*** Rachel runs into the town gossipmonger while telling her best friend of her upcoming marriage...
*** Logan checks with Sheriff Dodd about any information he may have about Max....
*** Rachel's visit with Daniel's parents' does not go well...
≈ 4 ≈
~ Old wounds run deep ~
Tall, slim, and with Auburn hair, Sandra Evers was beautiful. Today, when she walked into Gales Mercantile, a smile warmed her face when she saw her best friend. "Rachel!"
Rachel turned around to find a welcomed face smiling at her, "Sandra, how wonderful to see you." She put the ribbons she held into her basket, and then met Sandra in the center of the room where the women hugged.
"James and I planned to come and see you all on Sunday," said Sandra. "What with getting married and settling into our new home, and well, you know, I haven't been out as often as I should have been. I'm sorry."
Rachel knew exactly what 'well you know' meant. "Oh, Sandra, I remember what being a newlywed is like. You must enjoy, savor every moment of it."
"I'm sorry," said Sandra. "It must be sad for you after all you've been through. I just hope someday you'll find someone to love again."
Rachel bobbed her head as a warm smile radiated. "I have, Sandra. I was going to stop by your house today and tell you. I'm getting married on Saturday. And I want you to stand up with me - will you?"
Sandra's face gaped, "No!"
"Yes, I'm marrying -"
"Rachel Danvers, did I just hear right?" Garnett Merryweather hollered so the whole store couldn't help but hear as she entered. "Are you're getting married?" With her wide girth and snooty nose, Garnett had ruffled more than a few feathers over the years; clearly chiseling in stone her reputation as the biggest gossip in Dirksville. "Who is the lucky man?"
Rachel closed her eyes and sucked in a deep breath before turning around to face the nosey woman. "I'm marrying Logan. We're just having a small ceremony-"
"Logan Burke," screeched Garnett. "How could you be so heartless as to marry Daniel's best friend!"
"That is enough, Garnett," snapped Sandra. "You should be happy that Rachel and Logan have found each other. Daniel would be most happy for them. Furthermore, you know it!"
"Well, I never in all my born days!" Garnett spat, ignoring Sandra. "You will be sorry you have tarnished Daniel's good name! What's worse is that Logan is your brother! Why - it's immoral!" With that said, she hustled out the door.
John Gales came out from the back room when he heard raised voices, and his door slam shut. "Shame to shame, but that Garnett will be the devil to tame when she meets her maker. What in tarnation was the old bat cackling about this time?"
He joy dashed, Rachel said, "Maybe a lot more people will feel as Garnett does about Logan and me. I plan to speak with Alvin and Eunice when I left here. It's the only proper thing to do."
"Drat," said Sandra, "even if Daniel's parents' object to your marriage, it doesn't matter because you have a right to be happy."
"Sandra is right, Rachel," offered John Gale. "You and Logan grew up together under the same roof, yes, but the fact remains you are not related by blood. There is no sin in loving each other. I say the devil with Garnett Merryweather!"
"Oh dear!" gasped Rachel, her eyes popping. "I better go speak with the Danvers right away, before Garnett gets to them! Here, Mr. Gales, I'll be back to purchase these items shortly," she said as she gave him her basket. The two women hugged, and then Rachel said, "Sandra, can you and James be at the ranch at 2:00 pm on Saturday?"
"We'll be there with bells on, my friend."
While the smithy completed Logan's order for new branding irons for Dangling W, he went to the Dirksville Bank and did the ranch and his personal accounting. He signed all the necessary papers needed to make it clear to Seymour Bottoms that Rachel had complete access to all of his accounts.
Once finished with that job, Logan walked down the street to the jail. He wanted to check if Sheriff Dodd had any information on Max Burnett. Though the man had done nothing wrong since he asked Tater to stick to him like glue, the more Logan was around him, he saw red flags. Sometimes, when he called to Max, he didn't answer.
When it came right down to it, protecting Arnie, Rachel, and the Dangling W was all that mattered to Logan. If that meant digging up all Max's skeletons, he'd do it. When he opened the door, however, not only was Sheriff Dodd seated behind his desk, but Alvin Danvers sat in a chair opposite him, conversing.
Logan tried to convince Rachel that they should tell the Danvers of their marriage together. He finally relented in Rachel's favor when she made a valid point. They might better receive the news if it came from their son's widow. Still, unrest gnawed at him.
"Logan," Sheriff Dodd greeted cheerfully, "good day to you?"
Logan shut the door, nodded and shook his hand, "Howdy, Sheriff." Then he turned to Alvin and shook his hand. "Pastor Alvin. It's good to see you, sir."
"Logan, it has been a while," Alvin stated reserved as he placed one hand inside his vest pocket.
"I'm sorry, sir that I've been remiss in keeping in touch. Since Arnie's heart episode, I'm kept busy helping Rachel run the Dangling W. Nevertheless, I should have made the time. I trust Eunice is well?"
"Fair to middling," said Alvin. "I trust Arnie is getting stronger, and Rachel doing well?"
"Yes sir, well indeed, on both counts."
"What can I help you with Logan?" Sheriff Dodd asked.
"I'll leave you gentlemen to your business," said Alvin. "Don't be a stranger, Logan. Saul, I'll see you later."
"Alvin," said Logan, "please give Eunice my regards." He dared not to say anything more, since it was obvious that Rachel had not talked to the Danvers yet. Furthermore, he knew Alvin no more wanted him to pay a visit than he really wanted to do so. They had never been in favor of his and Daniel's friendship, just tolerated him. The Danvers knew his real father and his wayward ways, so Logan was sure they held it against him, unchristian though it was to do.
Once the door closed, Logan said, "I need to find out something about one of the hands, Saul. He's been working for us a couple of months. He's a gangly six-foot, dark complexion, black, wavy hair, and a cocky sort. He goes by the name of Max Burnett, though I don't think that's his real name."
Sheriff Dodd stood in cogitation while fussing with his short well-groomed beard, and then walked over to the wanted posters. "That description doesn't bring to mind anyone offhand, Logan, so let's have a look-see. Here, you look at this new stack of posters that came in this morning, and I'll look through these old ones."
"Thanks," Logan said, and then both men proceeded to peruse the posters.
"Mind telling me what's got your dander up with this fella?"
"It's nothing I can put my finger on, Saul. I just have a gut feeling that there's something not on the up-and-up with him."
"Anything specific on why you think Max isn't this guy's real name?" the Sheriff inquired.
"No, I can't tell you why," sighed Logan. "Well, I come up empty with these new posters. Did you find anything in your stack?"
"Lookie here," Sheriff Dodd said, and then he handed Logan a well-battered poster. "I know it's hard to make out, but maybe this is your man."
Logan took the poster and held it toward the window for better light. "Hmm, this could be him. Max's face is rough looking like this, but I can't say for sure. The name on this poster is Ben Jeffers, and he's suspected of a number of offenses, and murder from Mexico to Texas to Arizona."
"What do you suspect Max Burnett has on his mind?"
Logan put the poster on the desk and looked at the sheriff. "My first guess is rustling, just because the Dangling W is a cattle ranch. But this poster makes me wonder if maybe we've got more on our hands than I think."
"I'll do some checking to see if this Ben Jeffers has been caught. If he hasn't, then this fella, Jeffers could be your Max."
"I agree, Saul."
"Give me a couple of days to do some checking, and then I'll ride out to the Dangling W and tell you what I find out - say noon? And, how about having this Max around so I can size him up, too?"
"You got it, Saul, and thanks."
"Come in, Rachel," said Eunice Danvers. Her tall, skinny, and austere appearance amplified her ill-humored disposition. "I wondered if you'd be paying us a visit."
Rachel stepped inside but went no farther. Her anxiety rose rapidly when she realized from Eunice's remark that Garnett had bested her. If only Charlie Bails and Russ Kimble hadn't stopped her by asking about her father. Well, there's nothing for it now, she just had to forge ahead. "I've come to share some good news, Eunice. Is Alvin here?"
"He'll be along directly. You may as well come in and have some tea while you wait for him."
"I am so sorry you heard about Logan's and my marriage from Garnett, and not me. Truly, I am."
Eunice said nothing, just moved away from the door, leaving Rachel to follow. Unlike the warmth and rustic feel of the Dangling W, in contrast, the Danvers home was simplistic, lacking soulfulness. "Sit down. I'll fix the tea, Rachel."
"Thank you. That would be nice." Rachel fussed with her reticule as she stared at the faded blue curtains at the window. "I love him, Eunice. I thought long and hard, as did Logan about allowing our feelings to grow. We respect Daniel's memory and truly believe he would approve."
"Do you, now?" Alvin's penetrating voice stayed Rachel from speaking further when he entered the kitchen. "I would have thought we deserved to hear of your news first hand. Must I remind you that our son, and your husband have only been gone for two years, yet you feel you can defile his memory by cavorting with his so-called best friend?"
Tears stung Rachel's eyes. "You know I loved Daniel since childhood. When he died, a piece of me died too. Is it so unfair for me to want a home, a husband, and children?"
Alvin replied sternly. "I married you and my son in the house of the Lord, Rachel. You even had a daughter, yet you choose to dishonor their memory so soon. You must accept life's changes in the natural progression of time. You sully our son's memory, as well as our granddaughter by forgetting them!"
"Your tea, Rachel," said Eunice as she plopped the cup on the table.
Fighting tears and her composure, Rachel shoved the cup away from her and rose from the chair. "I'm sorry, but I won't be staying for tea." She ran her nervous hands over her dress front, and then picked up her reticule. "I'm leaving now, and I'm going to try very hard to forgive your harsh words." She looked at Eunice, and then Alvin, "I loved Daniel with all my heart. Part of me always will, but life is for the living, and I refuse to continue dwelling in the past. If you can't accept that, then Logan and I will not look for you at our wedding on Saturday. If you choose to change your mind and want to wish us a happy new life together, we will joyfully receive you on Saturday."
Rachel took a deep breath and continued. "As for Daniela, she will always be my first child, and hold a very special place in my heart. I know you blame me and my sorrow for losing her, and I'll not deny I share your thoughts from time to time." Rachel looked Alvin in the eye. "As for you, Alvin, a man of God, yet you pass judgment on me. Not a day goes by that I don't yearn to hold my daughter in my arms, but I cannot. I will not torture myself any longer for what was, or what could have or should have been. It is done, and nothing will bring them back." Rachel held her head up high, and while her heart wept for old memories, a light shone in blissful anticipation of a new future. "I will see myself out."