Heartstrings – A Willow Creek Short Story
The Willow Creek Series
Life as a mail-order bride has turned out to be everything Grace Samuels thought it would be but after 13 years, her dreams of being a mother are still not fulfilled. When she finds a homeless girl living behind the mercantile in town, her motherly instincts kick into high gear but the girl has a secret that takes Grace and Rafe by surprise, a secret that will either tear them apart or give them both their heart’s desire.
* Look below for an excerpt.
Willow Creek, June, 1885
The sign on the door read Doctor Evan Reid and not a letter had changed since the day they were painted on the glass. Grace read the words for what had to be the hundredth time and took a steadying breath. If he told her to leave, then so be it, but the suspense was killing her.
Evan turned to her as she stepped inside, his ever present smile firmly in place. “Grace. It’s a pleasure to see you again.”
“And you as well. Welcome home.”
“Thank you.” He put the stack of notes in his hand down and stood to his full height. “I hope nothing’s wrong.”
“No, I’m perfectly healthy.”
“Well, that’s good.
She nodded and clutched her reticule. “How was the trip?” His smile wavered. Evan was one of the most perceptive men she’d ever met and if the look on his face was any indication, he knew exactly what she wanted.
“It was good.” He looked toward the door that led to his personal residence. Trying to find an escape if she had to guess. “The new doctor showed up right on schedule.”
“Oh, well, I’m sure the residents in Missoula are all pleased there’s a new permanent doctor in town.” Just get it over with, Grace. She fidgeted, then cleared her throat. “Do you have a moment?”
His smile returned and the tone of his voice told her he knew why she was there, just as she’d guessed. “I’ll always make time for you.”
Grace removed her bonnet and patted down her hair. “I hate to keep bothering you but did you find anything?”
The look on his face said he hadn’t.
“I’m sorry, Grace. I searched through every medical journal I could find in Missoula, but I saw nothing beyond what I’ve already told you.”
She hid her disappointment behind a weak smile.
“I’ll keep trying, though.”
He stared at her for a long moment and it looked as if he wanted to say something, but hesitated in doing so. Was he tired of her coming into his office asking for answers he didn’t have? Probably. She would be. “Whatever it is, Evan, just say it.”
He motioned to the chair next to his desk. “Come and sit down, Grace.” She wanted to refuse but settled into the seat to hear him out. If he told her to never come back, then so be it. Maybe that’s what it would take to convince her heart it was truly over. “I’m sure it’s tiring for me to keep coming in but helping Alex with those babies—“
“You don’t have to explain, Grace.”
The tears she promised not to shed burned her eyes. She lowered her gaze and blinked them away. Not once has she begrudged a second of time Alex asked her to help out. Tending to Catherine and James was the highlight of her day most of the time, but leaving them and going home alone wasn’t the same as rocking one of your own to sleep and laying them down knowing they would always be there. As much as she loved her niece and nephew, it was different than loving one of her own. Every time she looked at them, the face of her own baby, delivered months too early, filled her mind’s eye, and every time it did, her heart broke even more.
Evan took his seat behind the desk. “I spoke with the new doctor while I was in Missoula. He’s never run across a treatment for your condition but…”
“But what?” Grace prompted when he stopped talking.
He gave her a reassuring smile. “He told me of a medicine man who lives out near Guilford.”
Grace sat up straight in her seat. “A medicine man?” She blinked and clutched her bonnet in her hands. “You mean an Indian? That kind of medicine man?”
Evan nodded. “Yes.”
She opened her mouth several times but never made a sound.
“It’s just a suggestion, Grace. I’m not even sure what he’d do or how…”
A medicine man? Grace stood and paced away from the desk, stopping at the window. She moved the curtain aside, staring at the school for long minutes.
“Talk to Rafe,” he said. “See what he thinks. I’m here to answer any questions you have, you know this, but I don’t know what else to do. I’ve tried everything I can think of. It may be time to take a leap of faith.”
Faith was all she had left. She nodded, let the curtain fall and turned back to face him. She blinked to ease the sting of tears wanting to form in her eyes again. “I’ll talk to him.” She smiled, the corners of her mouth barely lifting. “I’ll let you know.”
She left and hurried down the sidewalk, ducking between the buildings and hurrying over to the bench nestled underneath the trees behind the mercantile. Countless days had been spent sitting there while her heart bled out what she thought was the last tear she had in her, but today proved she still had more. She hated feeling like this. Hated the pain that came with the wanting and cried until she felt hollow and the wind-chapped her cheeks nearly raw.
Dabbing the wetness from her face, she inhaled deeply, composed herself, and stood. She’d been gone too long and Alex would wonder where she was. Catherine and James would never be hers but she could love them as if they were. They were family after all and apparently the closest she’d ever get to being a mother.
* * * *
The expression on her face told him something was wrong. Rafe took the horses reins and opened his mouth to ask what happened but Grace turned and headed to the house without a word.
He saw to her horse, getting him bedded down for the night and finished his chores before heading inside. She was by the stove, her shoulders drooping. He hung his hat and crossed to where she stood. “Grace—” He didn’t get another word said before she turned, threw herself at him, and buried her face against his chest.
“Nothing,” she mumbled.
He laughed. “Woman, I’ve lived with you long enough to know that’s a lie.” He wrapped his arms around her, hugging her to him as he placed a kiss to the top of her head. “Now what is it?”
She sighed. “I saw Evan today.”
“—I know I shouldn’t but—”
“—No buts, Grace.” He pulled back enough he could see her and cupped her face in his hands. “I love you—”
“I know you do—”
“—Let me finish.” She sighed again and nodded her head, staring at his chest. “I love you and not having a baby will never change that.” His chest clenched when a single tear slid down her cheek. He brushed it away and leaned down, kissing her softly on the lips.
He’d lost count of how many times she’d done this. Gone to Evan with some new hope of being a mother burning in her eyes only to return disappointed and heartbroken all over again. Helping with Jesse and Alex’s twins over the last several months hadn’t help matters either but he didn’t have the heart to tell her to stop. It might be time to talk with Jesse instead. If they told Grace they were fine, then maybe she’d stop going over there every day on her own. Doubtful, but it was worth a try.
He wrapped her in his arms again, burying his nose in her hair. As much as he wanted to ignore the whole conversation, he couldn’t. “What did Evan say this time?”
She raised her head and for the first time that day met his gaze without looking distraught. “He found something while in Missoula.”
She nodded and glanced away, toying with the buttons on his shirt. “You’ll probably not like it though. I’m not even sure I do.”
“What is it?” When she didn’t answer, he cupped her chin and brought her head back up.
“The new doctor in Missoula told him of a medicine man who might be able to help.”
“Medicine man—as in an Indian?” She nodded. “Grace—”
“I knew you wouldn’t like it but it’s worth trying, don’t you think?”
No, he didn’t, but he didn’t say as much out loud.
She turned back to the stove and went into great detail about heading to Missoula to find this Indian. He let her talk, nodding when appropriate, and tried to think of a way to tell her visiting Indian territory wasn’t going to happen. She’d already lost three babies, one of which was big enough to see her tiny fingernails had already started to grow. The heartbreak those three failed pregnancies left behind wasn’t worth taking the risk again. He was losing the vibrant woman he married to one who was preoccupied and stressed and worrying herself into an early grave and he’d lost enough already. He wouldn’t lose her as well. Come morning, he’d talk to Jesse and put a stop to all this baby talk once and for all.
HEARTSTRINGS releases on February 14th! Look for it at all ebook retailers.