You never know when I might play a wild card on you!
Lisa T. Bergren is an author who offers a wide array of reading opportunities ranging from children’s books (God Gave Us Love and God Found Us You) and women’s nonfiction (Life on Planet Mom), to suspense-filled intrigue (The Gifted Trilogy) and historical drama. With more than thirty titles among her published works and a deep faith that has weathered dramatic career and personal challenges, Bergren is excited to add the Homeward Trilogy to her resume as she follows God’s direction in her writing career. Bergren lives in Colorado Springs, Colorado, with her husband Tim (a graphic design artist and musician) and their three children.
Visit the author's website.
List Price: $14.99
Paperback: 384 pages
Publisher: David C. Cook; New edition (April 1, 2010)
AND NOW...THE FIRST CHAPTER:
Surely she hadn't heard him right. Moira stared with disbelief at the ledger the bank manager turned toward her. “What do you mean I cannot withdraw this much? I have thousands of francs here.”
“You did, Mademoiselle. Until this morning, when Monsieur Foster came and extracted all but the last thousand.”
“Max? Mr. Max Foster came and withdrew these funds?”
“Oui. It was his biggest withdrawal yet. But as you know, he has full access to your bank account. He makes withdrawals all the time. I assumed this was no, as you say … different.”
“Different?” The word emerged from her mouth in a high-pitched squeak. She swallowed hard and looked above that final ledger entry--10,000 francs--to other withdrawals. A thousand. Fifteen hundred. Sometimes twice a week. Her mind raced. Max, her manager of almost three years, paid her servants, the landlord. He paid for the groceries delivered each day. The oilman for the oil that filled her lamps. It took money, a lot of money to pay for all those things. But this much?
“Mademoiselle,” the bank manager said carefully, peering over tiny spectacles at her, “has something transpired here that causes you alarm?”
“Non, non,” she said, gathering herself. “Monsieur Foster and I merely need to converse. I am certain there is good reason for him to withdraw funds today. I simply have forgotten. Forgive me, Monsieur. My run at the Opera Comiqué has left me a bit … weary.”
“I understand,” he said, rising with her. “And may I say that your performance has been unparalleled in this city for some time? Paris is fortunate to have you, Mademoiselle St. Clair.”
“You are too kind,” she said. “Bon jour.” “Bon jour,” he said with a nod. But his dark eyes still held the same concern that flooded Moira's heart.
Max Foster would be at Madame Toissette's tea later today--she would speak with him then. But before he took a sip of her fine Earl Gray, he would explain to Moira where her money had gone.
15 March 1887
Hoarfrost covers every branch and every bit of every tree within sight. It is beautiful, a sight I always favor, but in this instance, it makes me more fearful than ever. For below it is more snow than I've ever seen. More snow than Bryce or Tabito have ever seen. And while it has ceased for the moment, leaving behind a brilliant blue sky that showcases mountains in bridal white, Tabito believes more is on the way. Tonight? Tomorrow? It would take weeks to melt the snow already here. The men--
Samuel's cry brought Odessa's head up, and she set her pen aside and went to the babe in the next room. Now seven months old, the child quieted when he spotted his mother, gurgling a pleased coo and wiggling his arms and legs in vigorous excitement. She lifted him and cradled him close for a moment, running her lips over his sweet, soft cheek. She reached for another blanket, frowning at the chill in the room, and returned to the window over her desk, one of only two in the house that were not either frosted or sealed over by the vast snowbanks.
Her eyes traced the channel the men had dug from the bunkhouse to the main house and then over the hill to where the stables and shelters stood. She'd watched them taking turns with the digging until the bank on either side was shoulder high. Against the house, where the wind had driven into drifts, the white piles had been as high as the second-story windows on the western side and not much lower to the south and north. The men had dug them out each day, but each night as they slept through the high, dry wail of the wind, the drifts returned.
“Never, ever, have I seen this much snow,” Bryce had said, staring out a whitewashed window as if he could somehow bore through it and see his horses. That had been yesterday, when they wondered if the snow would ever stop. And then this morning it had.
The men were immediately at it, attempting to get to the hundred horses that had been left to battle the elements on their own. Only fifty could be in the stables at a time or sheltered in the corrals that lined it. They had found food and water throughout the storm. But the others? Those who had naught but the small snow breaks that dotted the fields? Odessa shook her head. Judging from the house, they might have all long been buried. Please, God, please … please let them be all right.
The passageway through which the men had disappeared remained silent and empty, a yawning chasm of doubt and fear. After a couple brutal years of drought, much of Odessa's inheritance had gone into an extension of acreage that gained the Circle M increased water rights. Could the horses out there even get to water? Were they pawing and digging their way down to streams that were frozen solid?
Odessa blinked twice and turned, deciding to do something rather than stand there and fret. Bread, six loaves, she'd bake. A thick and hearty beef stew the men would love after their bone-chilling, hard work. An apple cobbler from her stash of summer preserves. “Come, Samuel,” she whispered, drawing comfort from the weight of him in her arms. She carried him down the stairs and into the kitchen, then set him on the floor atop a thick blanket, near the stove, which she blocked off by turning a chair on its side. It was so dark with the snow that embalmed the windows--despite the bright sun outside--she lit a couple of lamps, stoked the fire, handed Samuel a tin cup to play with, and turned to pull out flour and sugar.
Later, with the bread rising by the stove, she fed Samuel while she sat in her rocker, wondering how much longer it would take for Bryce, anyone, to return to her. She was desperate for word. By now they had surely made it to the snow breaks, assessed the losses--
It was then that she heard the stomping on the front porch, the low murmur of voices. She hurriedly pulled Samuel from her breast. She ignored his indignant cry, her eyes only on the front door as she rushed to meet her husband. He turned to her, and she could see the men walking away with stooped shoulders. But it was Bryce, her dear, sweet Bryce, who captured her whole attention. It was as if he had aged a decade, or suffered from consumption again, so weary and ill did he appear.
“Bryce,” she said.
He stepped forward and slowly closed the door behind him, then gradually raised his eyes to meet hers. Tears welled and threatened to roll down his cheeks.
“Oh!” she said, clamping her lips shut, feeling tears clench her throat. “All of them, Bryce? Are they all dead?” She moved forward to wrap one arm around him. Samuel wailed louder than ever, infuriated by the crush of his parents. But the two adults remained there as each gave way to the tremors of sobs.
Her husband wiped his cheeks with the palms and then the backs of his hands, trying to regain control. “Best we can tell, the storm took many of them.” He took another deep breath. “Some might have made it to the far side, instinctively heading for the shelter of the trees. But we'll need a week of melt before we can make it across to see. And we can't--” his voice broke and he wept for a moment--“we can't even be sure how many are there, by the snow breaks. They're buried, Dess. Buried. Stood there, waiting for us to save them.”
She moved back in to hold him, crying with him again. Dear God … Please. Please. The mere idea of it, the overwhelming vision of a hundred horses now dead.… No, no, no. Savior, please! What would become of them? The ranch depended on the income of the sale of a hundred and fifty horses each summer. One hundred already dead? And with more snow coming? Her eyes went to the front parlor window, a dark bank of dense snow. Show us, Lord. Show us what to do. We need You. We need You!
15 March 1887
Rio de Janeiro
“Come, Son, we have need of your services,” said a man gruffly, hauling Dominic to his feet.
Nic winced, both at the rapid motion and the bright light of morning. His stomach roiled and his head spun. Whatever they were pouring last night at the bar was hard on a man's gut, even one used to liquor. He squinted, trying to see the men who were on either side of him as they rushed him down the stairs, out the door, and through a crowded market plaza. “Stop!” he yelled. “Unhand me! What's this about?”
The two men paused, tightening their grip on his arms as he fought back. Two others arrived and lifted his feet from the cobblestones. “Wait! Where are you taking me?” Nic cried, battling both fear and fury now. He writhed and pulled, but to no avail. By the look of them, these four men were hardened seamen.
The leader motioned for the others to halt, and he was once again on his feet. A crowd of curious onlookers gathered, staring at them, but Nic was struggling to steady his eyes on the man. “Where are you taking me?” he repeated. The first relinquished Nic's arm to another's care and turned to face him. “You cost my cap'n a large sum of money last night with your poor fighting.”
“The man was twice my size!” Nic snarled, feeling the man's complaint as if it were a sucker punch.
“Yes, well, the cap'n had high hopes for you. Your reputation, up to last night, was … unequaled. He put a fair sum down on you.”
“That's a gambler's risk.” He pulled again, hoping to get free, but the men still held stubbornly to his arms. If he could get even one fist free.…
The leader grinned, showing a mouthful of decaying teeth. “Too bad you didn't win last night. He believes you owe him the money he lost.”
“That's preposterous!” The man shrugged and smiled again. “Be that as it may, we are only obliged to follow our cap'n's orders. And our cap'n is now yours as well.”
Nic paused and swallowed hard. So that was it. These men intended to shanghai him--force him to serve aboard their ship. “You're nothing but a crimp! There are laws against--”
“For American ships, sailing under American laws,” said the man. He motioned to the others and turned to walk toward the docks, the others following behind, dragging Nic along. “We lost a dozen men here in port to the fever,” he said, turning partially toward Nic to speak while they walked. “Now the cap'n is not only cantankerous over losin' them, but also losin' his heavy purse over you. It's your bum luck. Best to accept it and embrace it, man. Six months from now, you'll be set free, in whatever port you wish.”
“If I'm not already dead.”
The man laughed, a slow, deep guffaw that eventually built into laughter that spread among the others. “Aye, that's the risk of any sailor's life, especially in the waters where we are headed.” He looked over his shoulder at his prisoner. “Come along, St. Clair. Cease your struggle. It is of no use. You'll take to the water, you'll see. Yes'sir, gamblers and fighters--they make the best of seamen. You might find you love it as much as the ring.”
Cañon City, Colorado
Reid Bannock straightened, groaning at the ache in the small of his back and between his shoulders. He set the pickax against his leg and gestured to the water boy to come his way. He casually met the gaze of the deputy, who watched over the prison chain gang with an armed shotgun resting across his arms. The man gave him a slight nod. They got on, the two of them. Reid fancied the idea that the younger man felt sorry for him even, though the two had never shared more than a few words. Undoubtedly, Deputy Johnson knew Reid's story, passed along more from lawman to lawman than within his files.
The blue-lipped, shivering water boy finally reached him and offered up a grubby ladle full of water. The boy's hand trembled violently, not out of fear but from exposure. In the cold, the top of his bucket kept frosting over and encased the whole thing in ice. He had to break through the top to fetch Reid the water, and it was so cold, it made Reid's teeth hurt as he drank.
It stayed cold, even within him, making him feel as if he swallowed a chunk of ice rather than liquid. He coughed, thumped his chest, and gazed up at the mountains, finally clear after the blizzard. It mattered little, this trial. In a few months he'd be free. Regardless of the sentence, he'd be free. Every morning, he was up and dressed, awaiting the deputy who would chain him to others for the work on the new prison building, whatever the weather. Only the blizzard had allowed them a few days' respite. Each mornin', he greeted the deputy with a friendly word, knowing that consistent good behavior could knock months off a man's sentence.
By his calculations, the county was drawing too many new people, and therefore too many new criminals. The general's propaganda was doing its good work, and Colorado Springs, Pueblo, even Cañon City were seeing pioneers arrive by the thousands, all hoping to make a new life for themselves. After a winter like they'd had, many of them were liable to be desperate, driven to desperate decisions, not all of them on the right side of the law. Already, Reid shared his tiny cell with five other men. Word had it that a sixth would be brought in soon, left to sleep on the narrow space that was currently the only flooring between the two bunks, each with three levels. How long until a seventh arrived? Yes, when number seven arrived, tough decisions would have to be made; the prison warden would have to speak with judges, finding a means to alleviate the pressure before the prisoners exploded.
“Get back to work, Bannock,” the deputy barked.
“Yes sir, right away, sir,” Reid called back, immediately picking up his ax. He lifted it up over his left shoulder and then let it arc down toward the boulder in front of him, imagining faces upon it, as he had every day on every rock he had destroyed over the last three years.
Moira St. Clair. The woman who had stolen his heart, and then crushed it.
Dominic St. Clair. The man who had stood between Moira and him.
Odessa and Bryce McAllan, the people who refused to give up what was destined to be his.
A chunk of granite fell away with his next strike, revealing a tiny, crooked line of gold that glittered in the sun, too small to warrant the work of extraction, but tantalizing. It was common, these tiny remnants, teasing their discoverers with the idea about where the rock had once stood and what vein had once connected to this small one.… In spite of himself, he leaned forward and traced the line with his finger. Gold. Silver. Treasure untold. Sam O'Toole or his parents had discovered something, up near his mine. Something beyond the few sweet silver nuggets he'd brought out to Westcliffe and sold. Had the McAllans discovered it yet? Had they squired it away for a rainy day?
“The Spaniards, they came up this way, ya know,” said an old man, chained to his right leg. He was a chatty fellow, and Reid glanced at him before striking with the pickax again.
“That so?” he said casually.
“Yep. My great-granddaddy, he was a trapper. Ran with Kit Carson and the like for a time. Knew a lot of Injuns.”
“And the Spaniards?” Reid asked lowly.
“My great-granddaddy, he was chased right up into the Sangres by the Ute who didn't take kindly to him being--”
“You two!” barked the deputy, frowning in their direction. “Less talking, more work!”
Reid frowned too and doubled his efforts against the boulder. But with each strike, he wondered more about what the old man had to say. A few minutes later, he dared to glance at the old man.
I'll tell you later, his eyes said.
©2010 Cook Communications Ministries. Sing by Lisa Bergren. Used with permission. May not be further reproduced. All rights reserved.