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Authors: Delynn Royer

Always

BOOK: Always
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ALWAYS

 

 

Delynn Royer

 

 

 

Published by Delynn Royer

Copyright © 2012 Delynn Royer

Revised Edition

Original Copyright © 1996 Donna Grove

Original Title: Forever and Always

 

All Rights Reserved

 

No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, and incidents are either a product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

 

Cover art by Hot Damn Designs

 

 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Chapter One

Chapter Two

Chapter Three

Chapter Four

Chapter Five

Chapter Six

Chapter Seven

Chapter Eight

Chapter Nine

Chapter Ten

Chapter Eleven

Chapter Twelve

Chapter Thirteen

Chapter Fourteen

Chapter Fifteen

Chapter Sixteen

Chapter Seventeen

Chapter Eighteen

Chapter Nineteen

Chapter Twenty

Chapter Twenty-One

Chapter Twenty-Two

Chapter Twenty-Three

Chapter Twenty-Four

Chapter Twenty-Five

From the Author

Excerpt from BROKEN VOWS

 

Chapter One

 

Lancaster, Pennsylvania, May 1865

Aunt Essie was right. Coming home again wouldn’t be easy.

Emily Winters was the last passenger to disembark from the train at the Pennsylvania Railroad Station. Behind her, the hulking black engine hissed and belched a last gasp of steam. Before her, other passengers hurried on their way or stopped to greet family members who awaited their arrival. Emily had no family here to meet her. She hadn’t bothered to telegraph ahead. She was too afraid that, in the end, she wouldn’t be able to summon the courage to step down from that train after all.

Emily took a deep breath to clear her mind and steady her nerves. Nevertheless, when she turned to face the bustling street intersection that crossed outside the train shed, her heart seemed to lurch and tremble in her chest.

Home.
It hadn’t changed at all.

If she were a Southerner returning home after four long years of war, it would be quite a different story, but this wasn’t the South. This was Pennsylvania, once a part of the original thirteen colonies, and Lancaster was an old town, a town that was slow to change. No,
it
hadn’t changed in four years, but Emily sure had.

Her palms were sweating inside her white kid gloves and her mouth had gone dry as a bone, but she was careful to keep her chin up as she stepped out onto the brick sidewalk. In many ways, Lancaster was still a small town, and it was likely that she would run into someone she knew. Whether they would recognize her in passing, however, she didn’t know.

Today she wore a demure navy blue day dress and a small velvet hat. Her hair was arranged in a tasteful chignon. The image she presented today, that of a self-possessed young woman of twenty-two, was a far cry from the confused eighteen-year-old who had so hastily departed this place.

She approached the corner of Queen and Chestnut Streets and waited as a host of open wagons and buggies rattled through the busy intersection. In one hand she clutched a small carpetbag. That and a leather handbag were all she had brought with her. Immediately upon receiving her sister’s telegram, she’d acted on impulse, catching the first train out of Calvert Station in Baltimore.

She was here to attend her father’s funeral. That was bad enough. Why hadn’t she been able to summon the courage to return before this? Why hadn’t she been able to bring herself to come back six months ago when her sister Karen wrote to tell her that the newspaper had shut down its presses forever? Perhaps her father had needed her then. Despite their differences, she had been the only member of the family who had cared as deeply for the
Penn Gazette
as he had.

Knowing now where she needed to go, Emily crossed the street and passed the public horsecar that would have taken her home. Instead, she headed south. She didn’t have to spare a thought as to where she was going; her feet remembered the way, and that was just as well. Her head filled with memories as she passed a bookstore, tobacconist, drug store, confectionery, and several small hotels, all of them as sweetly familiar to her as the remembered aromas of her own mother’s cooking.

She was aware that she garnered a few curious glances from other pedestrians. She supposed  most were taking note of a newcomer in town, as evidenced by the carpetbag she carried. Their glances were so brief, however, that she doubted they’d taken the time to recognize her. But she recognized them, Jack Martin, who ran a grocery on West King; the widow Herr, whose youngest daughter had attended grade school with Emily; Betty Stauffer, who worked behind the counter at the Hager & Brothers store. And there were others, of course, familiar faces.

Emily avoided eye contact with all of them. They would hear later that Nathaniel Winters’s daughter was in town, and then they might remember seeing her on the street. By that time, if she was lucky, she would already be gone. Back to Aunt Essie’s in Baltimore.

Emily’s pace slowed as she approached her father’s print shop. There it was, just ahead, a narrow three-story, red brick building, squeezed between Wentz’s Bee Hive Clothing Store and Wenger & Stewart’s Dry Goods.

Shuttered windows, like sleeping eyes, faced the street. The window shade on the door glass had been pulled down. Above the entrance, the large
Penn Gazette
sign had been replaced with a simple, dignified wooden plaque:
Nathaniel Winters, Printer
. Below this, a hand-printed sign:
Closed. Death in the family
. And under that, in the inside lower corner of the door frame, a message that caused Emily’s heart to sink:
Property for Rent. Inquire at the office of Joshua S. Latham, Attorney at Law.

Setting down her carpetbag, Emily cupped her hands around her face and peered through the shutter-slats of the front window. Fruitless. Dark as a tomb. All she could manage was a glimpse of the corner of one desk. What had she been hoping to find?

“Em? Emily?”

Her hands fell to her sides, her heart skipped a dreadful beat. She recognized that voice, but of course, it couldn’t be him. Her imagination was playing cruel tricks. She’d been nervous about returning home, and naturally she’d been thinking of him, and—

 “Emily Winters! I’ll be damned! It
is
you, isn’t it?”

Emily didn’t turn around. She couldn’t. Her disbelieving gaze fixed on a blurred image in the window glass, the reflection of a young man standing behind her on the street. It
couldn’t
be...

She forced herself to turn, slowly, as if in a dream, half expecting him not to be there, half expecting that the hazy, distorted image in the glass was the whole of him, the essence of a ghost long since dead.

But he
was
there.

He had changed over the years. Gone was the boy she had known. His youthful features had been replaced by the rugged, hard-angled face of a man. And those shadows beneath his eyes. Could they be testimony to the suffering and tragedy he had witnessed in war?

“Emily! How long has it been?” He looked at her, too, as if she were some sort of mirage, as if he could scarcely believe his eyes.

Emily opened her mouth to answer, but she made no sound. There was still much about him that hadn’t changed. Those same deep, dark, shining brown eyes; his hair, a lock of which always insisted on dropping across his forehead no matter how faithfully he combed it back. His smile. The same, always the same. One dimple becoming more profound whenever that smile broadened to a full-hearted grin, as it did now.

“Ross,” she whispered.

“Emily, you look... beautiful.” He apparently hadn’t noticed that every drop of blood had drained from her face.

“I thought... I thought...” Her tongue felt as thick as a slab of granite. Her vision grew hazy around the edges.

He looked alarmed. He reached out for her just as she swayed on her feet. “Em? What’s wrong? Are you—?”

“They told me you were dead.” Then the world seemed to lurch and blank out.

*

 

Ross rose from his chair as Dr. Weaver, a gray-haired gent in his mid-sixties, emerged from the examining room of his office and closed the connecting door behind him.

“Is she all right?”

The doctor offered a beleaguered smile and removed a stethoscope from around his neck. “As far as I can see, she seems fine. Of course, she’s got the wind back in her sails by now and won’t let me near her. She’s got a mind of her own, that one.”

 “Emily always did take after her father.”

The physician chuckled. “That is a fact.”

“She scared the hell out of me when she fainted like that.”

The older man’s eyes sparkled. “I suppose it’s not every day a fair young damsel swoons in your arms, is it?”

“No. Are you sure she’s all right?”

“Physically she appears fine. My guess is it’s emotional. This kind of thing happens with a lot of women when there’s a death in the family. For one thing, she shouldn’t have been traveling alone. You just make sure she gets home and have her mother give her a good hot meal and some rest.”

Ross threw a doubtful look at the door to the examining room. Emotional.
Happens with a
lot of women.
But Emily wasn’t a lot of women. Barring any physical reason for her fainting spell, Ross could already guess what had brought it on. Shock.

He had learned upon returning home three months before that he had been reported killed in the Wilderness campaign. The truth was, he had been very near death when he was wounded and captured by the rebs during that bloody battle. He spent over seven months in Confederate prisons before being paroled and returned to Harrisburg.

Ross had soon learned that prison was a fate much worse than death, with one exception. After his release, he’d been given a second chance at life. Upon returning to Lancaster and learning that he’d been reported killed rather than captured, he’d tracked down some of the men in his former regiment to find out what happened.

He now believed that the young man buried in his stead was a green recruit named Johnny Little. Ross had loaned Johnny his Saint Christopher medal shortly before closing with the enemy at Wilderness. Unlike Ross, Johnny had been a practicing Catholic. Going into his first battle, Johnny was grateful for Ross’s small gesture. Ross learned later that it was the medal that caused Johnny’s charred remains to be misidentified as his own.

But that had been cleared up months ago. The case of mistaken identity, which was the talk about town for weeks, was old news. Everyone knew the story by now, especially the Winters family. That was the thing. Ross’s first stop after arriving in Lancaster had been at Nathaniel’s print shop. Why hadn’t Nathaniel or his wife or Emily’s sister, Karen, written to tell Emily that Ross was still alive?

His musings were cut short as Emily appeared, tucking her gloves into her reticule and pulling it shut. Except for a slight pallor to her skin, she looked as if she were coming from a ladies’ tea rather than from a doctor’s examining room after collapsing on the sidewalk.

To Ross, she looked much the same as she always had—petite and delicate-featured, with hair the color of shining obsidian and astonishing sea blue eyes. Ross remembered how those eyes had a way of reflecting her moods. When she was happy, they could shine out from beneath those thick, sooty lashes as brilliantly as polished sapphires, but when she was angry, they seemed to turn dark and stormy to reflect that temper of hers.

Those eyes turned on Ross now, locking with his own, and what he saw there was all stormy blue. “You needn’t have waited.”

“I wanted to make sure you were all right,” Ross said, feeling suddenly awkward. Now that she had her bearings, she was treating him like a stranger.

Dr. Weaver interjected. “Take the horsecar home, and make sure you get some rest when you get there.”

Emily turned on the doctor. “A horsecar? Why, my house is just down the road.”

“I’ll walk you, then.” Ross scooped Emily’s carpetbag from the floor where he’d dropped it upon their arrival.

Before Emily could argue, the doctor joined ranks. “Why, that’s a fine idea, Ross. I can trust you’ll see to it she gets home without skinning her nose on the bricks.”

Seeing that she was outnumbered, Emily tossed up her hands. “Oh, fine. Let’s go.”

Ross gave the doctor a grateful wink. “Thanks, Doc. I’ll come by to settle the bill tomorrow.”

BOOK: Always
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