By Ginny Aiken
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When Faith married her husband Roger Nolan he seemed to be an upstanding businessman, owner of a remote mercantile outside the town of Bountiful, Oregon. But Faith quickly learned the truth-that her husband is dishonest in his business practices and likes his liquor, turning mean when he indulges. When Faith discovers that Roger has yet again failed to deliver critical winter supplies to Nathan Bartlett, owner of the nearby logging camp, she takes the order up the mountain herself. Furious, Roger confronts Faith when she returns, and she is knocked unconscious. When Faith wakes, she finds Roger dead in a pool of his own blood, and she soon stands accused of murder.
Having fought in the War Between the States, Nathan has seen enough violence to last a lifetime. He has always admired Faith’s quiet strength and integrity and finds it hard to believe such a gentle woman capable of harming anyone. However, Nathan begins to struggle with his instinct to protect Faith when evidence mounts against her.
As more and more people begin to think Faith is guilty, only her trust in God can give her the hope she needs to survive this trial.
…the souls of thine enemies, them shall he sling out, as out of the middle of a sling.
—1 Samuel 25:29
Hope County, Oregon—1880
With ease gained from experience, Faith Nolan measured then snipped a length of cord off the ball under the counter. She tied it around the neat, brown paper–wrapped package, and looked up at her new customer. "Will that be all, Mr. Purcell?"
The quiet man nodded. "Yep."
She handed him the totaled bill, then looked up to see who'd come into the general store. Inside the door stood Captain Curtis Roberts, the commanding officer at the nearby fort. She gave the polite Army man a nod in greeting, which was returned with a kind smile. He began to wander the store, but she caught him sending a glance her way although his back remained turned to her and her customer.
Mr. Purcell's lean cheeks turned ruddy above his brown beard. His gaze dropped to the counter. He shifted, shrugged, cleared his throat. "It's like this, Missus Nolan. We haven't been paid yet, since us new fellas just started working for Mr. Bartlett. But these days…why, it's mighty cold, ma'am, an' I'm needing warm und—er…well, you know."
From the corner where the captain stood studying cooking pots, Faith heard the sound of a choked chuckle. She smiled. So she wasn't the only one. It never failed to surprise her when the brawny lumberjacks turned shy around her, the person who actually sold them the unmentionables. "Yes, Mr. Purcell. You need your winter undergarments."
Relief bloomed over his weather-beaten face. "Yes, ma'am! Well, see…I've been wondering if you'd have mercy on me and be so kind as to put the sum on an account. I'll be good for it once Mr. Bartlett pays us next week."
The man, who'd only uttered two or three words since he'd entered the store, in discomfort seemed unable to stop the chatter. Faith glanced over her shoulder, leaned over the counter to look out the front window, and listened for a moment. She again checked the bill, a reasonably small one, then, with a cheery smile, said, "Yes, Mr. Purcell. We can do that—"
"No, we can't!" Roger roared from behind Faith.
Panic shot through her. Her heart pounded. Her hands chilled. Where had he come from? She'd checked to see if her husband was anywhere near only a few minutes ago, and she hadn't seen—or heard—a thing. "He's—"
"New around here," Roger said, spitting the words out as though they were something foul he'd tasted. "I heard."
Faith clasped her hands tight to hide the trembling.
The crisp rap of boot heels told her the captain was approaching. Oh, dear. How humiliating for such a gentleman to observe this dreadful moment.
Roger snorted. "And we don't know if he's gonna jist run with the merchandise and never come back."
"But, Roger, he's said he's working for Mr. Bartlett—"
"That don't make no never mind. You know the rules, Faith Nolan, and you better follow them."
Out the corners of her eyes she saw uniform-clad legs reach the corner of the counter. "Might I be of assistance?" Captain Roberts asked.
"Nothing to help," Roger muttered in dismissal. "It's all just between my missus and me."
When Faith realized Roger's words had served to turn the captain's attention back on her, she wished she could fade into the background. Instead, however, she felt frozen, caught in the Army man's fixed stare. Then she noticed what had caught his gaze. The large, angry bruise above her wrist, visible since she'd pushed her sleeves a bit up her arms as she worked, was not something one could miss.
Her gaze flew to his face. She saw pity painted there.
Shame seared her. A blush burned all the way up her neck and cheeks. She shoved her sleeves down, tugged them as far as they would go. In as firm a voice as she could summon, she said, "I…um…sorry, Roger. It won't happen again. I'll finish up here—"
"No, you won't be finishing up nothing." He glared at her. "I'll handle this, seeing as you can't do a single, blamed thing right. Go on. Git on out of here, woman."
Faith sucked in a ragged breath on her way to the back storage room, the weight of three stares heavy on her already burdened shoulders. It was setting up to be a long, difficult night. Oh, Father, don't abandon me now—
"He will be good for it next week," Nathan Bartlett, owner of the logging camp up the mountain, said from just inside the front door. Faith paused to listen. "I'll be making my payroll as I always do. You can extend him credit, Nolan. You know I keep a tight rein on my men, and I don't cotton with workers who can't—or won't—keep their word. He said he'd pay next week, and I expect him to do so."
From the relative shelter of the back doorway, Faith looked from Mr. Bartlett to her beefy husband and back. Few ever stood up to Roger. He was a large man, more burly and heavyset than tall, but powerful and cursed with a legendary temper. It took little to arouse it to full steam. To cross him was to jolt it awake.
The lumberman didn't look in the least intimidated. She wished she had that strength, that assurance.
Then again, Mr. Bartlett was tall, very tall indeed, one of the tallest men she'd ever seen, she reckoned, and he had the broad shoulders and powerful, muscular build to go along with his height. She, on the other hand, while tall for a woman, was built on a small frame.
Her husband narrowed his mud-brown eyes. For a moment, she feared he would argue with Mr. Bartlett, who had always been kind and polite to her whenever he'd come into the general store. But a quick look at the lumberman—silent, expectant, immovable—allowed her to ease her taut posture. It didn't look as though Mr. Bartlett would put up with any of Roger's tomfoolery any more than he did welchers.
Faith worried her bottom lip between her teeth. Without the logging camp's business, the Nolans' livelihood would be threatened. The bulk of their business came from Mr. Bartlett and the men at the camp.
Under Mr. Bartlett's unyielding gaze, Roger flinched. He patted back his thinning, gray-brown hair, tightened his lips, and jutted out his jowl-wreathed chin. "Fine, but if he don't pay me next week, I'll come after you for the cash, Bartlett. Understood?"
Instead of answering the belligerent question, Mr. Bartlett turned to his new employee. "What do you say, Purcell? Do you give Mr. Nolan your word? Will you pay him next week?"
The new logger nodded. "Yessir, Mr. Bartlett. I told the lady I'd be paying next week, and I will. I'm no shirker, sir."
His boss turned back to Roger. "Satisfied, Nolan? He's given you his word."
Roger hesitated once more, his fists clenched behind the counter where the men couldn't see them. Faith's stomach clamped tighter.
"I also," Mr. Bartlett said, stepping closer to Roger, his features more rigid and inflexible than even the mountain where he'd set up his camp, "give you my word. If Purcell here should fail to pay what he owes, you can come after me. I'll make good on the debt—you know I always do."
Faith blushed, thinking Roger had never dealt as honorably with the logger in return.
"And will you be having enough to cover?" Roger asked "It strikes me you been hiring men left and right and building some flumes and spending, spending, spending. I know my account ain't but a drop in a rainstorm to ya, but I still need paying."
With a look toward his new employee, the lumberman gave a jerk of his head toward the door.
Mr. Purcell hurried out, brown parcel under his arm.
Mr. Bartlett turned his flinty gaze toward Roger again. "Have I ever failed to pay?"
A muscle bunched in her husband's fleshy cheeks. "You ain't yet—but I always say there's a time for everything."
"Not for this," the logger countered. "I'm good for Purcell's bill. And for mine, as well. Which brings me back to my own business. I came about those things that were missing from my last order. I hadn't heard from you yet, but surely they've come in by now."
The muscle twitched again, making the jowl quiver, and Roger shot a warning glare at Faith. She shrank farther into the storeroom, but still left the door ajar to allow herself the chance to see what would happen next. The outcome of the confrontation would give her a good idea what she could expect later that night.
Her husband turned back to the lumberman. "Uh…there's been a holdup with the order. Not all I ordered's come in yet, and your other supplies were in what…ah…didn't show up. You'll have to wait till the next shipment."
Mr. Bartlett crossed his arms, and Faith again noted how solid he was. His broad chest and powerful arms reminded her of the trunks of some of the trees he harvested from the forest around them.
He'd always struck her as one who tolerated no nonsense, and Roger's blatant lie was nothing if not pure nonsense. With deliberate movements, Mr. Bartlett uncrossed his arms and approached the counter, his boots tapping an ominous beat against the store's wooden floor, his face in a tight frown. "I paid you, Nolan. In cash." He placed his hands on the counter, leaning right up into Roger's face. "My men work hard, and they need their food. You're my one and only source, seeing as you're the one with the mules to make it safely up the trail to the camp. No food means my men are in danger during the winter. Food, Nolan. We're talking about basic food. That, at least, shouldn't be too hard to get brought in through Bountiful. The equipment can always wait. Food can't."
Red in the face, Roger shrugged, leashed rage smoldering in his eyes. "I jist know what I know. I ordered your stuff, and it ain't here. I don't have your food or more of them other supplies. I can't do nothing about it. I s'pose you'll jist have to wait 'til the next shipment comes in. Maybe your missing stuff'll be in with that order."
Frustration narrowed Mr. Bartlett's eyes and bracketed both sides of his mouth. He blew out a gust of a sigh, shoved his sun-gold-shot hair off his forehead, and straightened. "You see that you let me know as soon as it does get here. I'll be waiting to hear."
"Sure thing." Roger made his tone careless. "I'll let you know."
Yes, Roger would let Mr. Bartlett know when his order arrived…when he felt like it. If he couldn't make an advantageous trade with someone with deeper pockets. Or a more attractive exchange.
As he had done the day before.
Faith had no idea who'd benefited from Mr. Bartlett's shipment, she only knew it had arrived two days earlier, and yesterday, when she'd gone to check the delivery against the original list, she'd found the corner of the back room where they always kept the camp's order empty again.
"None of your business," Roger had said when she'd asked, his voice a rough snarl. "It ain't here. I s'pose I'll git him stuff soon enough."
When Mr. Bartlett headed for the front door, Faith hurried to the stove. She needed to have a meal ready for when Roger closed up the store, or his temper would know no bounds. After a handful of muffled statements from Captain Roberts, she heard the door open and close. She sliced potatoes faster, skillfully missing her fingers in the process, even though the trembling hadn't abated much.
It surprised her, however, when her husband didn't immediately show up in their living quarters behind the store. Could he have left with the Army man? She supposed it didn't matter. She chose to appreciate the blessed silence that reigned in the building.
When the old brass cowbell on the front door jangled, Faith glanced up, craning her neck to peer through the doorway into the store. Theo Nolan, Roger's younger brother, stomped in, a sour look on his face, a box in his arms. Glass clinked with his every step, and Faith didn't know whether to cringe or relax. The two brothers would soon open one of the whiskey bottles in the box. She hoped they'd drink themselves into a stupor. Otherwise, Faith's evening would become, instead of merely dreadful, dangerous.
"You sss-shtupid cow!" Roger bellowed later that night, as soon as Theo staggered off to his room. Each one of Roger's steps brought him closer to Faith. "How many times do I…do I hafta tell ya? No credit! Them loggers…you give 'em a shh-chance, they'll rob me blind. You worthless thing, you. Dunno why I ever thought marrying up with you made any sss-sense."
The sour stench of the spirits Roger had swigged in the company of his brother smacked Faith's senses well before his fleshy palm struck her cheek. Her head jerked sideways. Her cheek stung hot. Tears scalded her eyes. Shame burned through her.
Her instinctive urge to defend herself surged, but with three years of experience behind her, she smothered it. The last time she'd fought back, Roger had come at her with redoubled rage. She'd spent days with her arm in a protective sling and both eyes puffed nearly shut.
"Do I hafta…um…hafta pound it into ya? No credit, you hear?"
Hand on her stinging cheek, she nodded. Panting, she met his gaze. "Ye—yes. I hear."
With a satisfied smirk, he reeled around and wove his way to the large brown-upholstered armchair he favored. He collapsed with a grunt and a belch. "Now, sss-see here, you lazy pig. Where's my supper? Don't tell me y'ain't made me nothing to eat yet."
Faith shook her head. "You know I wouldn't do that, Roger. Supper's ready. Let me dish up."
Anger roiled inside her, hot, impotent anger. He was questioning why he'd married her? She had yet to do anything untoward. She'd never done anything to hurt her husband. He, on the other hand, hurt her in a multitude of ways on a daily basis. Why had she ever thought marriage to Roger Nolan would solve anything?
She ladled a large serving of mutton stew from the kettle on the Excelsior iron stove into a deep bowl, then put three golden biscuits, split and buttered, on a small plate. She set it all on the solid oak kitchen table, and slid the honey pot closer to his place.
"It's ready," she said in a voice firmer than she felt inside. She poured a glass of milk, her husband's preferred drink with meals.
In seconds, he tucked in, shoveling the food into his mouth as fast as he could.
Faith shuddered. She returned to the stove, served her portion, and set the food aside. She'd eat after Roger finished. It was better that way.
She turned to the broad shelf where she kept her enameled steel washbasin, poured in steaming water from the ever-present hot kettle, cooled it with some from the bucket by the back door, and began to clean up. As she scrubbed at a scorched spot in the bottom of the iron kettle where she'd made the stew, she thought about how different Roger had seemed when they'd met.
Three years ago, she'd found herself utterly alone when her parents died during a raid by a band of rogue Nez Percé Indians. At the time the attack happened, she'd been at Metcalf's General Store in Bountiful, picking up supplies, and had been spared her family's fate. The killers had burned the homestead after doing in both Mama and Papa. They'd also taken their second horse, the cow, chickens, and the flock of sheep.
She'd been devastated.
And she'd had nowhere to go.
Each of the families in Bountiful had offered to take her in, but she hadn't been able to stomach the notion of charity, much less their pity. Nor had she wanted to become anyone's unpaid servant.
Two bachelors had come with offers of marriage. One had been a young ranch hand from another sheep operation near her family's land. The thought of going back to where the devastation had occurred had turned Faith's stomach, and since she'd had no feelings for the fellow, it had been easy to turn him down.
She'd thought Roger Nolan, the plump, well-to-do owner of the small general store up the mountain near the logging camp, would be a better choice. He'd struck her as settled and able to provide a decent living for them and the family she hoped she would someday have. He'd been polite, well-dressed, and soft-spoken, and he'd promised not to push her into anything she wasn't ready for.
She'd believed him. Surely the Lord would in time bless them with an abiding affection for each other. And so, in spite of Reverend Alton's qualms, she'd gone ahead and married Roger Nolan.
What a bitter mistake that had been.
Roger had a true talent to change on a whim. He should have joined a performing group. By now, she'd come to know any number of Roger Nolans.
Not only did he have that ability to change personality, but he'd also lied when she'd asked him if he was prone to drinking spirits. He'd assured her he was as dry as Hope County's dirt these past few years of drought.
As for not pushing her into anything she wasn't ready for…well, he'd assaulted her on their wedding night and every night since when he didn't drink himself into an unconscious stupor.
She glanced over her shoulder, and saw that Roger had finished his meal and returned to his armchair, a bottle of whiskey on the small table beside the chair. She cleared the table quickly. When done, she turned away from Roger to mask the bitter tears that stung her eyes. He took advantage of any opportunity, and he saw her tears as pure weakness. He'd come after her, seemingly for the sheer pleasure of asserting his dominance.
Sure, he controlled every aspect of their lives. But he couldn't touch her heart. She'd encased her feelings in a steel box.
And despite all he did, she sheltered still-smoldering embers of trust in her heavenly Father. Mama and Papa had lived with blessed assurance of His goodness, mercy, and love, and they'd passed it to Faith. She held on—weakly these days, true, but she still did—to God's promises. Her one personal possession, beyond the clothes on her back and the change hanging on the peg in the bedroom, was Mama's old, leather-bound Bible. She started each morning at the kitchen table with that battered but treasured book open before her, a cup of coffee by her hand, tears in her eyes, pleas for mercy on her lips.
She'd thought of leaving…oh, at least ten times a day. But where would she go? What would she do?
If she ran, she'd wind up right back where she'd been the day her parents died. And this time, she'd be a runaway married woman.
For better…for worse…'til death do you part…
A rumbling snore tore into her thoughts. She glanced at Roger, noticed the bottle, its contents far lower than they'd been the last time she'd checked. Once again, he'd drunk himself into oblivion.
Thank you, Lord.
She couldn't believe she'd reached the point of gratitude for unbridled drinking, but it was only in times like these that she found a few hours of peace. During those moments, she heard no ugly words, submitted to no unreasonable demands, endured no pain for her slightest infraction of Roger's multitude of rules. She dried her hands on the length of towel she kept hung on a hook to the far side of the stove.
No. She'd given her word. Running at this time wasn't the answer, for more than one reason. She trusted God to provide the answer in His perfect way and in His perfect time. If she was to run, He'd make it perfectly clear. If Roger was to change, she'd welcome the change the moment it happened. She only hoped the Father's time would come soon.
No matter when it came, it never would be too soon for her.
The earthy, musky scent of the dark rickety barn that stood a handful of yards behind the general store embraced Faith as nothing else did these days. Her kerosene lamp gave off a golden glow in a halo around her, casting shadows in every nook and corner of the immaculate barn. Gentle snuffles and shifting hooves on hay let her know her presence was noted and mighty welcome. She smiled.
"Maisie, my girl." Faith picked up a small tin pail of alfalfa chunks, and approached the odd, wide stall where Roger housed their animals. While he could have built three proper stalls, one for each creature, he certainly hadn't been willing to go through the bother. A cross between a horse's whicker and a donkey's bray burst from the animal's lips. "Hush! You don't want Roger to hear. I'll have to leave, and you won't get any treats if I do. You want these goodies, right? Tonight I brought you carrots. They're awful sweet."
The mule propped her chin on the stall door, rattling it under the weight of her head, her lips baring chunky ivory teeth. With a lightness that never failed to impress Faith, Maisie nipped up the alfalfa in the middle of her palm, gave it only the briefest chew, then gulped it down. Another whickery bray followed.
Insistent stomping broke out a few feet down the length of the stall. "Wait your turn, my friend," Faith responded.
At the spot where Roger had placed the next feed bin in the stall, Daisy was already waiting for her share of goodies. She greeted Faith with a warm, damp nuzzle on the neck. "Be careful there, my dear one. Don't you go getting any spit on Roger's old coat." She snugged the wool garment closer, and ran her hand over the lapels to check for moisture. "You'd think he'd have given up on this old thing, what with all the mending I've done to it. But he's just as tetchy about anything happening to it as if it were his newest one."
The old coat was the warmest garment available to Faith. She used it any time she came out to see the mules at night, when Roger was sleeping off another bender. Her knitted wool shawl wasn't adequate for the winter weather here halfway up the mountain. Still, she loved it, since she'd raised and shorn the sheep that had provided the wool, she'd spun the yarn and knit the wrap. It was the last one she'd made before the Indian raid.
The stomping at the third bin let her know someone was impatient. "I told you many a time. It's ladies first."
A snort told her what the male mule thought of that.
Faith rubbed Daisy's head and received another loving nuzzle in response. "You're a sweetheart, too, missy."
Maisie gave her distinctive whickery bray.
Faith sent the mule a sideways glance. "Ah, you're jealous, are you? Never to worry. I love all three of you, and you all know it. But you, my Maisie? You've got yourself a special corner of my heart all to yourself."
The sweet, gentle animal had shown Faith an uncommon affection from the moment she arrived at the Nolan property. Many a night, she'd spent hours weeping into the thick coat over Maisie's warm neck, despairing of ever finding any more joy in her days than what she found with these animals. They always welcomed her, responding to her tender care like flowers did to rain. Roger wasn't rough-handed with only Faith.
More stomping. This time, the stall door rattled in unison with the irritated, impatient clomps.
Faith chuckled. "Well, mister. I suppose it is your turn, now, isn't it?" She slipped the pail's wire handle over her arm, then sidled over to the last mule. He was waiting for her. "I fed you already today, didn't I? You can't be as hungry as you make it seem. Besides, all I have for you tonight is alfalfa and carrots."
It didn't matter. He would eat anything and everything she offered him, and always asked for more. He had been growing rather plump around the middle, a fact that Faith had noted and was taking pains to correct. "You can't spend your days sleeping and eating, you know. Why, the girls work more than you do. And you're supposed to be the bravest and strongest one, the leader of our little pack. But, no. You leave that job to Miss Maisie, don't you?"
Oh, yes. Stronger, he was. But he was also prone to complain whenever asked to do his duty. Each time Faith loaded the three animals to take the supplies up to the logging camp, the girls went fairly well. At least, Maisie always did. Daisy followed placidly along behind Maisie.
But this fella…?
"You know, big boy?" She scratched his head. He rubbed the velvety area between his forelock and muzzle up against the underside of her chin in gratitude. The big, old foot-dragger was a sweet boy, too. "Roger did at least one thing right. He gave you the perfect name, now didn't he? I've never known a more slothful critter than you, Lazy!"
Holding out the last carrot to the greedy animal, Faith sighed. Who'd have thought she'd end up all alone but for three mules as friends? "Isn't that a sorry state? But, at least you are here. I'd have gone mad, pure raving mad indeed, if I hadn't had you."
- "In this engrossing second installment of her Women of Hope historical series, Aiken delivers a beautiful, inspirational slice of life set in 1880s Oregon.... Rich with detail, the events unfold very naturally."— Publishers Weekly
- "Aiken's second Women of Hope novel connects nicely to the first.... The 1880 Oregon setting is accurately illustrated and the heroine's journey to renewed faith in God is nicely depicted."—RT Book Reviews
- "Masterful storytelling, witty dialogue, and characters you'll never forget."—Lori Copeland, author Brides of the West series on For Such a Time As This
- "[A]n engaging tale of duty, romance, family, and love....I'll be eager to see what character Ms. Aiken chooses next to feature in this exciting new series."—Serena Chase, USAToday.com on For Such a Time as This
- "Ginny Aiken is a captivating storyteller who offers her readers a delightful journey they won't soon forget."—Debra White Smith, author of The Seven Sister Series
- "Ginny Aiken has a beautiful ability to mingle comedy with tragedy, making the reader laugh and cry almost in the same breath."—Hannah Alexander, author, Last Resort and Note of Peril, Christy Award winner
- On Sale
- Jun 18, 2013
- Page Count
- 368 pages