|Never Look Back
Author: CaylaCardetta PM
It's the year 1892, and Rachel Malone has (mostly) left her tomboy ways behind her in her small Midwestern town. When her best friend Luke Dawson returns after six years, unexpected feelings are awakened in Rachel's heart. Luke may be a dashing gentleman now, but is he still the caring guy of the past? Or should Rachel keep moving forward with the possibility of finding new love?Rated: Fiction K+ - English - Romance - Chapters: 3 - Words: 8,367 - Reviews: 1 - Favs: 1 - Follows: 4 - Published: 11-14-12 - id: 3074376
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Sitting atop his mount, Luke followed her with his eyes as she prepared to board the train. Leaving to go stay with an old friend of her mother's miles and miles away, he had heard. Anger burned in his stomach. There was no way he was going to allow her to have the satisfaction of leaving this place behind with him as the leftovers. No way. He urged his newly purchased horse forward and trotted towards the station platform, all of his possessions strapped in a saddlebag to the back of his horse. He was off to find adventure, to live his life to the fullest, to enjoy being young and free from responsibility and any relationships that would bind him. And he desperately wanted her to know that. That he was happier – and better off – without her. He knew he was. He wanted her to know that HE was the one moving on first, not her.
Just as he predicted, she arched her neck around to look, never being able to resist the opportunity to see a horse, her favorite animal, in action. He watched her face reflect the appreciation for the beauty of the strong horse beneath him, and he set his expression into a cocky, aloof expression as she lifted her eyes to view him, the rider. He saw her freeze as her eyes locked with his, and then made himself look away from her expression to urge his horse into a canter and get out of town. But as he rode away, he couldn't rid his mind of what he had detected in her face. It hadn't been surprise at seeing him packed up and riding away, or remnants of anger from the breakup a few weeks ago, or even as he had arrogantly predicted, hope that he was coming to stop her from leaving, or at least to say goodbye. It had been relief – she couldn't have been happier that he was riding out of her life forever. And, annoyed with himself, he realized that that bothered him more than anything else.
As soon as he was far enough away, Rachel let her carefully composed exterior break. She had heard he was leaving, and had surreptitiously kept her eye on him as he prepared to head out. And she had wanted to convey to him the feelings she knew would irk him – that she didn't care, that in fact, she was glad he would be gone for good. The relief had been easy to come by – she was relieved that he wasn't going to be ever-present in her life anymore. Now, she could start to move on, to leave the past in the past. A new town and a new her. Nobody there would have any idea about the pain she had gone through at his hands, and that was perfectly fine with her.
Within a few days' time, the train reached its destination – Stone Haven. A bit weary but excited, she alighted from the train and took in the sights of her new home. It looked to be a typical rural town, but she immediately fell in love with the overall calm atmosphere that radiated from the movements of townspeople and wagons in the road in the late afternoon hours. She disdainfully glanced down at her luggage and then looked up to glance around the platform. Nobody. Where was Mrs. Reese, her mother's old friend? She was supposed to meet her here. She waited for a couple minutes and quickly grew impatient. With a deep sigh, she slung a few bags over her shoulder, and then proceeded to begin dragging her trunk. Making an awful racket, she cringed, but proceeded on in the hopes that she couldn't be too far from her destination. It wasn't a terribly big town. Just as she reached a street corner, her downcast eyes settled on the toes of a pair of boots that she had heard hustling quickly towards her – apparently right towards her. She picked her eyes up to look at the person who had stepped into her way, and was meant with a bemused expression coming from a rather handsome face. Any words died in her throat as she stared into a pair of deep brown eyes whose sparkling that told her he was silently laughing at her predicament.
"Ma'am, can I be of any assistance? And don't tell me no, 'cause I'm pretty sure that the population of the town who's trying to eat dinner will have me fired by tomorrow if I don't assist you."
"Ah…yes. Sorry I'm being…a bit noisy," she fought to say, all while feeling her insides twist as he held her gaze unwaveringly with eyes she could just about swim in. She reached up quickly and brushed the tendrils of hair away from her face. She must look frightful after a day's trip on the train. Glancing back up at his face, she met his eyes again, this time staring at her with curiosity and…interest perhaps? Her face heated up and she ducked her head and looked down at her dress so brush off whatever invisible specks were on it. She heard a huff of amusement come from sheriff, and watched out of the corner of her eye as he stooped down and lifted the truck up onto his shoulder with seemingly no effort. She answered with a huff of her own, hers one of annoyance. Men.
He looked over at her and flashed her a crooked smile.
"I'm Joshua Redd, by the way, the sheriff of this great little town."
"Rachel Malone, the newly arrived and semi-adopted niece of Mrs. Reese. She and my mother are like sisters, anyway. She was supposed to meet me at the station but…"
When Rachel trailed off, she expected him to interject right away with a helpful hint about where she was. When he didn't, she glanced back at him. She saw his throat move as he swallowed, and then looked back at her. A look of discomfort shot across his face before he quickly suppressed it – likely something he had perfected during his job as enforcer of the law.
"What is it? I can tell something is wrong," Rachel prodded, feeling a knot forming in her stomach as she knew she was going to hear something she didn't want to.
"You're Rachel Malone? You've arrived today?"
"Well, yes, I notified my aunt days ago that the train's arrival date had changed…what's going on?" Joshua Redd stared at her for a few seconds, one hand rubbing the back of his neck while his eyes scanned the road behind her.
"You're going to have to come with me, I'm afraid." Rachel narrowed her eyes at this.
"Come with you where?" she asked slowly, confused about what was happening.
"The mayor has been waiting for you to arrive. You and him have got some business to take care of."
"Business with what? I've never even met him before…and why can't I just go see Aunt Jessica? At least get settled in before I go to meet with this…this mayor. Please Sheriff Redd, what is going on?"
His brown eyes just gazed at her, filled with some emotion she couldn't understand…sorrow? But why?
"Miss Reese…well, she…she passed away four days ago. It was unexpected, but…and, uh…well, everyone here is real torn up about it –"
"No," Rachel whispered, "oh no-o-o," she said softly. She tried to hold off the threatening emotion insider her - she didn't want to cry in front of this stranger - but was unsuccessful. Her hands went up to cover her face as she began to sob quietly.
The sheriff stood uneasily for a few seconds as the girl in front of him dissolved into tears. After looking around uncomfortably – he'd never been good with tears – he slowly extended an arm out to pat her on the shoulder. And surprisingly, she leaned into him willingly, her face pressed against his chest. He held still for a second and then slowly started rubbing her back softly, wrapping his arms around her, trying to comfort her in some way. It was odd how natural it felt – her in his arms this way. Her head hitting just so along his shoulder. He blinked and forced himself back into the moment.
"I'm so sorry, Miss Malone. Like I said, the whole town is distraught. Everyone loved her here. The doctor thinks she had a stroke, but that it was in her sleep…we found her with a smile on her face." She sniffled and looked into his eyes.
"We? You found her?" Her tearstained face looked at him, trying to comprehend.
"Yeah. Her café didn't open on time and she never did that sort of thing. Her cook came to tell me she hadn't come down to work, but she was afraid to head upstairs by herself. We all sorta had a bad feeling about it from the start. She was always on time."
Rachel sighed heavily and began to wipe the tears from her face. The sheriff dug a handkerchief out of his jacket pocket.
"Here…" he murmured, and gently began dabbing her face. He traced under her eyes and down her cheeks, following his own movements with eyes that seemed to convey as much sorrow as she felt.
"Whenever you're ready, Miss Malone, we can head on over to the mayor's. He wanted to talk to you about your aunt…but, just take your time now," Sheriff Redd said quietly, straightening and pulling away to lean back against her trunk.
Rachel took a minute to stare down at the boardwalk and gather her thoughts. She was in a new town where she knew nobody except the sheriff, with whom she was now working on a five-minute acquaintanceship. She had no money, no place to stay, and no idea of a job. She had no way of contacting her parents, who were en route to visit her father's sister in Boston, whose address she stupidly didn't know. A meeting with the mayor could only prove to be helpful…she really had nowhere to go but up.
With a deep breath, she raised her eyes to the sheriff's and nodded her approval of beginning the trip to the mayor's home. The two set off, a tall man easily handling a trunk full of someone's only possessions, and a smaller woman, whose posture reflected a more subdued and discouraged mindset than had been there just moments before.
Had the sheriff not felt so awful about Jessica Malone's predicament, he would have been amused at the mayor's preening that began as soon as she walked through the door. She was a beautiful lady, and the mayor, although contentedly married, did not seem blind to that fact. Josh didn't envy him having to deliver whatever news he needed to…in situations like this, a last will and testament seemed only to bring additional stress when one was the only contact listed on the envelope.
He couldn't tear his eyes away from her face as the mayor spoke to her. Her expressions were constantly changing - going from polite and reserved, encouraging and engaged, to on the verge of tears once again.
"Your aunt has left you everything, Miss Malone," puffed the mayor in his gruffy voice, "from the flowers on her windowsill to her business, the café."
And then her mouth dropped open. And then came the tears, even more fast and furious than before. The mayor continued to explain all that was included. The sheriff looked on as she stammered out things about no money, no understanding of owning a business, no previous ownership of a home.
"She wrote you this letter, miss. To explain." He handed it to her and gently rubbed her back, the conniving coyote. The sheriff moved forward and clapped the mayor on the shoulder.
"I can take it from here, sir. We'll head to the café's apartment."
The mayor was reluctant to allow them to leave just yet. "But shouldn't we discuss the rest of the will?" he inquired. "The section on what to do if Miss Malone is unavailable for the reward is quite important –"
"Or it would be if she weren't here in front of us," interjected Joshua. "I think Miss Malone has had enough of the legal talk today, sir, with all due respect. I propose we give her the rest of the day to adjust and go from there."
"Yes, yes. Of course. Right," grumbled the mayor.
"We'll be on our way, then, Miss Malone," the sheriff said briskly, doing his best to remain professional towards a woman he really didn't want to be. Swinging her trunk up onto one of his shoulders, he followed her out the door.
Rachel stepped through the doorway and felt her feet glue to the floor. Wilting flowers decorated each table, covered with table clothes covered with a thin layer of dust, slight neglect hovering over the room. It was as if the building was visibly missing its previous owner. Her aunt, her incredible second mother, was gone and all that was left of her on Earth was this small café. And she'd left it to Rachel.
She was shaken out of her reverie by the sheriff's footsteps as he clomped by and through the swinging door to what she could only presume was the kitchen. She followed, her mind muddled by the million things she couldn't stop thinking she needed to do. Passing through to the small yet cozy kitchen, she laughed for the first time in a while seeing the tall sheriff struggling to fit both himself and her trunk up a spiral staircase in the corner of the room.
He glanced sideways with his eyebrows raised, a slight smile hinting at his lips.
"What? You think you could do this better?" he quipped.
"I think, if I had your arms, I could do it easier. It's probably tough climbing stairs when your head should logically be on the next floor," she shot back.
"Is that the problem?' he chuckled. Grunting, he finally squeezed the trunk up through to the landing and followed it up. Curious, Rachel followed up the unconventional staircase. This building screamed of her aunt – charming yet unique.
"Oh, wow," she breathed, her eyes scanning the room as she entered. The upstairs was one giant room, interrupted by low hanging ceilings in certain places that followed the contour of the roof. Large windows on all four walls let in a generous amount of sunlight, giving everything a lovely golden glow at this point in the evening.
"You like it?" Sheriff Redd asked, glancing around with a heavy amount of skepticism lighting his face.
"If you're a normally-sized person, it's actually quite charming," she answered, watching as a grin quickly spread across his face.
"Again with the height, huh, Miss Malone? Well, the next time you need something off of a tall top shelf, do not come calling to me for help."
"I'm not too concerned about that, considering the lack of tall shelves in this whole building." This gave her a playful lowered eyelid look from him. She laughed and then trailed off, taking in her new living quarters once more.
"Thank you, Sheriff. I'm sure you'll be wanting to get home for dinner. Please know though, I am extremely grateful." She spoke the words more seriously, the reality of the day beginning to seep in once again.
"Of course, I was glad to assist you. And I'm just heading back to the office, so if you need me, that's where I'll be. Seriously, for anything. Just let me know, okay?" He'd pointed it out to her earlier, just across the street from her little café.
"How long do you work?" she inquired, amazed he stayed on the job so long.
"Well, since it's just me, I live at my place of work just like you, miss. It's convenient, especially when you have a job that never really ends."
"Oh, I see. So…we're neighbors, then?" she giggled. He answered back with a matching chuckle.
"That we are. I look forward to us doing many more neighborly things together. But I'll leave you to settle in for now. Good night, Miss Malone."
"Good night, Sheriff," she said softly. His eyes, filled with a mixture of amusement and empathy, caught hers briefly, and then he turned and went down the staircase.