Authors: Miracle in New Hope
Berkley Sensation titles by Kaki Warner
Runaway Brides Novels
Bride of the High Country
Blood Rose Trilogy
Pieces of Sky
Chasing the Sun
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales is entirely coincidental. The publisher does not have control over and does not have any responsibility for author or third-party websites or their content.
MIRACLE IN NEW HOPE
An InterMix Book / published by arrangement with the author
InterMix eBook edition / December 2012
Copyright © 2012 by Kathleen Warner.
Behind His Blue Eyes
copyright © 2013 by Kathleen Warner.
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“Snowing again.” Homer Cranston, the owner of the New Hope Mercantile, tossed wood into the smoking stove in the corner of the store, then let the lid close with a clang. “Snow, rain, and now snow again. Almanac said 1871 would be a wet one in the Rockies, and for once, they were right. Helluva mess.”
Daniel Hobart looked up from the display case he had been studying, curious to see who Cranston was talking to, then realized he was the only customer. He wondered why the storekeeper was being so friendly today. Folks in New Hope rarely were, at least toward him. In the eight months since he’d taken up solitary residence in the abandoned cabin north of town, he’d come to know only two men by name—Homer Cranston and Doc Halstead—and none of the women. Which suited Daniel fine. At least people no longer stared at his face, as they had when he’d first come to the canyon.
“I hate snow.” With a deep sigh, Cranston rested his elbows on the counter and stared glumly out the streaked front window. “No customers when it snows.”
Knowing a response wasn’t required, Daniel bent again to study the weapons in the glass-fronted cabinet below the counter. It mostly held guns. Three well-used six-shooters, a small derringer, a couple of newer Army Colts, and several boxes of cartridges. But he was more interested in the knives.
A prickle along the back of his neck brought his head around in time to see a familiar figure glide past the front window, moving gracefully along the boardwalk in a swirl of snowflakes, her eyes downcast, her shoulders slightly slumped, as if an unbearable weight pressed down on her slender frame.
He slowly straightened.
She was sadder than usual. He didn’t know how he knew that. But he felt it, like cold or hunger or pain, on a level deeper than thought. Maybe it was because of the season—Christmas was hard on some folks. Hard on him. And her aura of despair awakened an urge to go to her, say something, do something that might lift that veil of pain from her eyes.
But, of course, he couldn’t.
As she passed the second window, she stiffened. Her steps slowed.
He braced himself, waiting for the moment when she became fully aware of him watching her. She always seemed to—and would pause to look around until her eyes met his. Not in revulsion or fear like some of the other townspeople, but more in startled puzzlement, like she knew him but couldn’t quite place him.
They had never spoken. He didn’t know her name and hadn’t asked. But he recognized that depth of sadness in her blue-green eyes. He had seen it too often in his own reflection, until he’d gotten tired of looking at it and had driven his fist into the mirror. Hadn’t shaved since.
Her head slowly came around. Even through the flyspecked glass and despite the dim, smoky light in the cluttered store, her gaze unerringly found his.
That shock of awareness hit him. Familiar yet alien. It was a connection he didn’t understand. But it was as real as a gentle touch on his damaged face.
Defenseless against it, he could only stare back.
He was dimly aware of the man walking beside her. He had seen him with her before. As big as Daniel and dark-haired like him, while she was fair. Her husband? A suitor? A brother? Sometimes he saw her with a smaller, fair-haired man as well. None of them ever smiled.
He didn’t know why. Didn’t want to know. Yet he couldn’t turn away.
“Looking for a gun?”
Cranston’s voice snapped the hold, drawing Daniel’s attention from the window. It was a moment before he could remember why he was there. “Knife.”
Daniel glanced back at the window, but the woman was gone. He let out a deep breath, then turned again to the display case and tried to gather his thoughts. “Carving.”
“What you making?”
Before Daniel could devise an answer, the bell over the front door rang.
In a blast of cold air, a man entered, his hat and shoulders dusted with snow. He gave Daniel a quick look, then, skirting the pack and snowshoes Daniel had left by the front wall, nodded to the proprietor. “Hidy, Homer. Those canned goods come yet?”
“In the stock room. Come on back.”
Saved from further interrogation, Daniel pushed the woman from his mind and resumed his study of the knives.
There wasn’t much of a selection, and none was really suitable for intricate wood carving. But he was in the middle of his project and didn’t want to risk being snowed in through the rest of December without a means to finish it.
Project? Obsession was more like it. He had a stack of furniture orders waiting in his workshop in the barn, but he was making a damned dollhouse. He had no use for the thing, had no daughters or nieces who might want it, and didn’t know any children in town he could give it to once he’d finished it. Yet the idea had taken hold of him back in early October and hadn’t given him a moment’s rest since. He’d missed meals, lost entire days carving and sanding and piecing together tiny wooden parts. He had even dreamed about it at night.
Balancing a small crate on his shoulder, the other customer followed Cranston out of the stock room and left, loosening another draft of cold air that sent flakes swirling across the threshold.
Snow was coming down hard and fast now. Daniel couldn’t even see the buildings across the street, much less the steep walls of the canyon rising behind them. Typical of the unpredictable weather in the Rockies, after two days of unseasonable rain had turned the November snow pack into six inches of slippery slush, it was snowing again. He was glad he’d come on snowshoes rather than horseback. But he needed to get going while he could still see the trail and his hound, Roscoe, could make it through the drifts.
“I’ll take that one.” He poked a finger against the glass, indicating a short-bladed knife with a leather sheath that was close in size to the one he’d broken. “And a whetstone.”
“Want me to wrap them?”
Daniel shook his head. He took the items from the storekeeper and slipped them into his jacket pocket. “How much?”
Cranston told him, and Daniel was counting out his coins on the counter when he felt a tremor beneath his feet. He looked around. “You feel that?”
“Feel what?” Cranston asked, scooping the coins into his palm.
Another vibration rippled along the plank floor. “That.” Daniel heard yelling and looked out the front window to see figures running across the street. In the distance, a low rumbling sound. “Listen.”
The rumble grew louder. The vibration built, jiggling items off the shelves.
“Christ!” Wide-eyed, Cranston ducked beneath the counter as cans of beans crashed around him. “What the hell?”
Daniel whirled toward the back window, saw a mountain of white racing toward him, and spun, arms up to protect his head. With a shriek of shattering timbers, the rear of the store blasted inward under a wall of snow that drove him backward. He slammed into the front wall and crumpled, arms locked over his head as the world caved in on top of him in a mangled mess of wet snow and glass and splintered wood.
Abruptly, everything stopped.
He struggled to get his bearings. Up? Down? How deep? Snow clogged his mouth. He coughed to clear it. Ended up swallowing most of it.
Cold darkness pressed against him. Pain was everywhere. He tried to move, couldn’t, and that sent panic thundering through him. Crazed, he twisted and bucked, using all of his strength to shove off whatever lay on top of him and trapped his arms over his face.
He gulped for air in shallow, gasping breaths, sucking in the musty smell of his shearling jacket along with icy crystals that burned the back of his throat. Terror drove him into mindless struggles, but with every tiny, futile movement, the snow settled closer against him. Panting through clenched teeth, he forced himself to lie still.
With his arms folded over his face, it created a small pocket of air. But he knew it wouldn’t last long if he continued to let panic rule him. Ten minutes. Fifteen at most. Could he last that long? Did anyone even know he was under the snow? He tried to listen, but all he could hear was his own pulse drumming in his good ear.
He was hurt. Pain hammered at him like waves against a shore, rising and falling with every heartbeat. His head throbbed, his body felt like it had been trampled, and something was stuck in his left side. Whenever he moved, he could feel it shift inside him, along with a warm wetness spreading beneath his back.
But he knew he would run out of air long before he ran out of blood. That thought sent his heart into a frantic drumbeat again, and it was several moments before he could calm himself down.
he chanted silently.
Stay calm. Don’t fight it.
Shivering with pain and cold, he shut his mind to the suffocating terror and prayed that help would come before it was too late.
Moments ticked into minutes. How many did he have left?
Jesus . . . please . . . somebody . . .
Then, out of the icy darkness, a faint sound.
“Is anybody there?” he called in a rasping gasp, the words muffled by his jacket and the wall of snow packed around him.
“Can you hear me?”
He thought he heard someone crying. A child?
Panic splintered his mind. He fought. Tried to turn. Kick. Move his arms. Nothing worked. Even his eyelids felt frozen shut. And with every gasp, he drew in less air. “Where are you?”
A long pause, then in a high, quavering voice, “I don’t know.” Definitely a child. Sounded like a girl.
He struggled to pinpoint her direction—if there were other sounds he might recognize. But with his faulty hearing, he couldn’t be sure of anything. “Are you hurt?” His voice bounced back at him, distorted, like he was speaking underwater. “I’m Daniel. What’s your name?” He listened, but heard nothing over the chattering of his teeth and the rush of blood into his head. “Are you hurt?”
“Can you hear me?”
Silence. An icy chill crept into his bones.
Jesus . . . please . . . help us . . .
“I want to go home.”
The frail voice pulled him back. He clung to it like a lifeline, knowing as long as he could hear it, he was still alive and she was still alive. “Help will come,” he said, and prayed it was true. He tried to think of something else to say, but every thought was an effort. The space between each heartbeat seemed longer than the last. How many minutes had passed? A dozen? More? “Hang . . . on.” His voice sounded so weak he wondered if he had spoken aloud or had only thought the words. “They’ll come.” Unless the whole town was buried.
Or no one knew they were here. Or they ran out of air.
“When? It’s been so long.”
I can’t . . .
“What if they can’t find me? Will you come?”
“Yes.” He heard a whining sound. Something above him shifted. He groaned as the weight increased, driving out what air was left in his lungs.
Jesus . . . the pressure . . . can’t breathe . . .
Over the roar in his head, he heard voices. Or maybe he didn’t. Maybe he imagined them. Or maybe help had finally come.
It should have given him hope. Should have mattered.
But he was so cold. So weary. Even the shivering had slowed.
“You promise, Daniel? You promise you’ll find me?”
I promise . . .
Daniel rose out of the darkness in fits and starts. He ached. He burned. Every breath sent pain through his chest and into his head. He figured he must still be alive to hurt this much.
He blinked open his eyes. Bright sunlight. Worried brown eyes staring down at him out of a craggy face ringed by a halo of frosty hair along the top and white whiskers across the bottom. He recognized it. One of the few in New Hope that didn’t turn away when he walked by.
“How you doing, son?” Doc Halstead asked.
Daniel licked his dry, cracked lips. Felt stubble where his mustache had been. Lifting a wobbly hand to his face, he found his beard gone, too. Other than a thick bandage on his lower left side, and some foul-smelling salve, he wore nothing beneath the quilts.
“Thirsty?” Doc asked.
The thought of water sent all other concerns from his mind. He tried to sit up, but pain and dizziness sent him slumping back. Doc had to help him up on one elbow so he could drink. Water never tasted so good. As he settled back, the spinning slowed. “Where am I?”
“The sickroom behind my office.”
“Since yesterday. You remember what happened?”
He tried, but everything was muddled and his head hurt so bad he could hardly think. Then suddenly, like pictures in a magic lantern show, images flashed through his mind. The back wall collapsing. Snow rushing in, driving him into the front wall. The crushing weight of being buried alive. Even now, the memory of that suffocating terror made his heart drum and his throat constrict. It was a moment before he could speak. “Snowslide?”
Doc nodded. “Took out the back wall of the Merc and ladies’ shop. Slight damage to the Western Union office. But other than you and Homer Cranston, no one was injured, and he was more scared than hurt. Diggers found him crouched under the counter, half out of his head.”
So the child was okay
. Thank God.
“Your hound?” Doc smiled. “At the foot of the bed. Couldn’t get him out if I wanted. He was the one started digging to show us where you were.”
As if understanding he had become the subject of their conversation, Roscoe padded forward and rested his knobby head on the cot, beside Daniel’s shoulder.
“Hey.” Daniel gave a weak smile and received a lick in return. The dog’s tongue sliding over his bristly cheek sounded like sandpaper on wood. He reached over to tug a floppy ear, but even that small movement sent pain shooting up his side to explode behind his eyes. Wondering why his head hurt so much, he reached up and felt a tender lump along his right temple, an inch or so above the puckered ridge of his long-healed scar. “How bad?”
“You’ll live. Deep bruising, a cut in your side where a piece of glass went in—which I stitched—and that knot on your head. Had to trim your hair and shave off that black beard to make sure that was the extent of it. A smaller man would have been crushed. Overall, I’d say you were lucky.”