Claim: A Novel of Colorado (The Homeward Trilogy)

BOOK: Claim: A Novel of Colorado (The Homeward Trilogy)
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What people are saying about …

CLAIM

“Claim
drew me in to the Colorado setting with characters who had much to overcome and the courage to stand up for their beliefs. I laughed and cried, cheered, and held my breath until the very end when I had to pull myself into the twenty-first century. This is clearly a masterful work of fiction with explosive emotive conflict.”

DiAnn Mills,
author of
Sworn to Protect
and
A Woman Called Sage

What people are saying about …

BREATHE

“Lisa Bergren’s
Breathe
is a sweet and sensitive tale of faith, love, and devilry on a raw frontier just coming into its own.”

Kristen Heitzmann,
best-selling author of
The Edge of Recall
and Christy-award winner
Secrets

“This book grabbed me from the very first page and kept me reading way past my bedtime—for me, a sure mark of a terrific read. Lisa T. Bergren is an excellent writer. I highly recommend
Breathe
, and I can’t wait for the next book in the trilogy.”

Cindy Swanson,
blogging at Notes in the Key of Life


Breathe
riveted me with its fascinating peek into Colorado Springs history and well-drawn characters I quickly grew to love. I couldn’t put it down! Bergren is one of my favorite authors.”

Colleen Coble,
author of the Rock Harbor series

“Aptly titled, this is a superb historical medical thriller that brings to life victims of consumption (Tuberculosis) as they struggle to BREATHE.”

Harriet Klausner,
Genre Go Round Reviews

Also by Lisa T. Bergren:

CHILDREN’S BOOKS:

God Gave Us You

God Gave Us Two

God Gave Us Christmas

God Gave Us Heaven

God Gave Us Love

How Big Is God?

God Found Us You

NONFICTION:

The Busy Mom’s Devotional

What Women Want

Life on Planet Mom

NOVELS:

The Bridge

Christmas Every Morning

The Northern Lights series:

The Captain’s Bride

Deep Harbor

Midnight Sun

The Gifted series:

The Begotten

The Betrayed

The Blessed

The Homeward Trilogy:

Breathe

Sing

Claim

CLAIM

Published by David C. Cook

4050 Lee Vance View

Colorado Springs, CO 80918 U.S.A.

David C. Cook Distribution Canada

55 Woodslee Avenue, Paris, Ontario, Canada N3L 3E5

David C. Cook U.K., Kingsway Communications

Eastbourne, East Sussex BN23 6NT, England

David C. Cook and the graphic circle C logo

are registered trademarks of Cook Communications Ministries.

All rights reserved. Except for brief excerpts for review purposes,

no part of this book may be reproduced or used in any form

without written permission from the publisher.

The Web site addresses recommended throughout this book are offered as a resource to you. These Web sites are not intended in any way to be or imply an endorsement on the part of David C. Cook, nor do we vouch for their content.

This story is a work of fiction. All characters and events are the product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is coincidental.

All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the
Holy Bible, New International Version
®
. NIV
®
. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984 by International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved.

LCCN 2010924061

ISBN 978-1-4347-6706-6

eISBN 978-1-4347-0224-1

© 2010 Lisa T. Bergren

The Team: Don Pape, Traci DePree, Amy Kiechlin, Sarah Schultz, Caitlyn York, and Karen Athen

Cover Design: DogEared Design, Kirk DouPonce

Cover Photos: iStockphoto

First Edition 2010

For Traci, friend and editor extraordinaire … thank you for all your hard work on this series. I couldn’t have done it without you, sis.

If we claim to have fellowship with him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. (1 John 1:6)

CHAPTER ONE

1 August 1888
Gunnison, Colorado

“Keep doing that you’ll get yourself killed,” Nic said to the boy. Panting, Nic paused and wiped his forehead of sweat. For an hour now, as he moved sacks of grain from a wagon to a wheelbarrow and into the warehouse, he’d glimpsed the boy daring fate as he ran across the busy street, narrowly escaping horse hooves and wagon wheels.

“Where’s your mother?”

The brown-haired boy paused. “Don’t have a mother.”

“Well then, where’s your father?”

The boy cast him an impish grin and shrugged one shoulder. “Around.”

“Is he coming back soon?” Nic persisted.

“Soon enough. You won’t tell ’im, will ya?”

“Tell him what?” Nic tossed back with a small smile. “Long as you stop doing whatever you’re not supposed to be doing.”

The boy wandered closer and climbed up to perch on the wagon’s edge, watching Nic with eyes that were as dark as his hair. Nic relaxed a bit, relieved that the kid wasn’t in imminent danger.

Nic hefted a sack onto his shoulder and carried it to the cart. It felt good to be working again. He liked this sort of heavy labor, the feel of muscles straining, the way he had to suck in his breath to heave a sack, then release it with a long
whoosh
. A full day of this sort of work allowed him to drop off into dreamless sleep—something he hungered for more than anything else these days.

The boy was silent, but Nic could feel him staring, watching his every move like an artist studying a subject he was about to paint. “How’d you get so strong?” the boy said at last.

“Always been pretty strong,” Nic said, pulling the next sack across the wooden planks of the wagon, positioning it. “How’d you get so fast?”

“Always been pretty fast,” said the boy, in the same measured tone Nic had used.

Nic smiled again, heaved the sack to his shoulder, hauled it five steps to the cart, and then dropped it.

“This your job?” the boy asked.

“For today,” Nic said.

Nic loaded another sack, and the boy was silent for a moment. “My dad’s looking for help. At our mine.”

“Hmm,” Nic said.

“Needs a partner to help haul rock. He’s been asking around here for days.”

“Miner, huh? I don’t care much for mining.”

“Why not? You could be rich.”

“More miners turn out dead than rich.” He winced inwardly, as a shadow crossed the boy’s face. It’d been a while since he’d been around a kid this age. He was maybe ten or eleven max, all wiry muscle and sinew. Reminded him of a boy he knew in Brazil.

Nic carried the next sack over to the wagon, remembering the heat there, so different from what Colorado’s summer held. Here it was bone dry. He was sweating now, after the morning’s work, but not a lot. In Brazil a man soaked his sheets as he slept.

“Listen, kid,” he said, turning back around to the wagon, intending to apologize for upsetting him. But the boy was gone.

Nic sighed and set to finishing his work. As the sun climbed high in the sky, he paused to take a drink from his canteen and eat a hunk of bread and cheese, watching the busy street at the end of the alleyway. He wondered if he’d see the boy again, back to his antics of racing teams of horses. The child was probably letting off steam, just as Nic had done all his life—he’d been about the child’s age when he’d first starting scrapping with others.

But that was in the past. Not since his voyage aboard the
Mirabella
had Nic indulged the need, succumbed to the desire to enter a fight. Several times now, he’d had the opportunity—and enough cause—to take another man down. But he had walked away. He knew, deep down he knew, that if he was ever to face his sisters, Odessa and Moira, again, if he was to come to them and admit he was penniless, everything would somehow be all right if he was settled inside. If he could come to a place of peace within, the kind of peace Manuel had known. It was the kind of thing that allowed a man to stand up straight, shoulders back, the kind of thing that gave a man’s gut peace. Regardless of what he accomplished, or had in the past. Thing was, he hadn’t found that place of comfort inside, and he didn’t want what Manuel tried to sell him—God.

There had to be another way, another path. Something like this work. Hard manual labor. That might be what he needed most.

Nic heard a man calling, his voice a loud whisper, and his eyes narrowed as the man came limping around the corner, obviously in pain, his arm in a sling. “You, there!” he called to Nic. “Seen a boy around? About yea big?” he said, gesturing to about chest height.

“Yeah, he was here,” Nic called back. He set his canteen inside the empty wagon and walked to the end of the alleyway.

“Where’d he go?” the man said. Nic could see the same widow’s peak in the man’s brown hair that the boy had, the same curve of the eyes … the boy’s father, clearly.

“Not sure. One minute he was watching me at work, the next he was gone.”

“That’s my boy, all right.”

“I’ll help you find him.”

The man glanced back at him and then gave him a small smile. He stuck out his good arm and offered his hand. “I’d appreciate that. Name’s Vaughn. Peter Vaughn.”

“Dominic St. Clair,” he replied. “You can call me Nic.”

Peter smiled. His dimples were in the exact same spot as the boy’s. “Sure you can leave your work?”

“I’m nearly done. Let’s find your boy.”

o

“Go on,” Moira’s sister urged, gazing out the window. “He’s been waiting on you for a good bit now.”

“I don’t know what he sees in me,” Moira said, wrapping the veil around her head and across her shoulder again. It left most of her face visible but covered the burns at her neck, ear, and scalp. Did it cover them enough? She nervously patted it, making sure it was in place.

Odessa stepped away from washing dishes and joined her. “He might wonder what
you
see in him. Do you know what his story is? He seems wary.” Their eyes met and Odessa backtracked. “Daniel’s a good man, Moira. I think highly of him. But I’d like to know what has burdened him so. Besides you.” She nudged her sister with her hip.

Moira wiped her hands on the dish towel and glanced out at him as he strode across the lawn with Bryce, Odessa’s husband. He was striking in profile, reminding her of the statues of Greek gods the French favored in their lovely tailored gardens. Far too handsome for her—since the fire, anyway. She shook her head a little.

“Moira.”

Irritated at being caught in thought, Moira looked at Odessa again.

“Trust him, Moira. He’s a good man. I can sense it.”

She nodded, but inwardly she sighed as she turned away and wrapped a scarf around her veiled head and shoulders.
A good man.
After Reid and Max and Gavin—could she really trust her choice in men? Odessa was fortunate to have fallen for her husband, Bryce, a good man through and through. Moira’s experiences with men had been less than successful. What made Odessa think this one was trustworthy?

But as Daniel ducked his head through the door and inclined it to one side in silent invitation to walk with him, Moira thought about how he had physically saved her more than once. And how his gentle pursuit both bewildered and calmed her. Daniel had done nothing to deserve her suspicions.

She moved over to the door. He glanced at her, and she noticed how his thick lashes made his brown eyes more pronounced. He shuffled his feet as if he were nervous. “You busy?” he asked.

“No.” Moira felt a nervous tension tighten her stomach muscles.

“Can we, uh …” His gaze shifted to Odessa, who quickly returned to her dishes. “Go for a walk?” he finally finished.

Moira smoothed her skirts and said, “I’d like that.” Then, meeting her sister’s surreptitious gaze, she followed him outside. It was a lovely day on the Circle M. The horses pranced in the distance. She could see her brother-in-law riding out with Tabito, the ranch’s foreman.

“So, you wanted to talk,” she ventured.

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t want to talk to you, Moira,” he said.

She looked up at him and then, when she saw the ardor in his gaze, she turned with a sigh.

“Don’t look away,” he whispered gently, pulling her to face him. He reached to touch her veil, as if he longed to cradle her cheek instead.

“No, Daniel, don’t,” she said and ran a nervous hand over the cover. He was tall and broad, and she did not feel physically menaced—it was her heart that threatened to pound directly out of her chest. Perhaps she wasn’t ready for this … the intimacies that a courtship brought.

She’d been dreaming about what it would be like to be kissed by him, held by him, but he never made such advances before. Never took the opportunity, leaving her to think that he was repulsed by her burns, her hair, singed to just a few inches long, her past relationship with Gavin, or her pregnancy—despite what he claimed. Her hand moved to the gentle roundness of her belly, still small yet making itself more and more prominent each day. “I … I’m not even certain why you pursue me at all. Why you consider me worthy. ”

He seemed stunned by her words. “Worthy?” he breathed. He let out a hollow, breathy laugh and then looked to the sky, running a hand through his hair. He shook his head and then slowly brought his brown eyes down to meet hers again. “Moira,” he said, lifting a hand to cradle her cheek and jaw, this time without hesitation. She froze, wondering if he intended to kiss her at last. “I only hesitate because I am afraid,” he whispered.

“Afraid? You think I am not? I come to you scarred in so many ways, when you, you, Daniel, deserve perfection.…”

“No,” he said, shaking his head too. “It is I who carry the scars. You don’t know me. You don’t know who I am. Who I once was. What I’ve done …”

“So tell me,” she pleaded. “Tell me.”

He stared at her a moment longer, as if wondering if she was ready, wondering if she could bear it, and Moira’s heart pounded again. Then, “No. I can’t,” he said with a small shake of his head. He sighed heavily and moved up the hill. “Not yet.”

o

An hour after they began their search for Everett Vaughn, Peter sat down on the edge of the boardwalk and looked up to the sky. His face was a mask of pain. “That boy was hard to track when I wasn’t hurt.”

“He’ll turn up,” Nic reassured.

Peter nodded and lifted his gaze to the street.

“What happened to you?” Nic said gently, sitting down beside the man. His eyes scanned the crowds for the boy even as he waited for Peter’s response.

“Cave-in, at my mine. That’s why I’m here. Looking for a good man to partner with me. I’m onto a nice vein, but I’m livin’ proof that a man’s a fool to mine alone.” He looked at Nic and waited until he met his gaze. “You lookin’ for work?” He cocked his head to the side. “I’m offering a handsome deal. Fifty-fifty.”

Nic let a small smile tug at the corners of his mouth. He glanced at the man, who had to be about his own age. There was an easy way about him that drew Nic, despite the pain evident in the lines of his face. “That
is
a handsome offer.” He cocked his own head. “But I don’t see you doing half the work, laid up like you are.”

“No, not quite. But I’ve already put a lot of work into it in the past three years, and I’m still good for about a quarter of the labor. To say nothing of the fact that my name’s on the claim.”

Nic paused, thinking about it, feeling drawn to help this man, but then shook his head. “I’m not very fond of small dark spaces.”

“So … make it bigger. Light a lamp.”

Nic shook his head, more firmly this time. “No. I’d rather find another line of work.”

Just then he spotted the boy, running the street again. “There he is,” Nic said, nodding outward. The boy’s father followed his gaze and with a grimace, rose to his feet. As they watched, the boy ran under a wagon that had temporarily pulled to a stop. Then he jumped up on the back of another, riding it for about twenty feet until he was passing by them. His face was a mask of elation.

“Everett! Ev! Come on over here!”

Everett’s eyes widened in surprise. He jumped down and ran over to them, causing a man on horseback to pull back hard on his reins and swear.

“Sorry, friend,” Peter said, raising his good arm up to the rider. The horseman shook his head and then rode on.

Peter grabbed his son’s arm and, limping, hauled him over to the boardwalk. “I’ve told you to stay out of the street.”

“So did I,” Nic said, meeting the boy’s gaze. The child flushed red and glanced away.

“We’d best be on our way,” Peter said. “Thanks for helpin’ me find my boy.” He reached out a hand and Nic rose to shake it. Peter paused. “It’s not often a man has a chance at entering a claim agreement once a miner has found a vein that is guaranteed to pay.”

Nic hesitated as he dropped Peter’s hand. “I’ve narrowly escaped with my life on more than one occasion, friend. I’m aiming to look up my sisters, but not from a casket.”

Peter lifted his chin, but his eyes betrayed his weariness and disappointment. What would it mean for him? For his boy, not to find a willing partner? Would they have to give up the mine just as they were finally on the edge of success? And what of the boy’s mother? His unkempt, too-small clothes told him Everett had been without a mother for some time.

BOOK: Claim: A Novel of Colorado (The Homeward Trilogy)
13.65Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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