I don’t think that you leave me any other choice.”
The men on the horses quickly dismounted, and guns were drawn.
“I will give you one last chance,” said the man.
“Don’t you dare sign that! This is our land, and you are not taking it!” shouted Lucinda.
“A week,” stammered Carlton.
“You evil man!” spat Lucinda.
“I asked you nicely,” said the scarred man. He nodded his head, and the man beside him raised a rifle, pointing it at Lucinda. Carlton’s hand went to his waist, but the guns pointed at him stayed his hand.
“You can’t scare me!” screamed Lucinda.
Carlton reached out and took the papers with a trembling hand. His eyes flitted from his wife to the contract in his hands.
“Don’t sign it! I’d rather die than—” The bullet through her chest silenced Joseph’s mother.
Everything happened in a split second before it all went still again. “Ma!” Joseph called out as he ran to his mother. Carlton dropped the contract he was holding and went for his gun again, even though many were pointed his way, but the rifle pointed at Joseph put an end to any thought of retaliation.
When everything came to a still, Joseph was cradling his mother in his arms, blood spilling from her and the life draining from her eyes. There was a rifle trained on the back of Joseph’s head. The scarred man stepped forward and picked up the contract from the ground, dusting off the dirt. He handed it back to Carlton.
“I’ve been fair, Carlton, but I won’t mince my words anymore. I don’t believe that you have a future on this land after what you’ve let happen here today, but your son might. I’ll leave that up to you.”
Joseph could feel the rage running through his body. He looked his mother in the eye as the last breath escaped her lips, and he lowered her body gently to the ground. When he stood up, the guns were raised higher. Even with a rifle trained on him, he felt no fear. He wanted to charge them all down and die in the process, but his spirit had been sapped.
“Don’t do it, Pa,” he whispered.
“Save the rest of your family,” whispered the scarred man.
Carlton took the contract and scrawled his signature on the bottom of the first page, then the second, and the third quickly thereafter. He looked over at Joseph and murmured, “I love you, son.”
The man took the contract back, and as soon as he did, Carlton went for his gun. He had barely touched the handle when a dozen bullets cut through him.
“No!” shouted Joseph. He ran to his father, but not to help. He fumbled for the gun, trying to roll his father to the side so that he could get the weapon. When he could finally get to it, he pulled it from the holster and fumbled it, scrambling to pick it up again. He could hear the horses running from the ranch, and he pointed the gun, but he could not see them through the tears.
They stung his eyes like the sandstorms that would come every few years. Joseph sat on the ground. For how long? He did not know. When he wiped his eyes, Earle and Clementine were standing in front of him, both ashen-faced.
“What happened?” whispered Earle.
“They took them from us,” replied Joseph. He rose to his feet and dusted himself down. “I’m the man of this household now.” He did not know who the men were, and he knew that he would not be able to do anything about this, not yet. What he did know is that they needed to bury their parents.
“This is all my fault,” he whispered to himself.
Ruddock, Texas, 1875
Prue Ross skipped as she made her way to school. At only nineteen years of age, she was one of the youngest teachers to ever teach in the town of Ruddock and the entire state of Texas, for that matter. What she lacked in experience, she more than made up for in enthusiasm. This was, after all, her dream job—the thing that she was born to do.
She pushed the long, wavy black hair from in front of her eyes, tucking it behind her ear, and hummed a tune as she walked the same path that she had walked every morning since she had started in her role a few months ago. She heard the noises before she saw the school, and she knew that something was wrong immediately.
Her children were lined up along the side of the building as they always were, but there were three other figures there too—grown men, though they were not acting like grown men. The racial slurs that they were hurling at the children cut her like the barbs on the fences she had climbed over as a young girl.
Prue quickened her step, clasping her books tightly to her chest.
“Get inside, children,” said Prue sternly as she reached the building. The children looked over at her with some relief and immediately did as she asked, filtering into the building that was always unlocked. The three men stood out on the porch of the building with oafish smiles on their faces.
Prue marched up to the three of them, a storm brewing on her face. “What do you think you are doing? Have you nothing better to do?”
“Just standin’ up for what is right,” said one of the men. “You should be ashamed of yourself for teachin’ kids like that.”
“Like what?” asked Prue.
“Those colored skinned kids. The impure ones,” interjected one of the other men.
Prue folded her arms and nodded her head continuously, staring at each of the men in turn and not budging one bit. She did not say a word, the silence becoming more and more uncomfortable. Finally, the one who had been throwing around most of the racial slurs at the kids spoke.
“We don’t have to take this from a traitor. You look white, but you act just like—”
“I wouldn’t finish that thought if I were you. You don’t want to say somethin’ that you are going to regret,” said Prue.
“Oh, I don’t regret anythin’ that I’ve said,” said the man. “You need to show a little more respect to your own race instead of consortin’ with the enemy.”
“The enemy?” asked Prue. She looked at the other two men, but they remained silent, although they did look uncomfortable.
“Yeah, the enemy,” said the man, taking a step forward—growing bolder by the second. The men flanking him nodded their heads in agreement. “In fact,” continued the man, “we might have to take matters into our own hands if you keep disrespecting the purity of our race. Sure would be a shame if anythin’ were to happen to the school. It’s gettin’ dry, and fires can pop up at a moment’s notice.”
Prue shifted her stance, planting her left foot hard on the wooden boards beneath her. She scrunched up her mouth, looking from one man to the other, all of whom had found their confidence. She brushed past them and stormed into the school.
“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” shouted the man after her.
When Prue got into the school, she found the children huddled around the door.
“Come on, into your seats,” she said softly. “You don’t need to be listening to that sort of talk.” She strode on past them as they scurried to their seats, all looking at her expectantly. She continued down between the desks, heading for the door at the back. She threw open the door and grabbed the broom. As she walked back the way she had come, the children started to leave their seats and follow her back to the door.
Prue emerged from the school with her broom, the three men still loitering outside. When they spotted her, they lost their smiles quickly before regaining their sneering expressions, not sure quite where to look or what to do.
“Do not threaten my children,” shouted Prue. She lifted the broom and headed straight for the ringleader. He was not quick enough to escape the weapon, but he did manage to duck and place his hands over his head. Prue swung the broom down onto his back, making sure to hit with the tassels of sorghum on the end and not the handle. “And do not threaten my school.”
She quickly turned her attention to the other two men, batting at their shoulders as they made a quick escape. “I have the right to teach whomever I please, and we all have the right to live together as one society no matter the color or class.” She beat one more time at the ringleader, who quickly fled when he realized his friends had gone.
“Mornin’ Mrs. Hardson,” shouted Prue, lifting her arm to wave to the old woman across the street. “Beautiful mornin’, ain’t it?”
The older woman waved back, shaking her head at the scene that she had just witnessed. Prue swept at the sorghum that had come loose, brushing it from the porch floor to the dirt road. When she was satisfied, she went back inside and put the broom away. Prue wiped down the front of her dress before addressing the class.
“I’m so, so sorry that you had to hear the words coming from those men. We live in a society where some people think they can say and do whatever they want, no matter who it hurts. I wish that I could say that would be the last of it, but it has happened too many times. It would be naive to think that it won’t happen again. Now, where did we get up to last time?”
“Miss. Ross,” said a young girl as she raised her hand in the air. Prue looked over at the girl—she was from one of the native tribes that lived outside of town and had been coming to school for the past year. Prue knew exactly what was coming, and she knew she had to answer.
“Yes, Millie,” said Prue. Millie had been the name the young girl had assumed when she had started coming to school. Prue wished that the child could keep her native name, but she understood why she used another name when in town.
“Why do people hate us?” asked Millie.
“Oh, Millie,” said Prue. She put down the book that she had picked up and walked over to Millie’s desk. “People don’t hate you.” Prue looked around the room at the other dark-skinned children, some native to this land and some native to others. “People don’t hate any of you. What people hate is change. When things change, people lose their safety and security, especially out here. Men and women have been fightin’ their whole lives for what scraps they can get, and they get scared that they are going to lose that.”
Prue squeezed Millie’s shoulder before she returned to her desk. “People are also scared of what is different. If they can’t understand somethin’, they get scared by it. Then, they have two choices. They can either learn about it or become more scared. And what do I always tell you is the most beautiful thing in the world?”
“Learnin’!” shouted the class together.
Another hand went up. This one belonged to Donald, another child with dark skin.
“Yes, Donald,” said Prue.
“Does that mean that those men were scared of me?” he asked.
“Yes, in a way,” said Prue.
Donald smiled to himself, and it was obvious he relished being scary to grown-ups.
“Look,” said Prue. She took a deep breath and looked around the room. So many eager children and, in this room, they were all the same. But she knew that was not true out in the world. “You are all going to face struggles in your lives. That’s unavoidable. Some of you are going to be challenged more than others, and I wish I could say otherwise. The world is… oh, I don’t know.”
Tears came to her eyes, and she fought to hold them in. “I’m sorry for everythin’ that you will have to go through.” She looked at some of the children, only this time—just the ones whose skin color would hold them back in life. She wished that it could be different, but wishing did not change a thing.
“Let’s not think on it anymore. If you open your hymn books to page 143, we can start the day with some singin’.”
Another hand went up. There were only five children in the class who were not white, and the young girl was another of them. Prue wanted to pretend that she did not see the arm in the air, but she was not one to shy away from anything. The tears were still threatening her, so she pointed and nodded her head at the girl.
“Miss. Ross, is it true that you are going to get married soon?” asked the child.
Prue burst out laughing. She wiped at her eyes quickly. “Yes, yes it is. He is a wonderful man—very handsome and a good Christian too. He owns the goldmine in the Sierra Vista hills.”
There was a collective ‘ooh’ from the class before someone threw out another question. “Have you met him yet?”
“Yes, of course, I have,” said Prue. “The union was arranged almost three years ago when I was still sixteen. I was much too young to be married then, but I am not so young anymore.”
“Can we all come to the weddin’?”
“Of course, you can. You will all be my guests of honor,” said Prue. The tears were gone from her eyes, and she felt joy return to her heart. There were men out there like the ones she had found earlier on the porch, and then there were men out there like Mark Cooper—the man she was to marry. If only everyone could be decent and civil.
“Now, let us not talk anymore of weddings. Page 143. To the Lord Thy God.”
Prue started singing first, and the children soon joined in. “To the Lord thy God, who forever watches over. To the Lord thy God, the spring is made by you….”
As Prue sang, she thought of her upcoming nuptials. She had been in Mark’s presence many times, but she wished it could have been more. He was a good and decent man, yet she felt as if she did not know him at all. He was guarded and secretive, not that she wanted to pry at all into his personal life, and he always treated her well. It was just that he did not seem to share his thoughts and feelings with her. What she saw on the surface was what she got, and she had no idea what he felt deep down. What his dreams and aspirations were.
She would find out more about him when they were married, she was sure of that. Prue was filled with spirit as the hymn continued. The children all sang together, proving once again that everyone could get along. If only adults could be more like children. The tears came to her eyes again.
Mark Cooper was a good man—she was sure of that, but there was one thing that she knew about him, and it hurt her deeply. He was a man of tradition, and he believed firmly that a woman’s place was in the home. He had made it quite clear that when they were married, she would no longer be permitted to teach.
Joseph stuck his pitchfork into the bale of hay that was in the hayloft and tossed it down to the ground below. He held the pitchfork upright and stared down at the dozen or so bales. The upper level covered half of the footprint of the barn, with the floor ending and a drop to the floor below. The hay had been stored up here to keep it dry. Now that the weather was changing, the food was starting to run out, and the hay collected from the beginning of the year would sustain the cattle through the colder months.
There was something glorious in honest hard work, and the tiredness in Joseph’s muscles was a testament to that. He stretched briefly before tossing the pitchfork down, the tines sticking into one of the bales.
“Hey, you don’t shout down first? You might’ve stabbed someone!”
“If only,” replied Joseph gruffly. He stretched one more time before turning around so that he could descend the ladder to the ground floor. There was still a lot of work to be done. The bales had to be transported outside so that the cattle could feed. He knew that he would get no help from Earle, not that he begrudged him having a job away from the ranch—it was a necessary evil. Clementine would want to help, but she did not have the physical strength for such work.
“I have to get going, or they’ll berate me for being late,” said Earle.
“Well, off with you then,” said Joseph, turning his attention back to the hay bales. He grabbed the closest one and hoisted it up onto his shoulder as if it were only half a sack of potatoes. When Earle did not move, he stood staring at him.
“You know what the date is?” said Earle.
“Aye,” said Joseph. “What of it?”
“I know how you can get at this time of year,” said Earle.
Joseph did not say anything. He stood in front of his brother with the bale of hay still on his shoulder, the stance working his muscles, bringing discomfort and distracting him from anything else he might be thinking or feeling. “Are you not goin’ to be late for work?” he said finally.
“Clem will want to talk about it,” reminded Earle. “Go visit their graves and share our feelings.”
Joseph let out a large sigh. “Yeah,” he said.
“Yeah,” repeated Earle.
Joseph let a few seconds pass before he motioned with his head for his little brother to get going. Earle only grimaced and gave a nod. Joseph knew that he did not like working where he did, but he had to for now. He only hoped that it would not drag on for much longer. They were so close, he was sure of it. When he left the barn, Earle was mounting his horse.
“Hey!” shouted Joseph, gaining Earle’s attention. “You’re doin’ a good thing.”
“Workin’ for someone else?” asked Earle.
“It’s all for the benefit of the ranch,” said Joseph, the bale of hay still on his shoulder. He stood and watched his brother adjust the reins before he spurred the horse into action, galloping away and kicking up the dust. It had rained two days previously, and the ground was not bone dry, but there was a drought in the forecast.
Joseph stood still and watched as the horse and rider got smaller and smaller, riding until they were gone from view. He moved with the bale of hay still on his shoulder, striding toward the cattle. When he got there, he still did not unburden himself. He closed his eyes tight and stayed that way for ten seconds before opening them again.
With the bale on his shoulder, he turned and looked at the hill on the far side of their land, what little land they still owned. The rough wooden crosses had long since been lost to the elements, but the two small mounds were still visible, especially when the sky was clear blue. The earthen mounds had been covered with grass long ago, but they were still there—still a marker of what had happened.
Joseph offered up a small prayer, his devotion to a higher power long since withered but never lost. “I’m sorry,” he whispered in the direction of his parents. He stared at the graves for a while longer before he finally turned and dropped the bale to the ground. The pain came as the blood was finally allowed to flow again freely, but Joseph only rubbed his shoulder and went back to work.
Back and forth, he made the trip to the barn, picking up a bale of hay and transporting it to the field for the cattle to feast on. These animals, he understood. People, not so much. Only greed and lust for power. He wished for people to be more like cattle—content with what they had and never craving more.
The sun plowed a path through the wisps of cloud in the sky, dispersing them as it moved across the blue expanse. Joseph stopped around midday for a drink of water from the spring and a chunk of bread that Clementine had baked that morning spread with freshly churned butter. When he went back to work, the sweat appeared more readily on his head, and he made sure to wear a wide-brimmed hat to protect from the sun.
The sun was beginning its descent toward the horizon when he spotted Clementine emerge from the house. She waved over at him, and he waved back, but she did not approach, walking in the opposite direction toward town. She had grown quieter over the past few days, and that only meant that she would explode at some point.
Three days until the anniversary of his parents’ deaths, and Joseph was doing all that he could to take his mind from it. He did not want to remember. He did not want to memorialize or celebrate them. Everything that had happened was down to him, and he had not yet been able to put things right, no matter how much he had tried. He was starting to feel that his family would be cursed forever.
He watched his sister disappear from view. They were all that he had now—Earle and Clementine, and he was not going to let anything happen to them. He would keep them both safe until his dying days. Too much suffering had been endured by the Dawson family, but no more. He had vowed that it would end. If only he could prove everyone wrong.
Joseph only had two or three trips to the barn left, and the sun was starting to dip toward the horizon, bringing some welcome coolness to the air. If only the scattering of clouds above would provide some rain. It was dry again, but they had weathered that many times before. Joseph was almost back at the barn when he heard some excited shouting.
He checked around the other side of the barn where the chickens were and found two boys running and screaming.
“Hey, what do you think you are doing!” shouted Joseph. The two boys had large sticks, and they were pushing them along the ground toward chickens, running after the birds and scaring them, but the birds were too fast to be caught by any sticks or boys. The two lads had large smiles on their faces and stern looks of concentration. They dodged one way and then another, trying to trip up the birds with the sticks.
“Almost got ‘im,” said one. He was trying to be quiet, but the excitement had caused his voice to rise.
“You’ll never catch one!” shouted the other.
“Hey, stop that!” shouted Joseph, finally arriving close enough for both boys to hear him. They stopped in their tracks and shot looks toward Joseph. There was a moment when both boys glanced at each other, and Joseph was sure they were going to run, but they stayed put, standing their ground. This was not the first time something like this had happened, and it would not be the last.
“What do you think you are doing? You are scaring those chickens half to death.”
“Didn’t mean any harm,” said one, defiantly.
“Of course, you didn’t,” said Joseph, starting to lose his patience. “I should have you strung up for attacking those poor, defenseless birds.”
“What are you going to do? Kill us too?” asked one of the boys, his eyes full of fear.
“What? No,” stammered Joseph. Suddenly, his heart was in his throat. He opened his mouth to say something, but no words would come out. His face burned brightly, red coming to his cheeks, and sweat appeared on his forehead. His lower lip trembled as he stood in front of the young lads, who were no older than nine, and he thought about punishing them but knew that he would not.
“Get out of here,” whispered Joseph, his rage bubbling just below the surface. The sounds of the farm came rushing back to him, the cluck of the chickens, the squeal from the pigs, and a dog barking in the distance. “Just leave me alone,” he added.
“Mister, are you going to eat the chickens?” asked one of the boys.
“Just go,” said Joseph, his voice calm and measured.
“Do you give the feathers to the Indians?” asked the other.
“Just….” Something prickled on the back of Joseph’s neck. There was curiosity in the boys, but not for the sake of it. He whirled around to where the shorter of the two was constantly glancing. Joseph spotted the third boy in the pigpen. He was covered in mud and sneaking up on a pig. For a split second, Joseph wanted to see if the boy would catch the pig, knowing how fast and slippery they were in the mud, but his anger finally boiled over, and he could keep it in no longer.
“Hey!” he shouted. “Hey!” Joseph ran toward the pigpen, the third boy quickly scrambling for the fence. Joseph did not have time to see where he or the other two boys went. A loose patch of earth caused his foot to slip from under him, and he went down face-first. A rock came up to meet him, cracking his skull as he collided full force with the earth.
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