About the book
Like an arrow, the heart demands aim to land true...
Cheerful and optimistic, Elizabeth Norwood never feared hard work. Especially her job at the local diner, a popular traveler's stop.
Having lost her mother at a young age, she had been shouldering the responsibility of caring for the household for years. When a masked bandit assaults her, her only regret is never knowing who her father really was. Until a handsome stranger comes to her rescue.
Nathan Perkins, the town’s Marshall, is a man who knows more secrets than truths. The sole caretaker of his younger siblings, life feels out of his control. But when he saves Elizabeth from an attacker, he knows that his fate has been intertwined with hers from the very beginning.
However, their happiness is short-lived. For the sins of the father shall be visited upon the daughter. When Elizabeth is taken and with a notorious gang on the prowl, Nathan’s only clue is a code name. For this time, what they don’t know just might kill them...
Brokenfort, Montana, Summer 1860
“Leave me alone!” Elizabeth Norwood shouted, as a gang of children gathered around the paddock fence alongside where she was playing.
“Hey, you don’t tell us what to do, orphanage girl. How does it feel to be an orphan? Nobody loves you.” Came a jeering voice from across the fence.
They were an assortment of local children, ragtag and disorderly. Their breeches were dirty, their feet bare, and they wore an assortment of ill-fitting coats and hats. Some were tall and some were short, but they all seemed to have one thing in common—and that was a desire to make Elizabeth’s life as miserable as possible.
“Am not … am not an orphan,” Elizabeth shouted back, as the gang of children shouted and jostled at the paddock fence.
She was a young girl of only nine years old, a pretty little thing with her black curly hair pulled into a bunch behind her tanned face. She had been playing happily that afternoon in the paddock next to her family’s old rambling ranch house, but the arrival of the gang of children had put a swift stop to her fun and brought tears to her eyes.
“Fathers never stick around long once the mother is dead. You’ll be in Saint Clement’s with the nuns before Christmas. Abandoned,” was the spiteful reply.
“My father’s a good man,” Elizabeth shouted back, as a stone came flying over the fence and narrowly missed hitting her.
“My mother says he isn’t. He’s a bad man and you’ll go the same way,” one little girl said, sticking her tongue out at Elizabeth, who took a few steps back as another stone landed by her feet.
“You leave me alone,” she cried, as she fought back the tears in her eyes.
“Look at the little orphan baby crying. She’s got no one,” one of the taller boys said, laughing, as he urged the others on.
“I said, go away,” Elizabeth shouted, picking up a stone and throwing it back at the group of children.
“Let’s get her. The little orphan girl has got no one. Her father doesn’t care. Where is he now? My papa says he’s down in the saloon drinking his money away,” the boy said, and the others laughed.
“No!” Elizabeth cried, as the children pushed their way through the paddock gate, all of them now taking up stones and throwing them at her.
“Hey, you get away from her,” came a cry from the lane and Elizabeth looked back to see Nathan Perkins, an older boy from the town, standing there with an angry look on his face.
“Join the game, Nathan, don’t you like orphan baiting?” the tall boy asked, but Nathan shook his head.
“I don’t like seeing bullies like you picking on someone half your size. Now, get lost, the lot of you,” Nathan said, advancing towards them.
“Or what?” the taller boy asked, throwing down his stone and taking off his coat and rolling up his sleeves.
He raised his fists to Nathan, but the boy stood his ground and Elizabeth watched as they circled around each other, the other children now shouting out their support.
“Or I’ll send you home crying like the baby you are,” Nathan replied.
“Get him, Diggory, knock him out,” one of the children shouted.
The tall boy lashed out, but Nathan was too quick for him and he aimed a well-placed punch, which sent the boy reeling backwards onto the ground, clutching his nose. With a cry, he scrambled to his feet and ran off down the lane.
“You haven’t heard the last of this, Nathan Perkins. I’ll get you,” the boy cried out, turning as he ran.
“You and what army? Does anyone else want to try their luck or have you finished your game for today?” Nathan replied, looking around at the other children.
They set off, leaving Nathan and Elizabeth alone. She smiled at the black-haired boy, whose deep brown eyes looked out of a kindly young face. He shook his head, looking down the lane towards the town, where the other children were disappearing into the distance.
“Thank you,” she said, still shaking a little from her ordeal at the hands of the bullies, but doing her best to appear brave before this kindly, older boy.
“They’re cowards, especially that Diggory Waugh. Just because his father owns the mercantile, he thinks he’s got a right to throw his weight around,” Nathan said, leaning on the fence.
“I’m going to have to get used to it,” Elizabeth replied, wiping the tears from her eyes.
“Don’t listen to them. You’re not an orphan—your father is still alive and I’m sure he isn’t anything like they say,” he said.
But Elizabeth shook her head. The bullies had been right about one thing—her father was a poor excuse for a man. Right now, he was in the saloon and he would be there for the rest of the day. She was all alone in the world and with her mother dead, she may as well be the orphan the other children had jeered at.
“My father’s a good man, at least sometimes he is. But my mother is dead. She’d have told me to be brave, but I don’t feel very brave right now. I’ve seen you in town before, and at the schoolhouse. I don’t know what I’d have done if you didn’t come along,” she said, wiping another tear from her eye.
He was such a kindly-looking boy and the way he smiled lit up his whole face.
“I heard about your mother, the whole town did. I’m sorry. But it’s no excuse for those bullies to treat you like that. I’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again. Even if I have to give Diggory Waugh a good chasing,” Nathan said.
“You sure sent him flying,” Elizabeth replied.
“Bullies pick on people less than them and they don’t like it when someone stands up to them.” Nathan said, shaking his head.
“Do you want some lemonade? I made it earlier, my father likes it. It’s such a hot day and you look warm,” Elizabeth said, still smiling at the boy, who nodded.
“I’d love some. My mother can’t make lemonade. It’s always so sour,” he said, stepping through the gate and into the garden.
Elizabeth led him up the steps and onto the veranda of the house. It was an old sprawling place which had belonged to her grandfather, surrounded by lilac bushes, which had grown tall and drooping in the sunshine of that long, hot summer. The house was painted white, built of wooden slats, but the paint was peeling and the wood was rotting, for Elizabeth’s father was too often absent to care much for its upkeep. The veranda was cool and shady, with two old rocking chairs and a porch swing in front of the parlor window. It was there the two of them now sat, as Elizabeth poured out two glasses from a jug on the small side table, both of them grateful for the shade and refreshment.
“I hope it’s not too sour,” she said, and he smiled at her.
“No, it’s just right. Listen, don’t worry about those bullies. You seem like a nice person. We can be friends if you like?” he said, and Elizabeth nodded.
“But you’re older than me, won’t the other children make fun of you?” she asked, and he laughed.
“And if they do, they’ll get the same treatment as Diggory,” he replied, taking a long drink of lemonade and smiling broadly at her.
Brokenfort, Montana, Spring, 1871
“Right, so that’s beetroot soup for Mr. Benson, pork cutlets with mashed potatoes for Mr. McCabe, and mutton pie for Mr. Doyle,” Elizabeth said, recounting the order she’d just taken.
“And some of those buttermilk biscuits we had last week, those were delicious,” Mr. Benson replied, smiling at Elizabeth.
“Oh, that was just a special, but I’ll see what I can do,” Elizabeth said, and Mr. Benson nodded.
“You always look after us so well, Miss Norwood. Sullivan’s Diner is surely the finest little diner in town,” Mr. McCabe said, and the others agreed.
“We try our best,” Elizabeth replied, as she nodded to them and went off to take the order to the kitchen.
The diner was busy that evening, the tables filled with all manner of townspeople and a haze of tobacco smoke hanging in the air. Light came from candles on the tables and the smell of cooking wafted through from the kitchen behind. Elizabeth had worked there since she was eighteen and the diner was like a second home to her, a place she enjoyed working at. This was especially the case on days when she got to share her duties with her dear friend Amelie, who at that moment emerged from the kitchen balancing several bowls of fricasseed chicken wings and a large platter of roast potatoes on her arm.
“Here, help me with these,” Amelie said, handing two of the bowls to Elizabeth.
“For Mr. and Mrs. Lindfelt?” Elizabeth said, and Amelie nodded.
“They’ve got a guest, too, Marshal Perkins. Do you remember him?” Amelie said, as they approached the table.
At twenty-two, she was a year older than Elizabeth, with short blonde hair and dark green eyes, a contrast to Elizabeth’s long, curly black locks and tan complexion.
“The best fricasseed chicken in Montana. Didn’t I tell you, Nathan, that this place was good?” Mr. Lindfelt said, smacking his lips, as the bowl was placed in front of him.
“You sure did, Mr. Lindfelt. I’m just amazed I haven’t been in here before,” Nathan replied, smiling up at Elizabeth, who blushed and smiled back.
She remembered Nathan very well, but it seemed he did not remember her. She had not seen much of him since that fateful day when he had saved her from the gang of children taunting her over the paddock fence. Their short-lived friendship had drifted apart and she hadn’t seen him in years, not up close, anyway.
He had grown more handsome, tall, and with the dark hair and those same large brown eyes she remembered from her youth. He looked ever so attractive in his black vest and white shirt, a black tie at his neck and his six-sided-star badge pinned proudly on the left lapel of his coat. A shiver ran through her, reigniting that same spark of attraction she had felt for him back when they were young.
But the look he gave her was polite rather than one of recognition. How sad that was. She pictured that afternoon they had sat on the veranda drinking lemonade together, when she had thought him to be the nicest boy in all the world.
“Can I get you anything else, Mr. Lindfelt? Mustard, perhaps?” Amelie said.
“Ah, yes, a little mustard would go down a treat, thank you, Amelie,” Mr. Lindfelt replied.
“I’ll get that,” Elizabeth said, still watching Nathan, who had begun to tuck into his fricasseed chicken.
She hurried across to the sideboard, dodging in and out of the tables and through the clouds of tobacco smoke. The mustard was there ready to mix and she soon returned to Mr. Lindfelt’s table, bearing it in a dish.
“Ah, thank you,” Nathan said, looking up at her and smiling, without the faintest hint of recognition.
“Is that all?” she asked, and Mr. Lindfelt nodded.
“Until dessert, that is,” he said, smiling at her.
Elizabeth returned to the kitchen, where it turned out that Mr. Benson’s request for buttermilk biscuits could be satisfied. Amelie was just emerging with a dish of pork chops and she smiled at Elizabeth, who appeared somewhat embarrassed.
“Isn’t he handsome? Even more so than when we were younger,” she said, nodding over to where Nathan was spooning mustard onto his plate.
“He is,” Elizabeth replied, and Amelie laughed, not knowing the connection Elizabeth and Nathan already had, and which he seemed so sadly forgetful of.
“Let’s hope he comes back another day,” her friend said, winking at her.
Elizabeth busied herself about the diner, taking orders and serving the customers. It was hard work, but work she relished, and she never begrudged a moment spent at Sullivan’s Diner. She had become something of a loner in the years following her father’s death, forced to sell off the family’s old ranch to pay his debts, and had moved into modest lodgings half a mile from the restaurant.
Her days were predictably familiar. She would arrive at the diner by half past ten each morning and work until four o’clock. She would have an hour’s rest in the back room and share a simple meal with Amelie. They were not allowed to eat the fare prepared out front and had to be content instead with whatever Mr. Sullivan had cooked for them that day. At five o’clock, they would return to work and see to their duties until the diner closed at eleven o’clock, or whenever the last of the customers left. Then, she would make her way home to rest and that would be her day.
The restaurant was closed on Sundays, when Elizabeth would attend church. She was allowed a day off on Thursdays, when she would see to her washing and shopping. In what little spare time she had, Elizabeth liked to read—that was her main pastime and she was a regular visitor to the library on Cedarbrook Street, having worked her way now through almost every classic work of literature it had on offer, Uncle Tom’s Cabin being her favorite.
Despite this predictability, Elizabeth was content. She didn’t want for much, with Amelie as her friend and a wage in her pocket. Mr. Sullivan, a good Catholic man of Irish extraction, was by no means ungenerous in his treatment of them, and she considered herself to have a fortunate lot in life. It was a simple life, but one which Elizabeth was grateful for, after the troubles of her childhood.
“I’ll clear the Lindfelt’s plates away,” Elizabeth said, as she watched Nathan lay down his knife and fork.
“All right, I know why—he’s handsome, I’ll give you that. I’ll see to the Benson party, though I know what they’ll have, even before I ask.” Amelie said, winking at Elizabeth.
“Cherry pie, Mr. Benson always has cherry pie,” Elizabeth said, as she went off to clear the Lindfelt’s plates.
“That was superb. Compliments to Mr. Sullivan,” Mr. Lindfelt said
“I’ll pass it along. Would you like to see the dessert menu?” Elizabeth asked, and Mr. Lindfelt nodded.
“I think we can manage a dessert, what do you say, Marshal Perkins? A big, strapping man like you, surely you have room?” he asked, and Nathan nodded.
“I’ll take a look,” he said, smiling again at Elizabeth, but still without a hint of recognition.
Elizabeth returned a few moments later, bearing the menus in hand and Mr. Lindfelt took out his glasses, examining the menu and pointing his wife to it.
“There you are, Luella. You’ll like that, it’s honey cake, and what about you, Marshal Perkins?” he asked, peering over the menu at his guest.
“Oh, there’s only one choice for me, Mr. Lindfelt, and that’s apple pie,” Nathan said, handing back the menu to Elizabeth.
“Some cream on that, too?” she asked, and he laughed.
“You read my mind. You must know me, apple pie is my favorite and only improved by a little pouring of cream over the top,” he replied.
“I’ll be right back,” Elizabeth said, her heart all a flutter under his gaze.
He had grown into a most attractive man, though he had been an attractive boy, too, the memory of that first day they had met still vivid in her mind. She had never had any trouble from the school bullies again after that, but time and difference had seen she and Nathan drift apart, and it was no wonder he did not recognize her now.
“It’s awfully kind of you to treat me to dinner, Mr. Lindfelt,” Nathan said, stretching back in his chair.
The meal had been extremely satisfying and he was not used to eating such quantities, not when he still had work to do. He would return to the Sheriff’s office after dinner and write up his reports before going home.
“You’re welcome, son. We owe you for what you did. Now you just tuck into that apple pie when Miss Norwood brings it over,” Mr. Lindfelt replied.
Nathan smiled and glanced around at the waitress, who was busy cutting up the pie on the sideboard on the far wall. Her hair was long and black, curled in pretty little ringlets which hung down around her shoulders. She was tall and pretty and Nathan could not help but think he may have seen her before. But then, he had seen a lot of people before, for his work as a Town Marshal took him into most places around Brokenfort and out into the county beyond.
But she was certainly attractive and worth remembering, he told himself. Her skin was tanned in the Montana sunshine and her eyes were a delicate shade of green. He had noticed all this in a moment, but he knew he would not forget her face when he left the diner.
“Miss Norwood, you say?” Nathan asked, and his host grinned at him.
“That’s right, and worth remembering, too,” he replied.
As she prepared the dessert, for Mr. Sullivan only baked it, and didn’t plate it up, Elizabeth wondered what Nathan’s life was like now. She knew his parents had died and that he had taken on the job of caring for his two younger siblings. She knew him to be a good and decent man, well regarded in his work as a Town Marshal. But after that, she knew very little about him, though now she did know that his favorite dessert was apple pie.
“Look at that portion,” Nathan said, as Elizabeth laid the plate down in front of him.
“You’ve got an admirer,” Mr. Lindfelt said, winking at Elizabeth, who smiled.
“Any extra cream for you?” she asked, hovering the jug over Nathan’s dish.
“How can I refuse?” he said, looking up at her with a smile, and she poured out another generous serving.
“Did you give him a double serving?” Amelie asked, as Elizabeth joined her by the sideboard a moment later.
“It hadn’t been cut right, there wasn’t enough for another whole piece so I just put it all on,” Elizabeth said, and Amelie began to giggle.
“Don’t let Mr. Sullivan find out, he’ll dock your wages.” she said, but Elizabeth just laughed.
“It’s only a slice of apple pie, he’s hardly going to notice,” she replied.
The Lindfelts were just finishing their meal and Mr. Lindfelt signaled for the bill, as he, his wife, and Nathan rose from the table.
“And a little something extra for you and Amelie,” Mr. Lindfelt said, pressing several dollar bills into Elizabeth’s hand.
“Oh, thank you, Mr. Lindfelt, I shouldn’t really…” she said, feeling embarrassed in front of Nathan
“Nonsense, we were well looked after this evening. Goodnight to you and God bless,” he said, giving Elizabeth a cheery smile.
“Goodnight and thank you,” Nathan said, their eyes meeting as he tipped his hat to her.
His gaze lingered a moment and she wondered if there was something he wanted to say. But before he could say anything, Mr. Lindfelt had ushered him out and all she got was a final sweet smile, as he tipped his hat once again, and she began to clear their empty table.
Mr. Benson had just paid his bill and left an equally generous tip with Amelie. She came running over with an excited look on her face, surreptitiously handing Elizabeth’s share of the tip to her. Mr. Sullivan liked the tips to go into a communal fund, a fund which rarely paid out, a fact the regular diners knew all too well.
“We’ve doubled our wages tonight,” Amelie whispered, as Elizabeth passed her share of the Lindfelt tip over.
“I saw this lovely little dress in the haberdashery window the other day. A few more evenings like this and I might just be able to afford it,” Elizabeth said, slipping the money into her pocket.
The diner was growing quiet now and only two tables remained occupied. Elizabeth and Amelie began to clear up, sweeping around and laying the tables ready for the next day. With any luck, they’d be done by half past ten and Elizabeth would be in bed by eleven o’clock with a cup of cocoa and her latest library book, a copy of Little Women, which she could hardly put down.
“Don’t forget to polish that cutlery. I saw a couple of dirty knives yesterday,” Mr. Sullivan called out from the kitchen.
Elizabeth and Amelie tried not to laugh, as they polished the errant cutlery vigorously.
“That’ll be my fault,” Elizabeth whispered, glancing over her shoulder to the kitchen.
“Always cutting corners,” Amelie laughed.
“I just don’t always polish them as much as he wants. ‘I can’t see my face in this spoon, Elizabeth,’ that’s what he’ll say,” Elizabeth said, impersonating their employer.
“You once left a whole drawer of dirty spoons in the sideboard and it was a good thing I found them before Mr. Sullivan,” Amelie replied, shaking her head.
“And you turned all those tablecloths over the other day without washing them,” Elizabeth said, polishing a spoon vigorously, as though to prove herself.
“You go home, I’ll finish this,” Amelie whispered. “I’ll turn the cloths over, too,” she winked.
“Are you sure?” Elizabeth replied, and her friend nodded.
“Yes, it’s your day off tomorrow. Besides, I need to finish early next week. You can cover me then,” she said.
Elizabeth was tired and she yawned as she took up her coat and wished Mr. Sullivan and the others a good night. She stepped out of the door and onto the quiet street, the only sounds now coming from Buffalo’s Saloon which lay across from the diner and would still be busy with drinkers and revelers until the early hours.
She turned along the street, looking up at the starry, moonlit sky above. Brokenfort was a pleasant enough town, the only town she had ever known. Over the years, it had grown larger, as immigrants from the east had come west looking for work.
It lay on the edge of the prairie, where the trail passed through on its way west. Its long central street was lined with stores, a boarding house lay at one end and the church at the other, a bright red little mission house with a bell on top, and next to it a schoolhouse. Elizabeth knew every inch of the town, it was familiar to her, a place of safety despite all the difficulties she’d experienced in her life there.
But Elizabeth had never thought of leaving Brokenfort. She was content enough and right now, she was looking forward to her bed and her books. She crossed the street, making her way past the darkened stores, turning down Cedarbrook Street and past the library. She lived in a small wood slat house, rented from a man who worked at the bank and who owned several properties in the town. It was a comfortable enough dwelling and she had made curtains for the windows and bought several pieces of furniture to make it appear more like home.
The street was quiet and she searched in her purse for her key, marveling again at the generous tips given her by Mr. Lindfelt and the Benson party. It would be almost enough for the dress she had seen in Nell Cassidy’s haberdashery store and she would put it in her savings jar underneath her bed. She had just taken out her key, when a movement to her right startled her.
Out of the shadows emerged a man, his face covered over with a mask and his hat pulled low. He was wearing a cloak and came on her all of a sudden, causing her to cry out and step backwards.
“Where’s the money?” he growled, backing her up towards the wall behind her.
But despite her initial shock, Elizabeth was not to be cowed by this man emerging from the darkness. She had spent her adult life dealing with unruly and unreasonable customers in the diner, and she was not about to give in so easily to a coward who would sneak up on a woman and demand her money.
“You step aside, I’ve no money and even if I did, I wouldn’t give it to you,” she cried, stepping back as he put out his hand to grab her.
“Where’s the money? You know where it is,” he repeated, his voice deep and ugly.
“I’ve only got my wages from today. But what right do you have to take them?” she said, any fear she might have felt now turning into anger, as she tried to protect her purse from her assailant
“Not that money, where’s the money? You know what I’m talking about,” he said, snatching at her purse and shaking out the notes.
Elizabeth screamed, just as the man grabbed her and tried to pull her to the ground. He was strong and despite her best efforts to resist, she fell to the ground. But Elizabeth was not about to go down without a fight and she lashed out at the man, pushing him backwards, as she struggled to her feet.
“You let go of me, how dare you?” she cried, just as he lunged into her again and tried to grab at her purse.
“Please, help me, somebody,” she cried out, knocking the man backwards again, trying desperately to escape.
But he was far bigger than her, stronger, too, and with a snarl he threw his arms around her and put his hand over her mouth. She smelled the leather of his gloves, and the foul stench of his cloak, as she struggled in his grip.
“Hey, you! Get off her,” came another voice, and the man’s arms loosened around her.
She struggled up, the man now distracted by a figure running towards them.
“Get off me,” she cried out again, lashing out and striking at the man as he was pulled backwards.
“It’s the Sheriff’s office for you,” her rescuer cried, but the other man hit out, aiming a blow which was quickly dodged.
“Look out,” Elizabeth cried, as the man leapt forward, but her rescuer was too quick and a well-aimed punch sent the attacker sprawling unconscious to the ground.
“Are you all right?” the man asked, stepping forward and holding out his hand.
To her amazement, her rescuer was none other than Nathan Perkins, the man she had just served an extra-large portion of apple to in the diner. He smiled at her, recognizing her, though still not from his past.
“I am now,” she said, smiling at him in the moonlight, amazed at the coincidence of her rescuer.
“Why was that man attacking you? What did he want?” Nathan asked, rolling the unconscious assailant onto his back and checking through his pockets.
“He just kept saying, ‘Where’s the money’ but he didn’t seem to mean my wages. I wasn’t going to give them to him, but he just kept repeating it. I don’t know what he meant by that. I don’t have any money and I sure don’t know where any money is,” she replied, shaken up due to her ordeal.
She had stopped trembling now, grateful beyond belief that Nathan had heard her cries. She looked down at the unconscious man on the ground, wondering just what it was that had made him attack her. She did not recognize him, nor could she think of any reason why he should have attacked her.
“I don’t know who would do such a thing in this town,” he said, shaking his head. “But you’re all right now, though, you’re safe. I promise,” and he smiled at her.
“That’s the second time you’ve rescued me,” Elizabeth said, and he looked at her in surprise.
“But I only met you a couple of hours ago. It was you who saved my stomach from rumbling with that delicious dinner,” he said, laughing.
Elizabeth shook her head.
“I’m Elizabeth, Elizabeth Norwood,” she replied, and she recounted the story of Diggory Waugh and the gang of children from their past.
“Don’t you remember the lemonade?” she asked, and he shook his head in disbelief.
“I didn’t even recognize you. I’m sorry, I feel awful now,” he replied.
“It’s all right, I look different these days, and you do, too. But I still recognized you. You suit the badge,” she said, fixing him with a grateful look.
“I’m pleased to meet you again, though I’m sorry for the unfortunate circumstances,” he said, glancing down at the man, who was now regaining consciousness.
“I’m pleased, too,” she replied, and there was a moment of silence as they stood together in the moonlight, neither knowing quite what to say.
“We can’t just stand out here all night,” he finally said, shaking his head. “But why don’t you come over to my house for dinner tomorrow evening? If you’re not busy, that is? I’ve got a day off and I’d sure like us to get to know one another again. You must have all sorts of stories to tell, I know I have. I’d like to hear them. Please say you will?” he said, smiling at her.
“Oh, I wouldn’t want to put you to any trouble, Marshal Perkins,” she said, but he shook his head.
“It’s no trouble. I’d be glad of the company. I insist in fact, and you can call me Nathan,” he said.
“Well, then, how can I refuse?” she said, secretly rather pleased at this invitation from the handsome young Town Marshal.
“Excellent, I’ll come for you about six o’clock. Do you live near here?” he asked.
“The little house with the blue door on Westerville Street,” she said, and he nodded.
“Six o’clock tomorrow. I can’t promise apple pie, but I’m sure we’ll have fun. Anyway, I’d better get this low-life back to the Sheriff’s office. Stand up,” he said, pulling the half-conscious man to his feet.
“Thank you,” she said, watching as he made his way along the street, pushing the man along with him.
Her heart was still beating fast, though she wondered if it was as much to do with his invitation as it was with the excitement of the night, and she hurried home, locking herself in and letting out a deep sigh.
What an evening.
Foregoing the usual cocoa, she went straight to bed.
Despite the unpleasant experience at the hand of her assailant, Elizabeth couldn’t help but feel happy at having encountered the handsome Town Marshal that evening. He was charming, with such a warmth to him, and attractive, too. How strange that after all these years she should encounter him twice in one evening. It was certainly a coincidence, but one she was more than grateful for, and thinking about spending the next evening with him was more than a delightful thought.
“You did well tonight, Nathan,” Sheriff Hampton said, as Nathan emerged from the jailhouse through a door into the back of the Sheriff’s office and nodded to the older, mustachioed lawman.
“I’m just glad I got there in time,” Nathan replied.
He was still amazed at the audacity of the man who had attacked Elizabeth in the street. Brokenfort was, by most accounts, a peaceful little town without the troubles of larger cities and such a crime was rare.
“You get yourself home, I’ll see to him. He’s not going anywhere. What about the woman he attacked? Is she all right?” the Sheriff asked, and Nathan nodded.
“As it happens, she’s a friend of mine from years back. She’s a waitress over at Sullivan’s Diner. Elizabeth Norwood’s her name,” Nathan replied, and Sheriff Hampton smiled.
“Rescuing a pretty little lady, she’s bound to be grateful to you,” he replied, laughing and shaking his head.
“It’s not like that, Sheriff,” Nathan said, smiling, as he tipped his hat and took his leave.
He had surprised himself at the boldness with which he had asked Elizabeth to dinner tomorrow night. Nathan had never asked a woman to dinner, but Elizabeth was different. He regretted losing touch with her, for now that she had reminded him of it, he remembered that day on the veranda of her family’s old ranch as clearly as though it were yesterday. He felt terribly rude for not having recognized her in the diner earlier, but a lot of time had passed.
She had certainly grown prettier over the years, with her long black curled hair and those deep green eyes. As he walked home, he thought about her, grateful to have been on hand to save her from that wicked man. But why had he attacked her? And what was it about the money he was so keen to find?
Surely, she doesn’t have two cents to rub together? Let alone worth robbing for.
As he walked through the silent streets, the moon high above, he paused for a moment outside the now still and empty diner, picturing Elizabeth at work there earlier that evening. He felt awful again for not having recognized her, but perhaps now he could make amends and rekindle something of the friendship they had enjoyed in the past.
I hope so.
Because the more he thought about her, the keener he was to know more about her. Her pretty face was the last thought he had as he fell asleep later that night.
It was dark in the jailhouse, the only light coming from beneath a door at the far end which led into the Sheriff’s office beyond. A drunk was muttering to himself and another man talking loudly to no one about the injustices he had faced.
There was the sound of rats scratching in the corners and a lingering smell of sawdust and rotting food in the air, but none of this mattered to the man now sitting in the far cell.
He was sitting perfectly still, his hands clasped together and his head bowed in deep contemplation. The night had been a failure, but he would have what was owed him.
There was not an ounce of guilt in his mind, despite the way that foolish Marshal had reprimanded him all the way to the Sheriff’s office. Well, they could do what they wanted to do, because there would soon be another man to take his place and another after that, until what was theirs was returned.
Suddenly, he began to laugh, a loud shrill laugh which filled the jailhouse with a terrifying echo and caused the other inmates to rush to their bars and begin banging and shouting.
“Shut up, what’s with that laughing?” the man who had been talking loudly to himself cried out.
“Because I know what I’ll do when I get out of here,” the man shouted back, just as the door to the Sheriff’s office flew open.
“You keep it down in there, you hear me?” came the shout of the Sheriff’s voice.
“Or what, you’ll throw us in jail?” the man replied.
He was not scared of any lawmaker, nor of the Town Marshal who had threatened him earlier that evening. He was not afraid of anyone and he knew that soon his time would come and the money that young woman owed would be repaid in full, whatever it took.
Elizabeth awoke late the next morning, grateful that it was her day off. She yawned, stretching out and rolling over in bed, as the sunlight came through the thin curtains which hung at the window.
Her bedroom was simply furnished with an old bed and washstand which had come from her family’s ranch, a thick rug covered the floorboards, and a mirror was propped up on the dusty dressing table by the door. Over the mantelpiece, there hung a painting which had belonged to her mother. It was of flowers in a vase and she loved the way the artist had captured the sunlight, similar to that which now came through the window.
She lay for a while longer in bed, thinking back to the events of yesterday and wondering again what the man had meant by asking her where the money was. Despite her bravery, the attack had shaken her up. She was used to seeing brawls in the diner and attracting the unwanted attentions of men, but it had seemed as though the man had targeted her directly, waiting for her in the shadows. It was unsettling, though she concluded that it must have been a case of mistaken identity, for if there was one thing she did not have, it was money.
Under the bed was a jar and in it was around three dollars, all the money she had in the world. It was from that jar that she paid her rent, did her grocery shopping, and saved for the smallest of luxuries. But to think that anyone would go to the trouble of robbing her was inconceivable. She was not wealthy and she never would be. Elizabeth was a simple person, with simple wants and needs. There was no reason why anyone should wish to cause her harm.
It’s just part of God’s plan.
She reassured herself, sitting up in bed and rubbing her eyes.
She was soon washed and dressed, intent on spending the day seeing to the domestic tasks which had been neglected since her last day off. The house needed sweeping and her bed changing; she would lay the stove and heat water for the washtub. Washing clothes was her least favorite task, for her hands always became red and sore on the washboard and the soap would get under her nails
Rising and splashing water on her face, she tied her hair up in a bun and proceeded to get on with her chores, looking forward to her dinner with Nathan. What a coincidence it had been for the two of them to meet again. As she began to scrub her dirty laundry out in the yard behind the house, she offered up a prayer of thanks to God for her safe deliverance. She thought back to that first encounter when they had been only children. A lot of time had passed since then and she hoped she had enough of interest to say to the handsome young Marshal who had invited her to dinner.
I wonder if after all these years we’ll still find things in common? I’m sure we will.
But there was no going back now, and she washed her hair as best she could with a jug of warm water. As the afternoon drew on, she picked out a pretty blue dress to wear and made herself ready. Putting rouge on her face, she looked at herself in the mirror and smiled, thinking that perhaps she was not as plain as she imagined herself to be.
Elizabeth’s most treasured possession, apart from the painting over the mantelpiece in her bedroom, was a necklace which had belonged to her mother. She had given it to Elizabeth on her death bed with strict instructions to keep it safe from her father. The unfortunate truth was that the gang of children who had so tormented Elizabeth as a child had been right about one thing—her father was a useless man, who drank his money away and neglected his daughter terribly. If he had known about the necklace, then he would have insisted on selling it and that money would soon have disappeared into the coffers of Buffalo’s Saloon.
Now, she took it out from its hiding place in a cupboard drawer and put it around her neck. It was made of the most delicate gold links and had a bright green emerald set into it, which sparkled in the sunlight coming through the window. She smiled at her reflection, thinking that perhaps she did look pretty, rather than plain, and wondering what her mother would have said to have seen her now.
“She’d have been proud of you,” she said out loud, just as a knock came at the door.
It was precisely six o’clock, the clock on the mantelpiece having just chimed, and she hurried to the door, smoothing down her dress for the hundredth time.
“Good evening, Miss Norwood,” Nathan said, as she opened the door.
He was smartly dressed in a dark jacket and starched white collar, with a vest and polished black shoes. He tipped his hat to her and offered her his arm.
“You look nice,” Elizabeth said, and he blushed.
“And you look ever so pretty, Miss Norwood,” he replied.
“If I must call you Nathan then you must call me Elizabeth,” she replied, taking his arm and locking the door behind her.
“Very well, Elizabeth it is. I’m so glad you could come for dinner with us this evening. It’s rare that I get the time off,” he said, as they began to walk arm in arm down the street.
“Me, too,” she replied. “I work five nights a week at Sullivan’s Diner. I have Thursday and Sunday off.”
“Then how fortunate that today is Thursday,” he replied, smiling at her.
“What happened to that man last night?” she asked, and Nathan shook his head.
“He’s in the jailhouse; the Sheriff threw him in there last night. He’ll get what’s coming to him, don’t you worry,” Nathan replied. “But you don’t need to think about him right now. Come on, my brother and sister are excited to meet you.”
Elizabeth could vaguely remember Nathan’s younger twin siblings from school. Their names were Clemmie and Georgie and back then, they had always been getting into mischief together, though they had still been very young.
Nathan’s house lay about a mile away on the other side of town and they walked past Sullivan’s Diner on the way. Amelie was outside, chalking up the day’s menu onto a board and she looked at Elizabeth in amazement, as she walked by arm in arm with Nathan.
“I’ll tell you all about it tomorrow,” Elizabeth mouthed at her, as her friend stood looking at her in astonishment.
“How long have you worked at the diner?” Nathan asked.
“Since I was eighteen. My father died four years ago and I’ve been ever so grateful to Mr. Sullivan for keeping me on. Without that job I’d be destitute. Do you remember the ranch house we used to have? The one that belonged to my grandfather?” she asked, and Nathan nodded.
“I remember it. A big old rambling place on the edge of town, with the veranda and the porch swing and the lilac bushes in the garden, wasn’t it?” he said, and Elizabeth nodded.
“That’s right, it was a lovely old place, but when my father died he left more than memories behind. He owed a dozen people money and I had to sell the house to pay the debts,” she said, the memory of her father far from a happy one.
“How awful for you. I was lucky, I suppose, my parents were always good to us and they left behind enough for Clemmie and Georgie to stay on at school. They’re a handful sometimes, but I wouldn’t have it any other way,” he said.
“Don’t you have any help around the house?” Elizabeth asked.
“Oh yes, there’s Betty. She was my mother’s cook, maid, and washerwoman, all rolled into one. We’d be lost without her. You’ll meet her tonight. Here we are,” Nathan said, as they came to the gate of a house, covered in wood slats and painted blue.
It was built over three storeys, with a large bay window facing out onto the street. Steps ran up to the door which had a well-polished brass knocker and a letter box engraved with the name of Perkins. It was a pretty house, well-kept, and Elizabeth smiled as Nathan led her up the steps.
“What a lovely place,” she said.
“I try my best. Family always comes first, that’s what I say. I want Clemmie and Georgie to be well looked after. I’d do anything for them,” he said, just as the door opened.
“We’ve been watching for you, Nathan,” a little girl cried out, flinging herself onto him with a cry of delight.
“I’ve only been gone half an hour. Where are your manners, missy? Say good evening to Miss Norwood, please,” Nathan said.
The little girl was short, with rosy cheeks and dark hair like her elder brother. She beamed at Elizabeth, holding out her hand and attempting a funny-looking curtsey as she did so.
“Good evening, Miss Norwood,” she said, and Elizabeth smiled.
“Good evening, Clemmie, how nice to meet you,” she said, extending her hand.
“And this is Georgie,” Nathan said, as the tall boy, with the same family trait of black hair and rosy cheeks, held out his hand.
“Well, good evening, and what a fine young man you are,” Elizabeth said.
“Good evening, Miss Norwood, welcome,” he said, stepping back, as she and Nathan crossed the threshold.
The house was well furnished, neat and tidy. It was clear that Nathan had help and Elizabeth looked around with interest. The walls were covered with paintings and a sideboard stood in the corner of the parlor, filled with crockery and knickknacks. A big dresser stood next to the mantelpiece, stacked high with books, and an old grandfather clock ticked happily in the corner. There was a big rug covering most of the floor and the place had a homey feeling, as though Nathan took great pride in the house and in his family
A moment later, from the door through to the kitchen, there appeared an elderly woman, with twinkling eyes and a cloth cap on her head, who could be none other than Betty. She smiled at Elizabeth, taking her bonnet and coat to hang up.
“You’re very welcome here, dear. It’s not often that Nathan brings a pretty young woman home. Now, you sit yourself down. Dinner won’t be long,” she said, as Elizabeth smiled.
She wasn’t used to being referred to as a pretty young woman. If truth be told, she wasn’t used to such social gatherings and hoped that her conversation would be of interest to them. Elizabeth kept herself to herself and apart from Amelie, she really had few friends in Brokenfort, preferring to live simply and quietly in the enjoyment of her own company.
“Will you have some lemonade?” Nathan said, holding out a glass for her. “When you reminded me about it from all those years ago, I told Betty we just had to have some to make a toast with.”
Elizabeth smiled as he handed her the glass. He really was very kind, a kindness she hardly felt worthy of. How pleased she was to meet him once again and to have his company and that of his family. They had all now gathered around in the parlor and the smell of cooking from the kitchen suggested they were in for a fine meal.
“Elizabeth works at Sullivan’s Diner, you know the one, we pass it on the way to school and church,” Nathan said, and Clemmie and Georgie nodded.
“It always looks so nice in there,” Clemmie said, and Nathan laughed.
“Well, they do an excellent apple pie, or so I discovered yesterday,” Nathan replied, winking at Elizabeth.
“How do you know Mr. Lindfelt?” Elizabeth asked, taking a sip of the delicious lemonade. “He’s a regular of ours, but I’ve never seen you in there before yesterday. I recognized you at once.”
“And I’m just sorry I didn’t recognize you, too,” he replied, shaking his head. “I don’t really know Mr. Lindfelt or his wife. But the other week, they had some trouble with rustlers up on their ranch. I helped them out and he said it was the least he could do, to buy me dinner as a thanks for my help.”
“He’s a kind man and generous with his tips,” Elizabeth said.
“Nathan said you got attacked, Miss Norwood.” Clemmie said, and Nathan gave her a reproachful look.
“Now, Clemmie, Miss Norwood doesn’t want to be reminded of that,” he said, but fortunately it was then that Betty called them in for dinner and Elizabeth was spared any further embarrassment.
The table was set and the lamps in the dining room lit. There was a fine spread on the table, a loaf of cornbread, a delicious-smelling soup, boiled onions with cream sauce, thick slices of ham, and what looked like an apple pie, with a jug of cream next to it.
“My, what a feast,” Elizabeth said, and Betty smiled.
“Like I said, we don’t often have guests,” she replied.
“May I say grace before we begin?” Nathan asked.
“Of course,” Elizabeth said, for she always said grace before meals, just as her mother had taught her.
“Dear Lord, we thank you for this bounty you’ve set before us. May it give us strength to do your work. Bless all of us gathered here and help us to remember those less fortunate than ourselves. Give us the spirit of kindness and generosity towards our fellow man and make us thankful for all we have. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen,” Nathan said.
The others replied ‘Amen,’ and they sat down to an excellent dinner. Betty was a superb cook and Elizabeth couldn’t remember the last time she’d eaten so well, the occasional tidbit from Mr. Sullivan notwithstanding.
“So, tell me, do you two like school?” Elizabeth said, addressing the twins, who shrugged.
“We’d rather be playing outside,” Clemmie said, and her brother nodded.
“We like climbing trees. I’m better than Clemmie, though,” he said, and his sister punched his arm.
“Are not, I climbed right to the top of the oak tree in Mrs. Lefey’s garden the other day and you only got half way up,” Clemmie said.
“And what did Mrs. Lefey say when she caught you, Clemmie?” Nathan asked, fixing his little sister with a stern gaze.
“That she’d have the Sheriff give us both a hiding if she caught us up there again,” Clemmie replied, and Nathan nodded.
“That’s right. And it looked pretty bad for me, didn’t it?” he said, as the twins nodded.
“I used to love climbing trees when I was a child. That sense of achievement when you got to the top and looked out over the rooftops,” Elizabeth said, causing Nathan to laugh.
“Don’t encourage them,” he said, shaking his head.
Betty served the apple pie and Nathan told her to give Elizabeth an extra-large slice.
“Oh, no, I’m already full, but thank you,” she protested, but Betty seemed not to hear and Elizabeth was presented with a piece of delicious pie, covered over in thick cream.
“Can we play a game after dinner, Nathan?” Clemmie asked, and Nathan nodded.
“Sure we can, perhaps Elizabeth knows one we could play?” he replied, and Elizabeth blushed.
“Oh, I don’t know. I don’t play many games these days,” she said.
“How about the memory game we play sometimes,” Georgie said, and Clemmie nodded.
“Oh, yes, I’ll collect up the things,” she said, jumping down from the table.
“Wait a moment, you’ve forgotten your thanksgiving,” Nathan said, and the little girl flushed red with embarrassment.
“Dear Lord, thank you for this food, bless this home, and bless us all as we take our rest. Amen,” she said, and Nathan nodded.
“Thank you, Clemmie. Off you go,” he said.
Clemmie soon came back with an armful of objects, which she proceeded to lay out on the table. Georgie brought a cloth from a drawer in the dresser and ceremoniously laid it over the objects on the table.
“All you have to do is remember what was under there,” he said, looking seriously at Elizabeth, who nodded.
“All right,” she said, and Georgie lifted up the sheet for a half minute of scrutiny, before laying it back down.
“Do you want to write them down?” he asked, but Elizabeth shook her head.
“I think I can manage, but we’ll see. All right, here goes. A dollar bill, a silver quarter, a playing card, a domino, a little ornament of a dog, a tin of corned beef, a book of verse, a wooden cross, a bar of soap, some pressed flower petals in a frame, a boot lace, a wooden block … oh … and a … school badge,” she said, smiling around triumphantly.
Clemmie and Georgie clapped, as the cloth was lifted off the objects and Nathan nodded approvingly.
“You got them all, except the neckerchief and the button that fell off my shirt last week that I still need to sew back on,” he said. “All right, Clemmie, you take something away and add something in, then I’ll have a try.”
They passed a delightful evening playing the game and talking with one another. Elizabeth hardly noticed the time going by and when the clock in the hallway struck ten, she looked up in amazement.
“Ten o’clock? Goodness me, I should be going. I’ve got to go work in the diner tomorrow,” she said, rising from the table.
“Do you have to go?” Clemmie asked, and Elizabeth nodded.
“I’m sorry, but I’m sure we can play again—if I’m invited, that is,” she said, blushing, as she looked at Nathan.
“Of course you’ll come again and as for you two, it’s high time you went off to bed. You’ve got school in the morning,” Nathan said, pointing the twins towards the staircase.
They wished Elizabeth a good night and with a good deal of complaining they made their way upstairs, leaving Nathan and Elizabeth alone in the hallway.
“Thank you for a lovely evening,” she said, smiling at him.
“I’ll walk you home. It’s dark now,” he said, reaching for his coat.
“Oh, no, there’s no need, really there isn’t. So long as that man is safely locked away now,” she replied.
“He’s locked up in the jailhouse. He won’t be attacking anyone again for a long time. You’ve nothing to be frightened of. Brokenfort is a decent place, with decent people, you know that as well as I do. Just a bad apple among the batch. But are you sure you won’t let me walk you home?” he asked, and Elizabeth shook her head.
“No, I’ll be quite all right. It’s not far and it’s early enough for there still to be people out. You’ve been very kind, Nathan, and I’ve loved meeting your brother and sister and Betty. You’re all so warm and welcoming,” she replied.
“We’ve been glad to have you. Look, there’s something I’d like to give you,” he said, reaching into his pocket.
To her surprise, he drew out a folded pocket knife, the metal finely engraved with an intricate pattern. He smiled at her, pressing it into her hands.
“For me?” she said, and he nodded.
“I’d like you to have it. It’ll make you feel safer, I’m sure, and it’ll make me feel better, too, if you really won’t let me walk you home,” he said.
“Well, thank you,” she replied, as he opened the door for her.
“Don’t mention it. I hope you’ll meet me again?” he asked.
“I certainly will,” she said. “Goodnight,” and she made her way down the porch steps and across the garden to the street.
At the gate, she paused and turned, waving to him, as he stood in the light of the oil lamp at the door.
“Goodnight,” he called out, and she knew he was still watching her as she made her way down the street.
“She was nice,” Clemmie said, as Nathan closed the door.
He had watched until Elizabeth had rounded the corner at the far end of the street before turning back inside.
“I thought you two had gone to bed?” Nathan said, as his brother and sister appeared at the top of the stairs.
“We like her,” Clemmie continued, ignoring her brother’s question.
You do?” Nathan said, and the two children nodded.
“She listens,” Georgie said.
“Were you sweethearts?” Clemmie asked, and Nathan laughed.
“No, Clemmie. We were friends, that’s all. But we lost touch and I’m glad we found each other again,” Nathan replied.
The clock now struck half past the hour and Nathan pointed to the bedroom doors, as Clemmie and Georgie made their way reluctantly to bed. He turned, to find Betty standing in the doorway of the parlor.
“What a nice young lady,” she said, and Nathan nodded.
“It sure was nice to get to talk to her,” he replied.
“You work too hard. Why don’t you take her out? Just the two of you?” Betty asked.
Ever since their mother had died, Betty had taken Nathan and the two children under her wing. She was family, not a servant, and now Nathan smiled at her and shook his head.
“I don’t know, Betty. She wouldn’t be interested in me, not like that,” he said, but Betty only laughed.
“What a disservice you do yourself, Master Nathan. Didn’t you see the way she looked at you? Go to Sullivan’s Diner tomorrow and see her again—she’d be glad of it, I can tell you,” Betty said, and she bustled off to the kitchen shaking her head.
Nathan sat in his father’s old armchair by the wood stove and closed his eyes. He pictured Elizabeth and wondered if Betty was right. She did seem to enjoy her evening and walking arm in arm with her through Brokenfort had made him feel good.
Perhaps I will go and see her tomorrow, he said to himself, yawning loudly and closing his eyes, as he found Elizabeth’s smiling face at the forefront of his mind.
Elizabeth was feeling ever so happy. What a delightful evening it had been and how charming Nathan was, a man with whom she was very glad to have been reacquainted. He made her feel young again, for few men ever showed interest in her, except those who passed complimentary words at the diner or tipped their hats to her on the street.
She slipped her hand into her pocket, feeling the reassuring presence of the pocket knife there and wondering what its provenance was. It was so intricately engraved and she felt amazed that Nathan had seen fit to make a gift of it to her. How kind he seemed, how thoughtful and generous.
I hardly know him.
She walked quickly along the main street and past Buffalo’s Saloon.
Glancing across the street, she could see Amelie balancing plates in the restaurant, but she wasn’t about to go and talk to her now. That could wait until the morning. Instead, she hurried on home, looking forward to bed and enjoying the delightful memory of the evening. How fortunate she’d been to meet Nathan again. This was surely all God’s plan, and as she climbed into bed that night, she offered up a prayer of thanks for this new chapter in her life and the hope of all which lay ahead.
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