Book 1 of The Healing Hearts Series
Summary: It is nearing the end of 1866’s spring. Having found true love, Adam is at long last feeling complete after being rejected by Laura Dayton the summer before. But, while a web of intrigue is being spun by a mysterious personage and a kidnapping occurs, can Adam find enough inner strength in time to save his own heart from final ruination? Can he solve the mystery before his family is destroyed? Will his heart be forever doomed to remain isolated and alone?
Rated T No swearing or graphic violence. (32,514 words)
The Healing Hearts Series:
Smoke Rings in the Dark
“Boss? I said what do ya think?”
The room was dark and silent except for the large window letting in the nighttime glow from the town. A shadow moved from a chair in the darkened corner and materialized into the dim light. Puffs of smoke drifted upwards and hung thick in the air from the cigar gripped between the fingers of the regal personage. The nervous man could see a smile beginning to play on his employer’s lips as the other man gazed down onto the street below; he seemed to be amused by something he was witnessing.
“I think…,” the emerged man inhaled another draw from his cigar. “…that everything is going to work just the way I want it to.” He turned to his employee and deliberately pointed the cigar. “Now don’t forget to place that watch and handkerchief at the scene after the job is completed, you hear. Without those, we might as well forget about the whole deal.”
“Yes, sir. Don’t ya worry, sir. I…I’ll get it done alright.” Despite his morbid occupation, the hired-gun felt squeamish and wished desperately to be released from this suffocating hotel room. He slapped his hat back on and turned as if to leave but his hand on the doorknob was temporarily stopped.
“Decker!” The other man turned back to the window. “Make sure that the body is…unidentifiable. We wouldn’t want anyone recognizing it, would we?”
“No, sir…I’ll handle it.”
“Then you best get to it, haven’t you?” Another plume of smoke floated up and frosted against the cold window. The door closed with a click and the face staring out of the same glass smiled fully. His plan was in motion, everything was going as planned. Ben Cartwright would get his just due in good time. After all, what was worse than seeing one’s own son suffer and being able to do nothing to stop it? Indeed, what? I should know…The lips turned down into a frown. The man strode over to light the lamp on the desk and then he sat down to write a letter. After he had finished, he rang for the bellboy and gave the lad the envelope along with a huge tip to ensure his silence. The awed young boy left the room with the impression that he had just been in the presence of a self-less man. Nothing could be further from the truth, my boy, nothing further from the truth. The man stood and gazed down once more on the young couple strolling in the moonlight; one more singular puff of smoky haze floated up to the ceiling.
* * * * *
The crisp night was lovely to the young woman’s eyes as she walked down the darkened sidewalk while nestled under her date’s arm. The evening had been perfection and continued to charm in its innocence. The jolly sounds of the town dance were floating into retreat on the still air and the lights from the homes were casting their yellow glow onto the street. The two slowly walked by the dark houses with a lazy pace.
Evangeline Williams sighed with contentment and paused to stand and observe the sparkling pinpricks of the stars above her; she marveled at how many there were. She turned her coiffured head and caught Adam Cartwright observing her with his honey-brown eyes filled with similar sparkles of light. She shivered with pleasure upon seeing the love reflected in those orbs. The corners of Adam’s cupid-bow mouth turned up in a gentle smile and his cheeks dimpled. His right arm surrounding Evangeline’s shoulders dropped to her waist and pulled her slim body up against himself. She shivered again for a different reason, not having realized that she had been cold.
Adam couldn’t believe his luck as he gazed into the innocent pale-blue eyes looking up at him with adoration. The moonlight highlighted the girl’s brown tresses and made her skin appear as white porcelain while the forest-green color of her cape framed her slender neck to perfection. Her pink and very-desirable lips parted to speak with a soft whisper, “Thank you, Adam. Thank you for talking me into coming tonight. The past two days have been so horrible and…I never could imagine a night like this one could ever exist…here, with you.”
Adam’s dimples deepened, his eyes twinkled with desire and the smile turned into a grin. He looked around hurriedly to be sure of no witnesses before guiding his fiancée into a shadowed alley by the general store. Evangeline giggled at the scandalous act. Tangling her fingers in his black hair, she wrapped her arms around Adam’s neck. He dipped his head to capture her lips and her eyes slowly opened as their faces drew apart.
“Oh, darling, I love you so much.” Evangeline breathed as she laid her head on Adam’s chest.
Warm and cozy in his embrace, she contentedly listened to the slow and steady beating of his heart. She then continued with a more adamant tone, “Poppa won’t cause trouble for you, will he, Adam? I don’t know what has gotten into him. It was his idea for me to move to Virginia City but these past weeks alone back East must have done something to him. Now he thinks that he can come out here and within a day, tell me who not to be with!” Evangeline sighed into Adam’s coat and hugged him tighter. “Adam, I couldn’t bear to lose you. Please be careful around Poppa, won’t you? I need you, so very much.”
Adam smiled into her hair then he leaned back and wrapped both arms around her waist. He kissed the tip of her nose. “Don’t worry about your father, sweetheart, I can handle him. He doesn’t think a country boy like me is good enough for you and I might even agree with him.”
Evangeline opened her mouth to object but Adam placed a finger to her lips and continued, “But we love each other and that it is all that matters. Frank will come around eventually and besides…,” Adam winked impishly. “What’s not to like about me?”
Quiet laughter issued from the alley followed by an impassioned silence as the couple lingered on with one more intertwining kiss. They then stepped out into the dimly lit street again to continue their walk onward to the Williams’ home. Upon their arrival at the house front, Evangeline noticed with dismay that her father’s study was lit while the rest of the two-story dwelling remained dark. Evangeline raised a hand to Adam’s chest to halt his entrance through the white picket gate.
He turned his dark head to her with a quizzical look. “Angie, what’s the matter?”
Evangeline inclined her head toward the house. “Poppa is still awake, you’d best not come to the house. I don’t want any more trouble between the two of you, Adam.”
Adam’s lips turned into a contemplative pout. “Angie, we can’t sneak around behind your father’s back forever. It isn’t right, you know that. Sooner or later he needs to be told that we are engaged. The wedding is in less than a month.”
Evangeline nodded, “Yes, I know, but please, Adam, let’s not have anymore confrontations tonight. Poppa might just need a little time and then I’m sure that he will like you. After all, he has only known you for three days! It takes much longer than that to build any kind of relationship and once he gives you a chance, he’ll see how much I love you. He’s a good man, Adam, just a little set in his ways, you could say.”
Adam quirked a dubious eyebrow, his left cheek dimpling.
“Okay, okay, more than a little bit but I do love him, Adam. I suppose I need time too, to explain things to him. Ever since Momma died, he’s been the only one left I could live for. I can’t simply walk out on him without…trying to make him understand.” Evangeline’s eyes glistened as she struggled with the rising emotions of loyalty she felt for both of her beloved men. Adam placed a finger under her chin and tipped her head back so that his understanding hazel eyes could meet her moist blue ones.
Tenderly he spoke, “Angie, sweetheart, you don’t have to choose between us. I will more than happily make peace with him if he is willing but you need to know that I won’t give you up without a fight. I’d rather die first. I love you so very much, my love.”
Evangeline smiled tearfully, her heart reminding her for the millionth time why she loved this man so. She leaned forward and tapped his lips with her own in a chaste imitation of their earlier kiss. Adam watched her go; he thought of the love he had for her and the happiness trying to burst his heart and a soft sigh escaped his mouth. How beautiful she looked, how angelic as she turned back with her hand on the doorknob and smiled at him. Even though she probably couldn’t see it in the dark, Adam winked at her. With a smile lingering on his face and a spring in his stride, he walked back down the street to his horse; unknowing that tragedy would claim his feeling of euphoria, mere hours from that moment.