A Love to Cherish – Linda Ford

Reese Cartwright rode his black horse, Thunder, down the dusty main street of the small town of Glory, Montana. He and the man who had joined him three days ago drew abreast of White’s Store. Two young ladies stepped to the wooden sidewalk, not more than ten feet away. Reese glanced at them. His glance turned into a surprised gape as the pair walked away. “That looks like Constance Hayworth.” He blurted the words out without forethought. Same pale blonde hair—the color of sunshine. The same sky-blue eyes. So bright they were visible from where he sat on his horse. Of course, there were dozens of blue-eyed blondes. It was unlikely this was the same girl. “The missin’ daughter of that rich man? I remember hearin’ ’bout it. Wasn’t there a generous reward offered for information about her?” The greed in the man’s voice was unmistakable. Reese knew little about the cowboy at his side. Name: Smitty. Reason to be riding this way: to find a job in Montana Territory. Reese hadn’t given the lack of information much thought. Over the past few years, he’d ridden days and weeks with all sorts of men and learned nothing about them save their name and how well they handled cows. He wished he hadn’t said anything about the girl. After all, it was simply a gut reaction. “That was four years ago. I’m sure Miss Hayworth has been reunited with her family by now. This gal simply bears a resemblance to what I remember of the girl. But then, I only glimpsed her a time or two.

” She was from a rich family. Reese was not. In fact, as soon as he was old enough, he started working at the Hayworth Foundry as had his Pa and his stepfather. “You thinking youse can keep all the reward money to yerself?” “Not at all.” If Reese hadn’t blurted out the name, Smitty would have no idea how much she looked like the girl he remembered seeing back in Chicago. “But I don’t have time to chase after an old reward likely no longer offered. I’ve got a ranch to buy and run. Been aiming for exactly that for several years.” “Look at it anyway ya like.” Smitty reined in. “Guess this is where we part ways. I’m heading north to that ranch I heard about. Been nice to ride with ya awhile.” He sketched a goodbye and trotted down the street. Reese watched until all that remained of the departing man was a swirl of dust in the distance. Somehow, he didn’t think that was the last he’d see of him. Nor that he would ride off without looking into the reward money that had once been offered. Four years ago. No doubt the need was long ago over. But Smitty could upset the girl’s life by poking about in her business. Was it even remotely possible the Hayworth girl was still missing? He couldn’t imagine that Mr. Hayworth hadn’t turned over every stone across the entire country until he found his daughter. And yet, the young lady he’d seen bore an uncanny resemblance to the girl as he remembered her. He’d never forget how her eyes slanted upward giving the impression she wore a permanent smile. The girl outside the store had the same slanting eyes, but surely it was only coincidence.

Why would she be here? Not knowing, carrying suspicion in his thoughts, left him ill at ease. Maybe he’d hang around a few days and ask a few questions. He wasn’t interested in the reward money nor did he care if Mr. Hayworth had succeeded in his search. His only concern was in uncovering the truth. Truth, he’d learned, was a rare commodity. But without it, life carried a sour taste. His association with Betty Collins had taught him that lesson well and good. He didn’t mean to repeat it. If there was something strange afoot, he meant to find out and put things right. For the sake of everyone involved. Yes, he could simply walk away, and he was more than half tempted to. He’d never forgotten Mr. Hayworth’s high-handed, harsh ways of questioning the workers at the foundry, ready to believe one of them had been involved in his daughter’s disappearance. He wasn’t doing this for Mr. Hayworth but for himself. After Betty, he’d vowed to challenge any hint of untruth. He turned and rode back to the store, tied Thunder to the hitching post, and went inside. “Howdy,” he said to the man behind the counter. A man in his thirties, Reese guessed, with brown hair, brown eyes, and a brown handlebar moustache. His brown shirt made his color scheme complete. “Howdy, yourself. Don’t believe I’ve seen you around before.” “Nope. Just rode in.

” “What brings you to Glory?” “I heard of a little ranch for sale west of here.” He’d already been in touch with Abe Shaw, had made an offer, and had it accepted. “The Shaw place? I heard he was selling. Too much sorrow for him there.” Reese knew a bit of why Abe Shaw was selling out but thought he might learn more from the storekeeper. And he didn’t just mean about the ranch. “I heard he’d suffered some losses.” “That’s a fact. His wife and two young ones died last winter. Pneumonia, they say. Now what can I do for you, mister?” “Reese Cartwright.” He held his hand toward the man. “Norm White.” They shook and then Norm waved his hand about the store. “I carry most everything you’ll need to run a ranch or a house. Say, you married?” Good. A perfect opening into the questions Reese had. “Nope. Haven’t had time.” No need to tell the man he’d once considered it, but Betty had turned out to be only proving to her friends she could make Reese fall in love with her. And he had. He’d given her his heart, open and free. She’d had no intention of returning the sentiment. When she laughed and told him the truth, he’d been devastated. Humiliated and hurt beyond imagination.

Never again, he vowed. He leaned closer to Mr. White and managed to look shy and ready to begin courting. “Any young ladies around here who might be interested?” The storekeeper chuckled. “Indeed there is. Preacher Kinsley has three unmarried daughters. In fact, two of the girls left here moments ago.” Reese straightened. “I believe I saw them. One was blonde if I recall. The other had black hair. Quite a contrast for sisters.” “Well, they’re adopted, so they don’t have to look alike.” Adopted? That changed things to a degree, but just because the girl was in the preacher’s family didn’t give him any assurance that there was no possibility of an underhanded scheme. Betty had been a church-going, well-respected person. But one with no moral fortitude. “The blonde one. Was she adopted as a baby, do you know?” “Can’t say as I do. You interested in her?” “I only glimpsed her, but I saw enough to know she’s downright pretty.” “That’s Miss Victoria, and pretty she certainly is.” Could Victoria and Constance be the same person? Like he’d said to Smitty, the resemblance was surely coincidental. Still, he had to make sure. He wouldn’t have any peace of mind until he was certain one way or the other. “The Kinsleys been in this area long? Where did they come from, do you know?” He pointed out some items he wanted as he talked, and Mr. White began stacking goods on the counter.

“They came a few months ago.” The man leaned back on his heels and stroked his moustache. “Say, aren’t you asking a lot of questions about them? There something special you want to know?” Reese considered asking directly when Miss Victoria had joined the family, but the man was growing suspicious already, and if the Kinsleys had recently moved into the area, how much would the man know? “Just curious. Guess maybe I’d like to get to know that pretty gal a bit better.” Mr. White nodded, apparently satisfied that Reese’s questions were those of a young man interested in a certain young woman. “The best advice I can give you is to show up at church tomorrow. Mrs. Kinsley asks cowboys to join them for dinner after the service.” “Thanks for telling me.” He paid for the goods and left the store. He had hoped to ride out to the ranch and talk to Abe about arranging its purchase, but it could wait until after he’d been to church. The next morning, Reese donned the new shirt and trousers he’d purchased. He’d gotten his hair cut at the barbershop the day before. He examined his likeness in the tiny mirror he carried with him. “Not bad,” he told his reflection, then sighed. “About as good as it gets.” He left his horse grazing by the river and made his way toward the church. It was early, and he stood where he could watch those coming to the service. A man in a black suit crossed from the house next to the church. “Likely Preacher Kinsley,” he murmured. A moment later, a young lady followed. She wore a bonnet, so he couldn’t see for sure the color of her hair, but she was taller than he thought Miss Victoria to be. Then she turned slightly. It was the dark-haired one from yesterday.

The girl entered the church and Reese soon heard the sound of a piano. People began to arrive at the front of the church. A buggy with an older couple. A wagon with several children who scrambled out the back as soon as it stopped. Half a dozen cowboys on horseback. Still he waited, wanting to see more of the family. Two women stepped from the house. He recognized the blonde girl from yesterday and strained to see her better. He hadn’t seen Miss Hayworth in more than four years— shortly before her disappearance, and only as she rode past in a buggy accompanied by her father. At the time, he’d thought her the most beautiful girl he’d ever seen. The way she smiled made him think she had a sweet nature. When she’d smiled at him, he’d been mesmerized by her eyes—so blue, so kind looking. He’d stared at her until his stepfather had cuffed him on the side of the head and told him to mind his manners. He’d seen her close by on only one other occasion. He’d walked by her fine house, angry at his stepfather for some reason and needing to get as far away from him as possible. He hadn’t realized he was passing the Hayworth house until he saw Miss Constance bent over a rose bush. Even knowing he would be soundly reprimanded— perhaps even subjected to a beating if one of the servants saw him staring at the daughter of the important Mr. Hayworth—he had stopped to admire the picture she made. This woman had the same profile he remembered. The same upright carriage. The same generous smile as she spoke to the older lady at her side whom Reese took to be the mother. Two more women left the house. Both were rather colorless in comparison to the one named Victoria. Two young children held hands and followed. As they crossed the yard, another wagon stopped.

A redheaded woman jumped down and ran to the group. “Ma,” she cried, and hugged the older woman. A tall, lean man followed the redhead. Reese studied him. He’d seen men like him before. Loners. Tough as an ax handle. And yet the man smiled at the women, his widest smile for the redhead. Reese made his way across the yard, timing his steps so he arrived at the entrance to the church at the same time as those he’d been watching. He hoped he might overhear something that would explain this situation, but their talk seemed to be about family things—meals, gardens—nothing that helped him understand. Nothing to assure him this young woman with the striking resemblance to Miss Hayworth could not possibly be her. He entered the church a few steps behind the redhead and the man he assumed was her husband and slipped into a pew that allowed him to watch the family. The preacher took his place behind the pulpit and the dark-haired daughter played the piano as they sang hymns. Hymns that Reese hadn’t heard in a long time. He had quit church after Betty although the main reason he didn’t go was there weren’t churches on a cattle drive or near most of the ranches where he’d worked. For a time, he’d welcomed the excuse for not attending services. However, he no longer blamed God for how Betty had treated him. The song service ended, and Reese listened keenly to the sermon, trying to detect any hint of hypocrisy. Instead, he heard sincerity and love. Either this man was an excellent charlatan, or he didn’t know the identity of the girl in the midst of his family. Or she had no connection to Miss Hayworth. He was more and more inclined to believe the latter. But Reese couldn’t let it go until he was certain. He owed it to the missing girl. Partly because of how he’d carried the pleasure of her smile in his heart for a long time and partly because he knew Smitty wouldn’t let go of the promise of the reward money.

But mostly because he believed so strongly in knowing the truth, speaking the truth, and living truth to the best of his ability.


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