Have you ever had those days where you just want to throw in the towel? You just want to scream, "I QUIT!!!!" at the top of your lungs, throw an epic tempter-tantrum and drown your woes in a gallon of ice cream (or whatever your comfort food is)? Have you had times when nothing seemed to be going right and Murphy decided to take up residence in your very soul causing everything and anything that could go wrong to fritz out completely? Have you ever felt like you were attempting to climb Mt. Everest with nothing more than a worn pair of flip-flops and a pair of toothpicks to help you in your assent?
Oh, readers, I have those days too. In fact, I've been living that for the last few weeks. Don't get me wrong, some amazing and wonderful things happened too. I was able to go to Arizona and see my sister's new house. I traveled to my hometown to see family and go to the antiques market with my books and horses. We then trekked up to see my husband's family and met his brother's puppy, who of course everyone instantly fell in love with. Yes, things were fun and great.
But all the while, panic has been building inside me because I'm so far behind in my projects for you dear readers it's not even funny. I told myself, "It's okay. This is why I'm self-published. I can be behind and everything will work itself out. It's not the end of the world. It's not the end of the world. It's not the end of the world."
Then my computer crashed. Literally. One of my dear children, whom I will not name here, tried to "help" me get the computer down and dropped it on the floor. At first, the laptop seemed to be fine. Then it suddenly fritzed out and shut down entirely. My husband took it to a local friend and repairman to see what the verdict was. Broken hard-drive. While that could be replaced, and was that very day, I knew what that meant. All the work I'd done recently, my new projects, the pictures from our recent vacations, all lost. Gone. Obliterated.
I tried to console myself with the knowledge that we did have a fairly recent back-up with most of our files. I tried to remind myself that I'd put the best pictures from our Arizona trip on Facebook, so they could be recovered. And I even reminded myself that all the chapters of Scarlett and Blizzard were safe on my blog so it would be easy to copy and paste them back into the story. But the panic built up and escalated anyway. I would have to push back a release date. Again. I would have to restart new projects. Again. Why couldn't I ever learn from these things and have a bleepity-bleep back up disc of my own ready for these kinds of emergencies? Why couldn't Murphy move on and cause havoc in someone else's life? Why couldn't my children, whom I love dearly, just leave my things alone? Why? Why? Why?!? I felt like a pilot in an out-of-control nose-dive and the ground was coming up fast.
The reality is, I'm not superhuman and you remember when I said Patience was my word for the year? Yeah, I think somewhere along the line I forgot that. I fell into the age-old trap of keeping up with the Joneses. Not with money, or a great house, or a nice car, or anything like that. It was the writerly Joneses. The ones writing four or five books where I couldn't even get one finished. The ones who were selling tons and almost becoming household names (a few are in this house at least). The ones who seemed to have everything together.
Yesterday at church I received a lesson I very much needed. In Relief Society, our women's class, we were discussing Elder Jeffrey R. Holland's talk, "Tomorrow the Lord Will Do Wonders Among You." As we talked about ways we put ourselves down, I brought up social media and our need to keep up with the Joneses who seemed to have everything in control and have perfect lives. "I know I don't usually post when I'm having a rough time on Facebook because I'm generally optimistic and upbeat. I don't want to tell anyone I'm not having an optimistic, upbeat day," I said. "And I'm sure most of my friends are the same way." As the discussion moved on, a little voice in me said, Just like your writing friends aren't telling you about the struggles they have, right?
Way to prick me, Conscience. But it's true. Yes, I've got writing friends who have already put out three or four books where I haven't even had one new release yet this year. But I also have friends who like me are struggling to get anything done. My friends who are writing multiple books back-to-back have different circumstances than I do. They may have older children, or no children. They may have day jobs or perhaps they work from home and for a select few, writing is their day job. But even if they were in exactly the same boat I'm in, the way we operate, the way we think is different. I don't have to write thirty books in a year to be a good author. In fact, I can't write that many books in a year. And I've realized that I piled way too much on myself this year. I have five projects in various states of undoneness, one that is waiting for formatting and final edits, and of course the various needs of everyday life to attend to.
So readers, I'm sharing with you my new schedule of projects. This is going to be how I focus my writing time. And if I tell you I'm getting behind, do me a favor. Remind me that it's okay. This is why I chose self-publishing. I can get behind and it's not the end of the world. A kick in the shorts to get my tail in gear is also sometimes appreciated, but what I really need to hear is, "It's going to be okay."
July (what's left of it) - Final touches of Scarlett and Blizzard, secret Christmas project.
August - secret Christmas project, final additions and starting edits To Keep a Star. August 5 (yep that's a new date, sorry), release Scarlett and Blizzard.
September - edit To Keep a Star, edit secret Christmas project.
October - release To Keep a Star, final edits secret Christmas project.
November - release secret Christmas project, finish Leaving Shenivarthol.
December - begin edits Leaving Shenivarthol and relax.
I've taken out a few projects to work on next year and I will continue to do my blog stories, this time picking up with Tabitha Jannsen in a Beauty and the Beast retelling (thanks readers for your votes!). But overall, I think this will be manageable as well as keeping things fun for me.
I can't tell you how much I appreciate your support and kind words. I've definitely got the best readers around and I'm sending you big hugs right now. Life's too short to spend it in a nose-dive. I'd much rather skim the clouds and enjoy the gorgeous view. Won't you fly with me too?
Here we are at the end of Scarlett and Blizzard. Hard to believe, isn't it? I plan to finish the last bits of editing and formatting over the next little bit. Official release date is August 1. Yes, you will still be able to come here and read all the chapters, but if you want it to be in one easy spot, I will release it in print and eBook formats at the very start of August. So mark your calendars and be sure to let me know if you've caught any typos in the chapters so far. The deal still stands, I'll enter you to win a paperback copy (US only) of Scarlett and Blizzard for each typo you report. And be watching for news of the next adventure: The Sheriff and Mrs. Jannsen, starting soon right here on the blog.
It took a while for things to calm down enough to plan the wedding. If not for the storm, they would have happily gone to the courthouse that very day. As it was, we still had to go in to the police station to fill out all the paperwork and report what happened. I wasn’t sure how I felt about seeing Shorty as a criminal. He had been with us for a long time, nearly as long as I could remember. He’d always done his chores without complaint. I guess I hadn’t noticed him showing any romantic interest in Scarlett. She didn’t talk much about it. Maybe she was as surprised as the rest of us. Or maybe she hadn’t thought he was that serious about her. I don’t know and to be honest, I don’t really care. The important thing was despite all odds we were okay and Scarlett and Josiah were getting married.
They decided to plan the wedding to take place at the very end of school. They were each planning surprise honeymoons for the other and when I asked Mom if one of us should intervene, she just smiled. “Let them surprise each other. Just maybe suggest different dates for one of them.” Planning a honeymoon wasn’t the only thing they had to figure out. Scarlett would start business school in the fall, including a work-study program which would help off-set costs. She had originally planned to live on campus, but that wouldn’t work if she was married. They took a few trips out to Cheyenne with Mom acting as their chaperon to look for a good apartment. Josiah couldn’t stand the idea of twiddling his thumbs while Scarlett was busy, so he would continue to work on Starwood during the weekends and stay longer during round ups and foaling season. But that still left his weekdays open, so he started looking at classes in animal science. The two of them would stay busy, that was for sure.
As much as I wanted the months until the wedding to crawl, they didn’t. My birthday came and went so fast, it was hard to believe it had happened at all. Sixteen didn’t seem all that significant compared with my sister’s wedding plans. Not that she let my birthday be overlooked. I don’t think I’ve ever been so spoiled in my life as Teddy, Josiah and Scarlett put their mischief to full use supported by my mother. Tickets to a concert with one of my favorite artists, dinner at a fancy restaurant in Jackson, and a full-day shopping spree. Good thing my birthday happened to fall on a weekend, right? Mom might have had to call me in sick twice under false pretenses.
Spring came not long after and the snows melted. While evenings were still chilly, the days started to be warm. Flowers poked their heads up and buds filled the trees. Birds returned to their nests and the air soon filled with their twitterings. Spring fever paled in comparison to wedding fever. My days were filled with classes and my evenings with accompanying Scarlett to dress fittings, wedding boutiques for the perfect decor, meetings with vendors and planners. I was about to lose it totally when I came home to Scarlett sobbing in Mom’s lap. “Um, is everything…?”
“No!” she wailed.
Mom smoothed Scarlett’s hair and said calmly, “There’s been a hiccup. The bed and breakfast they wanted to hold the reception at has been closed for renovations.”
“They can’t do that though, can they? I mean, we already scheduled this and had it paid for!”
“They’ll s-s-send a refund,” Scarlett cried. “But now w-w-where will I have m-m-my reception? Everything else w-w-will be res-s-served.”
It was quiet for a moment as Mom rubbed her back. My eyes fell on the open window. It was gorgeous outside. The red and white roses Josiah had planted last year were starting to bud. “Scarlett, why not have your reception here? I know it’s not fancy or anything, but it’s certainly big enough. And it would be better for Teddy as he could come inside if he started feeling bad.”
“What am I supposed to do about the tables? And all the linens? They were going to provide all of that so everything would fit in with their regular decor.”
“I’m sure we could borrow tables from church and Amelia would never say no to a project. I’m sure there’s time to make some tablecloths and things. Don’t worry so much. It’ll probably turn out even better. You’ll see.”
“Trust your sister, Scarlett,” Mom said. By the way, Mom, thanks for the vote of confidence. “Everything will work out fine. I think a country reception would be perfect for you and Josiah. Not to mention, you’ll save more that can be put to your schooling.”
She sniffled and agreed. So Mom and I threw ourselves into planning for an outdoor reception at Starwood. Amelia was thrilled to learn about the change in plans. She soon had us making tablecloths, runners, napkins, and anything else she could think of that might come in handy.
The week before the wedding, Grandma came as well as some aunts and uncles and cousins. Starwood had never seemed crowded before, but with all the visiting relatives that changed. Even locking my bedroom door didn’t give me the kind of quiet I wanted, so I snuck out to my “office” on more than one occasion. The old barn was out of sight and most of the extended family didn’t know about it. One evening, I went out there with my guitar. I’d been trying to finish the song for Josiah and Scarlett’s wedding. They had asked if it was okay for them to hire a DJ so I would be able to really enjoy the reception instead of just playing for it. I appreciated them thinking of that, but at the same time I wanted to perform for them. So I’d gotten in touch with the DJ and arranged to take over just after their first dance for a quick concert. The only problem was, I couldn’t quite get the song right. Something was missing. And no matter how many times I called on Dad to help me out, he wasn’t giving any answers. What? Everyone’s got a muse. I was strumming some chords when I heard movement below me. “Blizz, are you in here?”
I shoved the sheet music under a pile of hay. “Up here, Scarlett.”
She climbed up into the hayloft. “You know it’s dangerous up here, right?”
“You gonna go back down?”
She laughed. “Didn’t think so.” Scarlett sat next to me, her strawberry blonde waves glinting softly. “You doing okay?”
“Yeah, why wouldn’t I be?”
“I think you know why.”
I glowered at her.
“Look, I just want you to know I’m not leaving forever.”
I scoffed, “What am I, five? Seriously, it’s fine. You’re giving me the brother I’ve been begging for since I met Tracy Jenkins and her brothers. I’m thrilled for you.”
“Why do you keep coming out here then?”
“Have you heard the house? It’s madness everywhere I go. And if Grandma hints one more time that I should start preparing myself for my own wedding…”
Scarlett laughed again. “I get it. I just worried, you know, after what happened on my birthday.”
She had to bring that up, didn’t she? The truth was, I still hadn’t really forgiven her for just springing her intentions to leave on us. I picked at the straw sticking to my jeans. “Yeah, well, you know.”
“No, actually, I don’t.”
“Geez, Scarlett, you really want to get into this now? Okay, so you ticked me off. You really ticked me off. And I’m not ready to say it’s okay. You’ve always talked with me about everything, at least I thought so. And then you started having secrets. I didn’t know what to think. I’m not sure I do now. But whatever, you made a choice and here we are. Everything’s still good between us, mostly.”
“So, you aren’t going to hate me for making you wear the maid of honor dress?”
It was my turn to laugh. Scarlett had fallen in love with the most gosh-awful, ugly dress on the planet for me to wear at her reception. When I’d voiced my opinion, loudly and maybe with some less-than-kind adjectives thrown in, she’d opted for something more appealing. “Since you chose one that doesn’t look like a wedding cake and a fish got frisky? Nah, I won’t hate you.”
We giggled for a while and she sighed. “I never thought I’d actually be living a fairy tale. You know, like the one Mom used to read to us. Do you remember it? Two sisters, a bear who actually turned out to be a prince, and a shrewd dwarf trying to ruin everything. I guess happily ever after is for real after all.”
“Yeah, I…wait, what did you say?”
“Happily ever after is real after all?” My eyes got wide and she asked, “Are you okay?”
“Perfect. I’m perfect. Why don’t you go find Josiah and make out with him or something? Whatever it is you engaged people do.”
“But he’s out working the stock horses,” she protested as I pushed her toward the rickety ladder.
“Yeah, that’ll make it more fun.” Once she was gone, I pulled out the music. I had mere days to finish this project and one I hadn’t even started.
The day of the wedding dawned as a perfect, cloudless day. I enjoyed strolling the grounds of the Boise, Idaho temple. Franky and I scouted out the gardens for nice photo-ops while the photographer Josiah hired snapped picture after picture of the flowers and trees. “You two, come be a couple for me. I want to test this spot for pictures.”
Franky glanced at me and I shrugged. He led me to the bench. As the photographer asked us to pose in different spots, we pretty well ignored him, for the most part. “So, just two more years in high school, huh?”
“Yep,” I said.
I shrugged, “I don’t really know yet. Probably go to college and study music.”
He nodded. “Good plan.”
“What about you? I heard someone outbid you for the B.”
“Yeah, it was a real bummer too. But I figure Starwood will be a good place to work for now.”
He nodded. “I’ve, um, well, I’ve been going back to church.”
“I know, I’ve seen you.”
“Look who knows so much,” he teased. “Anyhow, I’m gettin’ ready to put my papers in.”
“Papers?” I brightened. “You’re going on a mission?”
“Didn’t think I’d ever do it, huh?”
“Well, you gotta admit you had us all going for a while.”
Franky laughed. “Yep, I guess I did.”
“Oh, that’s perfect. Now go ahead and kiss her,” the photographer gushed.
“Dude! We’re not that couple,” Franky burst.
I laughed and kissed his cheek. Before I could think of anything intelligent to say, I heard Grandma walking toward us. “They’re coming! You’d best get to the front quick or they’ll be out the door before you can get any pictures.” As everyone moved that direction she caught my hand and whispered rather loudly, “And you can explain what that was later.”
I blushed and tried to ignore her as we moved to the temple’s entrance. Scarlett looked radiant in her reception dress. In white satin with lace overlay, she looked like a fairy tale princess. That is, if princesses wore baby blue boots and white cowgirl hats. Daisies and yellow roses made up her bouquet with sprigs of mint borrowed from Mom’s garden. Grandma’s pearls glowed about Scarlett’s neck. As the photographer positioned everyone and shot photograph after photograph, I couldn’t help noticing how happy Scarlett and Josiah looked. I don’t think you could have wiped the smiles off their faces if you tried. It seemed hours before the photographer was finally satisfied with the pictures he’d taken. After lunch, we caravaned back to Starwood where Amelia and some of our other friends were busily setting up for the reception. Everyone worked together and things were soon ready as guests began to arrive.
Promptly at six, Teddy brought Josiah and Scarlett to the porch. He talked for a while about the beauty of marriage and the work that goes into it. “Now you two have already made your vows to each other. But for the sake of your friends and family who were unable to attend, we’ve planned this simple ring ceremony. Josiah, my boy, do you promise with this ring to cherish this woman in every condition, for all the days to come?”
“I do.” He slid the ring onto Scarlett’s finger with a smile.
“Sweet Lettie, do you promise with this ring to cherish this man in every condition, for all the days to come?”
“Josiah, you may now kiss your bride. Again.”
There was laughter and cheering as Josiah pecked Scarlett’s cheek and then used his hat to hide their faces. Scarlett was blushing when Josiah put his hat back on. The music started and Teddy and my mom took Scarlett and Josiah out onto the floor to dance. The song changed and Josiah took Scarlett. For much of the song they danced alone with the photographer darting around them. Then other couples began joining them. Franky nudged me. “Shall we?”
I smiled. “Why not?”
He led me out and I tried to ignore the butterflies in my stomach. Hard to do when he was looking at me that way. “Well, Miss Blizzard, what am I going to do with you?”
“I believe this is called dancing, Franky.”
The dance started to come to a close. “Sorry, I’ve got to get up there.”
“No worries, cowgirl. There will be other dances.” Maybe it was my imagination, but I’m pretty sure he squeezed my hand before letting go.
The DJ announced a special visitor and I grabbed my guitar from behind his station. He set up a microphone for me. “Knock ’em dead.”
I smiled nervously. “So, um, Scarlett and Josiah, I’m so happy to see you two together. I know you wanted me to sit out tonight and just enjoy the evening, but I guess you both probably knew I’d have a song for you. And if you didn’t, well, you don’t know me very well.”
Chuckles rang through the audience.
“Anyway, I’ve been working on ‘Real Fairy Tales’ over the past couple months and this song’s for you.” I strummed the guitar strings and took a deep breath before beginning to sing. The familiar feeling of being somewhere far away settled over me as the song continued. All that existed was my guitar and the song. When it came to a close, the cheering escalated. “Thank you. Now, that’s just part one of your present.” Out of my guitar case I pulled a leather-bound journal. “This isn’t quite done yet, since I can’t exactly write as fast as events are happening, but this is your story. Well, our story. It’s called Scarlett and Blizzard: A Starwood Fairy Tale. When y’all get back from your honeymoons, this will be finished and ready for you to take home. And yes Josiah, I’ve shared everything.” I paused as people laughed and my brother-in-law groaned. “And I promise to include the lyrics to your song in the back for you, Scarlett. Congratulations, and may the years be beautiful and the future bright.”
As I prepared to get off the stage, the DJ stopped me. “Girl, I had no idea you were so talented. You maybe interested in recording?”
Pretty sure my eyes bugged out of my head. I just stood there in shock for a moment. Somehow I found my voice again as he repeated the question. “Yes, yes! That would be amazing.”
“It might take a little time, but I’ve got some connections.” He handed me a business card. “You send me an email at that address. I’ll see what I can do for you. Good luck to you Blizzard Jannsen.”
The evening continued and soon we were waving goodbye as Josiah drove them off to start their honeymoon in Montana. Well, the first part anyway. Scarlett wasn’t going to tell Josiah about it, but I knew following their bed and breakfast hop in Montana, Scarlett had set up a week at the lodge in Teton Village. They were in for a fun couple of weeks, no question about it.
And did they live happily ever after? Well, as they say, only time will tell.
But I have a feeling they will.
Just one chapter left after this! Are you excited? I know I am. Make sure you answer the questions below for the final chapter in Scarlett and Blizzard. And don't forget about the paperback give away. If you find any typos, email them to me through the Contact page and you'll get one entry per typo into a drawing for a paperback copy of Scarlett and Blizzard (US only, international winner will receive a free eBook).
When I came to I had a throbbing headache and I was freezing. Someone had blindfolded me and gagged me with a smelly bandanna. More humiliating, I was hogtied with absolutely no hope of escape. I chafed against the ropes, trying to free myself. A chuckle made me stop. “You don’t really think that’s going to work, now do you?”
“Mmff-i-ee.” Yeah, real impressive, I know. But you try talking through a gag. It’s not easy.
With a glare of light the blindfold disappeared. When my eyes adjusted, I saw that I was in an abandoned barn with a familiar shrimp looking down at me with a smirk. “Sorry, darlin’, I missed that.” He pulled the gag off. “Now that there’s no danger of you bein’ heard, we can remove this.”
“Gee thanks. Shouldn’t you be in jail, McFinney?”
He laughed. “Do you think so?”
“Don’t play dumb. You were arrested. I saw you there.”
He rolled a coin around his hand. “Did you really? Funny thing about it, I don’t think I’ve ever set foot in that police station. Are you quite sure it was me?”
I wanted to argue with him, but I noticed that he seemed slightly different. His nose was less crooked and his eyes a touch darker. He was still wiry and small, but there was something different in how he held himself.
A wicked grin spread across his face as he watched me. “Yes, havin’ a brother thirteen months younger than yourself does have some advantages. Especially when you need someone to take the fall for you. But I guess you wouldn’t know that with your age gap.”
“Why do all this?”
“Revenge is a sweet thing, missy. Crushin’ a man’s heart and soul brings a certain satisfaction I don’t reckon you’d understand. But, spending time in jail for it does leave a bad taste in the mouth, don’t you think?”
“And your brother is fine taking that punishment for you? You’re a snake!”
“Oh, I won’t let him suffer too much. You see, we’ve had it all planned out. Your sister goes into court and testifies that he’s the man as threatened her and all that rot. Then I show up at his defense. She can’t tell the dif’rence ’tween us and the case gets throwed out. There ain’t a thing anybody can do to prove which of us was there and which one weren’t.”
“Wasn’t,” I corrected, realizing he thought I was Scarlett. So much for our age difference making our identities obvious.
McFinney scowled at me. “Now ain’t the time to worry ’bout how I talk.”
“If you had this all worked out, why kidnap me? Why tell me your whole plan? Kind of defeats the purpose,” I said. I hoped if I kept him talking long enough I could figure a way out of this disaster.
“Oh, now that I can’t claim credit for. Seems your friend the Bear has more enemies than he thought. Ain’t all that surprisin’ really. There are others who want to see him suffer.”
He shook his head and wagged a finger at me. “Nope, can’t tell ya. You’ll jus’ have to wait and see. He should be around shortly.” Then he laughed as though he’d told a great joke and covered my face with a cloth sack that reeked of sour grain.
“You can’t just leave me here!” I shouted. But there was no reply. “Great,” I muttered. “This is just perfect. I’m stuck in the middle of nowhere with a psychopath on the way who thinks I’m my sister.” I squirmed and wriggled, but the knots were tight. I have to hand it to him, when McFinney decides to tie someone up he goes about it properly. The rope cut into my skin as I continued to struggle. Panic was building inside me. How long would it be before someone noticed I was missing? What would happen when McFinney or the mystery psycho discovered I wasn’t Scarlett? Where was Rooster? “Rooster, here boy.” I whistled. No yips, no response. Just silence. I sent a little prayer up, hoping our puppy was all right. And another one to beg for some help.
I heard a door open and shivers raced down my spine with the blast of cold air that swirled into the room. “Miss Scarlett? Miss Scarlett, don’t you worry. I’ll have you outta here in no time.” I felt a hand grab the bag covering my face. I’d never been so happy to see Shorty in all my life as he looked down at me. “Blizzard?”
“Shorty, thank the Lord! Please, you’ve got to help me. McFinney…”
“What? She’s at home in bed, probably toasty warm and I’m freezing here. Untie me, would ya?”
“This is all wrong. That dagblasted idiot,” Shorty fumed, standing and kicking at a nearby pile of hay.
“Yeah, kidnapping is a crime. Anyway, about the ropes…”
“Think you’re going to be a hero, Shorty?” McFinney sneered, coming into view.
Shorty cursed. “You got the wrong girl, John. First you leave that fuel can at our barn and I have to cover for you, now this? What am I supposed to do with her? Can’t you do one simple thing right?”
McFinney shrugged. “Ain’t my problem. I got what I wanted outta the bargain. You can do as you like with her.”
It was like being doused in ice water. I felt numb and horrified and angry all at the same time. “Shorty, please tell me you are not working with this slime? This is just a joke, right?”
Gone was the carefree, hovering wrangler I’d grown up seeing around Starwood. The look Shorty gave me wasn’t quite hate, but it was darn close. “You see anything funny?”
“Nope, but I see a couple idiots who are gonna be real sorry when Sheriff Henley finds me. Mom knows I went out to check the generator. She will have called him by now and he’ll be on his way.” It wasn’t much of a bluff, but it was the best I could do.
Shorty laughed, and it wasn’t at all pleasant. “I ain’t that dumb, Miss Blizzard. You wouldn’t have woken your mom up for something as simple as turning the generator back on. But you do present a problem for me. Maybe I can turn that around.”
“Why are you doing this?”
“I had to make her see me, didn’t I? We were makin’ progress, Scarlett and I. Oh, she still didn’t wanna date me or nothin’, but we were talkin’ at least. It was a start. Then everything went wrong. Josiah Meddleton came back. As soon as that rotten cowboy came to town I knew she’d fall again. She never had eyes for anyone but him. Couldn’t see that he was no good for her. Slinkin’ around with them fan girls of his. I would never treat her so badly. She was my princess.”
He pulled a lighter out of his pocket and I watched in horror as he started flipping the switch. I heard the stone grind against the spark wheel. “Scarlett’s everybody’s princess, Shorty, but she will never forgive you if you hurt me.”
“She wouldn’t know it was me. McFinney’ll take the blame just like we planned. Meddleton will leave ’cause he ain’t got a ranch no more. If that ain’t enough to convince him he don’t belong here, well… But I’ll stay by her. I’ll comfort her when you’re gone.” The lighter clicked again and this time a flame appeared.
“Shorty, this is madness. Don’t do it! We can talk with Scarlett. We can make something work.”
“Oh, but I think this will work,” he said, touching the flame to the hay. “I am sorry, Miss Blizzard. I never wanted to hurt you.”
“Yeah, yeah, let’s get outta here,” McFinney retorted.
The two ran out of the barn. At first, nothing seemed to be happening in the hay. Then I saw the smoke begin to curl towards the ceiling and a yellow dance of flames appeared. The panic which had been building in my chest escaped as a terrified scream. A voice inside me shouted at me to calm down and think. I had to get out of the barn. There was no way to free myself from the ropes. I heard indistinct yelling outside, but I ignored it as I tried to wriggle around to find an escape. It didn’t take long for the fire to begin spreading. I rolled as best I could toward a back door. Soon I heard a voice calling my name. “Blizzard? Blizzard where are you?”
“Josiah, I’m back here!”
“Keep calling, Blizz, I can barely see.”
“I’m over here.”
Like the bear he was nicknamed for, Josiah barreled toward me when he saw me. He lifted me up like I was nothing and ran outside as flames climbed up the walls of the barn. He ran around the side of the barn where his truck was parked and Scarlett was tightening the ropes around the would-be escapees. I don’t know what Shorty said to her, but she decked him so hard his head flew back and hit McFinney. Josiah set me down as we heard sirens wail. Snow swirled around us as he gently untied me. Scarlett pulled the ropes on our prisoners tighter again.
“You’re gonna strangle me.”
“Don’t tempt me you vile…”
I’m not sure what she finished her sentence with, because the fire engine chose that moment to blast its horn, but Josiah was looking at her with a rueful grin. “I thought ladies didn’t swear.”
She glared at him, though she blushed. “Times of great duress can be forgiven.”
He laughed and kissed her forehead. “Don’t make a habit out of it, huh? I rather like my prim and perfect lady.”
As soon as Sheriff Henley had Shorty and McFinney in custody, Scarlett ran to me. “Are you all right? Did they hurt you at all? What happened?”
“Which question should I answer first?” I teased.
She laughed. “I guess you must be okay. You are okay, right?”
“Terrified, a little sore from being tied up, but I’m fine. Is Rooster…” Suddenly I couldn’t bring myself to finish the question.
“He’s fine,” Josiah assured me. “He woke me up. For a dog that small, he sure has a big bark. I guess McFinney didn’t think anyone would hear him over the wind.”
“I woke up because your light suddenly came on and was shining into my room. I went to see if you needed anything and realized you weren’t in your room. I searched the house and couldn’t find you. I tried to wake Mom up, but couldn’t get her up. So I called Sheriff Henley. He said she had probably been drugged and that he’d send over an ambulance to check on her.”
“How did you guys find me?”
“It wasn’t easy,” Josiah admitted. “But we saw the two of them hightailing it out of the barn and figured this was where we’d find you. Then it was just a matter of making sure they couldn’t go anywhere.”
“You roped them?”
“Hey, I haven’t been a champion at the rodeo for nothing,” Josiah winked. “But I wasn’t about to let your sister run into that barn with the fire, so I went in once she had control of the ropes. I knew she wouldn’t let them loose.”
“Hate to interrupt, folks, but this storm ain’t gonna get any better out here,” Sheriff Henley said. “Come by the station tomorrow to give your statements. For tonight, you go on home and check on your mother. Let me know how she is, okay?”
“We’ll do that, Sheriff, thank you.”
We got in the truck and Josiah drove us in silence. There really wasn’t much to say. The puppies crowded us as we came into the house. We immediately went to Mom’s room where paramedics were checking her. “Blizzard? Scarlett?” Mom cried. We ran to her outstretched arms. For a long while we sat and cried, holding each other like we never wanted to let go. After declaring that Mom would be fine, the paramedics left. Josiah sat in the old armchair and waited patiently for us to regain control of our emotions.
It was dawn before we were all calm enough to do much other than sniffle and hug. Josiah left to take care of the barn chores with the other hands. Mom ordered us to get cleaned up and dressed for the day. The warm shower felt good and helped to wash away some of the fear I’d been carrying. I went downstairs to find Josiah setting a box on the dining table. He held a finger to his lips with his mischievous smile. “Shhh.”
I nodded with a grin as he moved around into the shadows where Scarlett wouldn’t see him. Soon she made her way down and noticed the box on the table. “What’s this?” she asked.
I shrugged, though I couldn’t quite keep the smile off my face. “Dunno.”
“Liar.” She unwrapped it and pulled out the model of Zander Josiah and I had found at the county fair all those months ago. Her hand went to her mouth as tears filled her eyes. Mini Zander was wearing a green blanket with a ring sewn on and the words Will you marry me? stitched across it. I beamed as Josiah walked out of the shadows and knelt next to Scarlett.
“Well, Lettie, what do you think?”
She placed Mini Zander on the table slowly, deliberately even. Somehow she kept her face blank and for a horrible moment I thought she might turn him down. Then she threw herself into Josiah’s arms, knocking both of them to the floor. “Yes!” She cried as she kissed him. “Oh, yes!” Then she kissed him again and again.
It might have been embarrassing to watch them that way had Mom not come into the kitchen right then with the puppies. They were not happy to be left out of the fun and were soon crawling and climbing over the couple as Mom asked, “Did I miss something?”
“Just a proposal,” I replied with a smile.
“Ah, that explains it then. Well, I suppose I’ll make breakfast for everyone. Scarlett, dear, when you’re done kissing your fiance, perhaps you could start some cocoa?”
Jessica L. Elliott
Author, artist, mom and super-genius