Chapter One from "A Chance for Sabina"

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Nebraska, 1895

 

Sabina Walsh kept her head down as she moved with the throng of people heading out of the church. She hadn’t always been a faithful church-goer, but her brother-in-law convinced her to come with him. Being out in public was impossible sometimes, especially when Sabina still heard the awful rumors floating around about her. If only she had a way to prove them false, but as it was, hiding was her only way to make the rumors die down.

So then why were people still talking? Of course, it was her own fault for traveling all the way to Grand Platte, where she had lived when she was married – both times – just to walk into a building and listen to a holier-than-thou man talk about God and forgiveness. She had given up on God, but it irritated her that the followers of God couldn’t forgive and forget any of her faults. Of course, some of them thought she had killed her husbands. They believed she was cursed, and they were right.

 

Perhaps that was why she moved to Last Chance over a year ago. The town was small enough, and not many people knew her, and thankfully, the rumors hadn’t stepped foot in that part of Nebraska.

 

She hurried out of the double doors and toward the walkway. The fresh but warm air touched her face, and she breathed deeply, hoping it would somehow cleanse her. But just like today’s humid temperature, she feared the heat would never leave her scarred soul.

 

“Mrs. Walsh! Over here.”

 

Hearing her name, she glanced up. Her first husband’s brother, Robert Claremont, waved his arm as he stood by the carriage. She sighed and gave him a nod, acknowledging him. Slowly, the enclosed feeling she’d experienced inside the musty old building with the back-biting church people began to dissipate. Soon, she was able to breathe better.

 

Robert had been such a dear friend even before his brother died in a carriage accident three years ago. Angus had been a feeble man before Sabina had married him, but since their wedding had been arranged, she had no other choice but to take him for better or worse. Of course, it helped that the man was wealthy, and Sabina’s main purpose in marrying Angus was so that her family could upgrade their livery stable.

 

Robert, her brother-in-law, was more her age, which was why she could get along with him so well. Angus had been a good twenty years her senior, and at times, she felt like his daughter instead of a wife. Robert made her laugh, and he could put her at ease. He was also the one who stood by her side, helping her through the mourning of her two husbands.

 

Sometimes his constant presence irritated her, but thankfully, the moments were few.

 

Sabina reached her brother-in-law and stopped. “Oh, Robert, thank you for pulling the carriage around. If I had to look at the face of another judgmental person, I think I might have punched them in the face.”

 

“I believe you would have resorted to that.” He smiled, and his brown eyes twinkled. “But please allow me to get you far away from this place.”

 

He assisted her up onto the seat before joining her. He took the reins and urged the horses forward. “I must apologize for bringing you here. I honestly thought these people would have forgotten about the rumors.”

 

Sighing, Sabina shook her head. “I thought they would have let the past rest with my dearly departed Angus and Charles.” She tapped his arm. “It is not your fault. But please, do me a favor.”

 

He glanced her way before returning his gaze toward the road. “What is that?”

 

“Next time you want to invite me to Grand Platte, please change your mind. I don’t want to ever set foot in this town again.”

 

“It is their loss, you know.” He gave a sharp nod. “And one of these days, they will regret chasing the prettiest woman out of town.”

 

Sabina arched a quizzical eyebrow and snickered under her breath. Robert had always been such a charmer. His good looks and sweet smile would make any maiden swoon. And yet, he remained unmarried. At times, she wondered if he was interested in having a relationship with her, but he had made no overture. In fact, he was the one who’d helped find her second husband, Charles. Thankfully, Sabina’s marrying days were over – as was the silly notion of falling in love. Who would love a cursed woman, anyway?

 

“Although I would love for you to come to my place for some refreshing lemonade, I’m sure you want to get home.”

 

She chuckled lightly. “Robert, I fear your memory is disappearing. Have you forgotten that my lemonade is the best around?”

 

Robert threw back his head and laughed. The light wind blew his wavy blond hair around his ears and neck.

 

“You are correct, my dear sister-in-law. I was being humorous, as always. I just wanted to see you smile.”

 

She snorted and shook her head. “Once again, that would only cause another uproar with my former associates from Grand Platte whose only purpose in life is to spread tall tales about me.”

 

Robert turned the carriage down the main road leading out of town. The further away she could get from that loathsome town, the better off she would be. Never had she been a violent person, yet those people might make her do something out of the normal.

 

The conversation ended between her and Robert, and she was content to watch the scenery pass. It was difficult to see the dry land passing before her instead of the lush green vegetation she was used to seeing. The drought these past few years had been terrible. Not only for Last Chance but everywhere in Nebraska.

 

Suddenly, she heard her name being called. Actually, someone was yelling her name and wanting them to stop. She jerked her head around and, from behind, rode a man on a horse. His hair was long and dark brown, and his facial hair was trimmed so short, she wasn’t sure if he had meant it to look like mere stubble or not. From what she could see, he was handsome, but his black hat covered the top part of his face. He wore brown trousers, a vest, a beige shirt, and a black string tie. Indeed, he was built for hard labor if his muscular body had anything to do with it.

 

“Robert, I think that man wants us to stop.”

 

Her brother-in-law glanced behind them and back to the road again. “Well, he lost his chance at the church.”

 

“I don’t think I saw him at church.”

 

“Then why is he trying to get us to stop?”

 

“Robert,” she sighed, giving him a look of intolerance. “If you will stop the carriage and let him approach, I’m sure we’ll find the answer to that question soon.”

 

Groaning, Robert pulled the reins, bringing the horse to a stop. It didn’t take long before the man on horseback stopped beside her vehicle.

 

“Forgive me for stopping you,” he said breathlessly, “but are you the widow, Mrs. Walsh?”

 

“Yes.”

 

The man sighed and removed his hat, holding it against his wide chest. “Oh, good. I’ve been searching for you, and at long last, I’ve found you.”

 

“Now look here, sir,” Robert snapped as he gripped the reins tighter. “Where are your manners?”

 

The stranger arched an eyebrow. “I haven’t done anything to offend you or Mrs. Walsh, yet you are the outspoken one. Where, may I ask, are your manners, sir?”

 

Robert gasped loudly. Sabina was sure no other man had talked to Robert in an uncouth tone before. But the man’s expression wasn’t rude. He looked determined.

 

The stranger met Sabina’s stare again. “Please, Mrs. Walsh, I need to speak with you… in private.”

 

The emphasis on the last word made her curious, but she didn’t know him. Could she trust him? Her first instincts told her no.

 

She didn’t say anything but shook her head. “If you wish to say something, you can say it in front of Mr. Claremont.”

 

Robert puffed his chest. “And don’t think about hurting her. I have a pistol.”

 

Impatience showed on the man’s expression, and he rolled his eyes. “I’m not going to hurt her. I am related to Mrs. Walsh.”

 

Sabina was reluctant to believe him, even if she had to admit to not meeting all of her husband’s relatives.

 

“Listen here, sir,” Robert snapped. “Mrs. Walsh doesn’t wish to hear your lies, so be on your way.”

 

“I’ve traveled quite a distance—”

 

“It matters not.” Robert raised his chin stubbornly. “Mrs. Walsh doesn’t lower herself to speak with men such as your ilk.”

 

Before another word was spoken, Robert whipped the reins, making the horses take off. Sabina fell back against the seat but quickly righted herself. It surprised her how quickly Robert wanted to get away, especially since she still didn’t know how the stranger was related or what he wanted.

 

“The nerve of that man,” Robert grumbled.

 

Sabina couldn’t get the man’s handsome face out of her mind. “I’m sure he just didn’t know any better.”

 

“Of course, he didn’t. Did you see his hair? Although he tried to dress respectfully, his wild hair gave away his true self. He’s nothing but a scoundrel, I’m sure of it.” Robert shook his head. “And to say you two were related… What has this world come to?”

 

“Now, Robert,” she patted his arm. “Try to calm yourself. This type of thing happens to me quite often. People want handouts from me all the time. I live modestly, even if both of my husbands died with fat bank accounts.”

 

“You’re correct, my dear, but there was something about that man I couldn’t trust.” Robert shrugged. “I can’t put my finger on it.”

 

In silence, Sabina thought again about the stranger’s handsome looks and his masculine build. Indeed, there was something very familiar about him, but she didn’t know why. Before Robert had upset the stranger, his remarkable blue-green eyes tugged slightly at her hardened heart. For a split second, he’d even smiled…

 

Another image came to her mind, and she gasped. Robert swung his head toward her, his face etched with worry.

 

“What is it, my dear?”

 

“Charles.”

 

Robert shook his head. “Charles, who?”

 

“My departed husband, Charles Walsh. That stranger resembled Charles, but it’s more than that. I feel as if I have met that man before.”

 

Robert flipped his hand and leaned back in the seat. “No, I think you’re mistaken. Charles didn’t have any brothers, and he certainly wouldn’t lower himself to be friends with any man like that freeloader.”

 

“I know that, but the stranger did say we were related.” She shook her head. “But I think we’ve met, and I believe it could have been through Charles.”

 

“I’m quite sure he was lying through his teeth. And maybe he reminds you of someone else you’ve met.” He grasped her hand, cradling it in his. “Sabina, you must not believe every stranger that crosses your path. There are men out there who only want handouts. Strangers will try to sneak into your life and steal from you one way or another. But I hold fast to the promise I made my brother before his death that I will look after you. I’ll keep money-hungry men away from you.”

 

She smiled. “And you have done a remarkable job, for which I’m eternally grateful.”

 

“So, trust me on this, Sabina. The long-haired stranger is just a charming crook who wears nice clothes.”

 

“If you say so, Robert.”

 

She looked back at the dry scenery. Robert had never lied to her before, nor had he led her astray. And yet, she couldn’t shake the thought that this stranger just might be related to Charles. The long-haired man’s amazing blue-green eyes would haunt her dreams tonight, she just knew it.

 

In a flash, her memory returned. She had met the man through her second husband. The stranger and Charles were cousins. As her memory opened fully, she recalled the cousin’s charm and that she had been flattered by his attention. His smile had made her heart flip crazily, and when he turned his amazing-colored eyes on her, she nearly melted into a puddle.

 

If memory served, she had probably not been very polite to this man. After all, she had to do something to get her mind from wandering in the wrong direction, especially since she had been a newly married woman.

 

She decided not to mention this to Robert. He’d naturally try to sway her thoughts.

 

Robert was abnormally quiet, but that was all right. Although she wasn’t tired, the ride made her relax. She was relieved that she had finally put Grand Platte behind her. From now on, she would stay in Last Chance. Eventually, she would go to town more often and make friends.

She had been into town a few times, but mainly her elderly aunt made the trip. Bertha had been with Sabina since Angus died. Bertha was Angus’ and Robert’s aunt, and since they were family, they stayed together. Thankfully, the two widowed women made it through these desolate times during the state’s worst drought. Not even Sabina’s fat bank account could make it rain or bring water to their town. She was grateful for Hart Chapman, who brought the drilling machine to them to dig for water.

 

The drive passed quickly, and soon they were on the outskirts of town. Robert shifted in his seat and cleared his throat. She turned to look at him.

 

“I was thinking,” Robert began, “for dinner tonight, we should have—”

 

Sabina mentally closed off his words. Robert was a dear man and her best friend, but sometimes she wished he would stop telling her how to run her life – or what to have for dinner. He had done it often enough that she ceased listening. Since Angus died, she knew Robert wouldn’t be in her life forever. Eventually, he would find a woman to marry and find a new life. He had been a regular fixture in her home as he helped her mourn the death of Charles, especially during these hard times of trying to rebuild her garden. However, she could do it without him. It was just nice to have him around. Most of the time, anyway.

 

She wondered if he was in love with her and wanted to marry her. Yet, since she wanted him in her life, she would never marry. She couldn’t have him die, too.

 

When silence filled the carriage, she jerked out of her thoughts and smiled at him. “I appreciate your suggestion, but Aunt Bertha has already planned tonight’s meal. If you don’t wish to eat what she has prepared, I won’t take it personally. You don’t always have to eat with me, you know. I’ll be just fine without your company.”

 

“Don’t think of it, my dear. I wouldn’t put off spending time with you. Don’t you know you’re my favorite sister-in-law?”

 

She chuckled. “Thank you, but I believe I’m your only sister-in-law.”

 

“You’re still my favorite.”

 

“I’m glad for that.”

 

“However,” Robert continued, “I was thinking about helping you hire a cook. Our aunt is getting on in years, and sometimes her meals aren’t very tasty. Lately, I’ve noticed she has been—”

 

Out of the corner of her eyes, she saw a man on a horse ride into their path. Panic filled her, and she grasped the reins from Robert, pulling their horses to a stop before they hit the lone rider.

 

At first, the shadows from the thicket of trees blocked the man’s identity, but as the terror wore off and her mind cleared, she recognized the man’s long brown duster, especially his long hair.

She gasped, but Robert’s gasp was louder.

 

“What are you doing here?” Robert snapped. “You followed us?”

 

“Please, just hear me out.” Charles’ cousin raised his arms in surrender. “All I need is a moment of Mrs. Walsh’s time, and then I’ll be on my way.”

 

Robert grumbled loudly. “What you need is to learn not to bother people when they ask you to leave.”

 

Before Sabina knew what was happening, Robert pulled out a pistol and aimed it toward the stranger. Her heart jumped to her throat. She couldn’t allow her brother-in-law to harm Charles’ relative.

 

“No, Robert—”

 

But it was too late. The blast from the gun exploded through the air, making her jerk back for fear of getting injured. Seconds later, the stranger collapsed to the ground.

 

Screaming, Sabina scrambled out of the vehicle. Robert clamped his hand on her shoulder to stop her. She slapped at his hold and continued to climb out of the carriage.

 

“Robert! What have you done?” she asked in a high-pitched voice.

 

“Sabina, don’t go any closer.” Robert rushed after her.

 

Anger fed her irritation as she neared the injured man. As she studied him, she realized he wasn’t moving. Her mind screamed in denial. He couldn’t be dead.

 

She stopped beside the unconscious man and fell to her knees. With a shaky hand, she touched his chest and waited to feel it move. Since having buried two husbands, she didn’t believe in God, yet she found herself silently praying that this man was still alive.

 

Finally, she felt his chest move. Relieved air whooshed out of her lungs, and she sighed.

 

“Sabina, you really must listen to me. This man might be dangerous.” Robert grasped her arm, tugging on it to make her stand.

 

She yanked her arm away and glared at him. “No, Robert. I am my own woman, and I have my own mind.” She paused long enough to catch her breath. “This man hasn’t shown me that he’s dangerous, which means you have shot an innocent man.” She shook her head. “He was unarmed, for goodness sake.”

 

“But Sabina, what if he’s some dirty waif…”

 

“Then I’ll take care of him or get him to a doctor, but I’m not going to let him lie in the road to die.”

 

She turned back toward Charles’ cousin and slowly slid her hand over his arms and torso, hoping to locate where he’d been shot. Finally, she touched a spot of warm blood on his shoulder. She frowned. Being shot in the shoulder shouldn’t have made him unconscious.

 

She scooted on the ground, moving closer to his head. His face was turned to the side, and his hat was absent from his head. She carefully felt around, and just as she surmised, he had hit his head. The fist-sized rock by the back of his head held some of the man’s blood.

 

As a girl growing up, her father had taken her with him to make house calls since he was the only doctor in town. She had learned so much from him, and now she knew that if she didn’t get this stranger’s head bandaged, he might die from loss of blood.

 

“Robert,” she grumbled his name. “I hope you’ll help me get this man into the carriage and to my house. He needs medical attention quickly.”

 

“Sabina, really. The man is bloody. No delicate woman such as yourself should—”

 

“Robert, stop treating me as if I’m innocent,” she snapped. “I’ve probably seen my father treat more bloody men in one summer than you have seen in your lifetime.”

 

Not often did she have to raise her voice to anyone, and it was obvious through Robert’s red face that he was shocked.

 

Robert’s expression turned hard. “I don’t think you should be doing this.”

 

“I will do this with or without your help. However, I sincerely need your help.” She sighed. “Please, Robert. We cannot let him die just because you disagree with my decision.”

 

Robert gave her a sharp nod. Her irritation grew as redness covered his face, and he scowled down at Charles’ cousin. But what upset her more was knowing that it had appalled Robert because she’d asked him to help carry the injured man. Where was the kindness Robert had shown her? Or had he somehow become too prideful to assist those less fortunate than him? This was certainly a different side to her brother-in-law, and she definitely didn’t like it.

 

Nevertheless, she had more important matters pressing on her at the moment. She vowed she’d do everything possible to keep Charles’s cousin alive. Perhaps then she’d find out the man’s real story and why he’d wanted to talk to her.