The book opens with a note to my readers:
Had it not been for the Lord and the many thousands of people who prayed me through cancer, this book never would have been written. If you’re one of the people who prayed for me, thank you. Mere words aren’t enough to express my gratitude.
Having emerged back onto the writing scene after the two-year battle, and feeling rather beat up after the long fight, I needed something with a happy ending. Like a fairytale. Think Cinderella. That’s what this book is, something bright and cheerful. So, Out of the Ashes is a lighter read than my other books: The Master’s Wall, Yahshua’s Bridge, and even Walks Alone.
What a blessing it has been for me to have the strength to write Nathaniel and Amelia’s story. Thank you, precious readers, for walking with me as I dig my way out of the aftermath of this battle one step at a time. Or shall I say, one page at a time.
Book Jacket Description
A stranger. A kiss. A shotgun wedding.
NATHANIEL WARD, wealthy entrepreneur, needs a wife. But he’s not interested in the preening, high-society women who are offered to him on a silver platter. He wants one woman, and one woman alone: the girl who gave him all the money in her reticule years ago when the Great Chicago Fire left him destitute. He sets out to find this woman and discovers she’s unattached. There’s only one problem, a shotgun wedding may be able to bind them, but will he ever be able to win her heart?
AMELIA E. TAYLOR blows a kiss to a street rat. Little did she know, years later that kiss would follow her to Green Pines, Colorado. When a handsome stranger arrives in her hometown, she guards her heart from the stirrings this man ignites. Despite society’s disapproval of spinsterhood, she is determined not to marry, having witnessed first-hand the lack of love and horrors that accompany marriage. But will a shotgun wedding reveal blessings that arise out of the ashes?
Green Pines, Colorado, 1882
Gun smoke burned Amelia’s eyes and her ears still rang. She blinked the tears from her lashes.
“Do you, Nathaniel Ward,” the preacher scowled, “take Amelia Taylor to be your lawfully wedded wife?”
Amelia’s father cocked his rifle and aimed it at the reluctant groom.
“I do,” Nathaniel said, his voice firm and unwavering. Despite her father’s threats, Nathaniel’s very presence exuded power, his raised chin, broad shoulders and wide chest unflinching against the barrel of the rifle.
Amelia didn’t dare look up at him. What must he be thinking? How many women had hoped to get him this far, and now, here she stood where most women dreamed of standing—shotgun wedding, or not. If only she could melt into the parlor’s wooden floor like the candle burning in the nearby lamp. Or disappear like the smoke. Disappear into nothingness, with no remnant left of her existence.
“Do you, Amelia Taylor, take Nathaniel Ward to be your lawfully wedded husband?” The preacher’s words rushed over Amelia like a gush of foul air.
She stood paralyzed, unable to speak. She’d vowed never to marry. How would she bear this cross? She’d seen enough loveless marriages in her life to know it wasn’t worth the heartache, despite the shame of spinsterhood. And now, to be forced on a man? What miseries awaited her? Abuse? Neglect? Slavery? Any man in his right mind would despise her for the rest of his days. It would be impossible—unthinkable—to procure his affection … his love.
The minister, still in his nightclothes, cleared his throat. His wife, holding up the lantern, glowered from behind him.
Amelia swallowed, darting a glance at her terrifying father. With a snarl, he narrowed his eyes at Nathaniel and pressed closer with his rifle. Would he put another hole in the preacher’s wall? Or Nathaniel’s chest?
“Amelia, girl.” Her father’s voice sent a shudder down her spine as it echoed through the quiet house. “You know, I always keep my word.” He’d threatened to kill Nathaniel if she refused to be his wife.
“I do,” she said, her voice small and trembling, quite the opposite of the man next to her. The horror, the shame. How did her life come to this?
“I now pronounce you man and wife.” The minister slammed his Bible shut and pointed it at her father. “Now get out!”
Shadows clouded Amelia’s vision, and her legs wobbled like those of a newborn calf. Her knees buckled, but rather than landing on the hard floor, she found herself caught in Nathaniel’s strong arms.
Now her husband.
Nine weeks earlier.
“You’re the most stubborn man I know,” William Goldman said to Nathaniel as they made their way through the ballroom.
The music and thick perfume nauseated Nathaniel. He never cared for tobacco, but in comparison to the party, he wished he had an excuse to leave and join the men in the smoking room. He could join the other men for cards, but William insisted that Nathaniel walk with him.
So now, he walked amidst the preening women and their mothers. He kept his hands behind his back, trying to forget the fact that he wore coattails and should be dancing. He’d already shared a number of dances, but the women were all the same: pretentious with money-hungry claws. He may now be wealthy, but if they knew he was once a street rat, they’d scurry in the opposite direction. They just assumed he was William’s apprentice, now assistant. Which he was, but they didn’t know the whole story. Only William knew, and he didn’t belittle Nathaniel for it.
Charlotte fluttered her dark, long lashes in his direction and flashed him a demure smile. He’d already danced with her twice, the second time he’d been bamboozled into an extra dance by the mother. He nodded toward her, trying not to be rude, but kept on walking.
“You see?” William motioned with his bearded chin to the high-society woman. “There’s a fine catch, right under your nose, but your stubborn pride keeps you from hooking it.”
Nathaniel blew out air between his teeth. “Why the urgency to marry me off?”
They stepped onto a terrace, and William with his paunch belly faced him. “I’m not getting any younger. I want grandchildren.”
Nathaniel studied his old friend. His green eyes reflected remorse. Nathaniel knew he missed his own children.
“When I first offered to let you live with me, you refused, saying you didn’t take ‘handouts.’ I call that stubborn pride.” William straightened and harrumphed. “Thank the good Lord you had enough sense to take the job I offered you.” Leaning on his cane, he reached out and patted Nathaniel’s arm, his gold ring catching the moonlight. “But the truth is you’ve always been like a son to me. You’re the only family I have, and until you locate your brother and sister, I’m all you have.”
It always pained Nathaniel to think of Michael and Rachel. With William’s help, he’d sent detectives all over the country in pursuit of his siblings, only to discover they were nowhere to be found.
“I’ll marry,” Nathaniel said, resigned. “But not any of these women.” He pointed with his thumb to the ballroom.
William straightened. “What’s wrong with these women? They’re of good breeding. And if not these, then who else is there?”
“There’s someone I met while on the streets.” What was he saying? How would he find her? What if she was already married? And what if she’d turned out like all these other rich snobs? Certainly her father and mother would have prepped and preened her the same way.
“A woman you met on the streets?” William raised a white brow. “Surely, you have better taste, better sense!” He puffed up his chest, clearly insulted by Nathaniel’s rejection of the delicacies he set before him in the other room.
“I was twelve, and she was eight or nine.”
“What? You’re holding out for a little girl?”
“She’s a lady.” Nathaniel chuckled. “My hope is, more of a lady than anyone we can find here.”
He prayed he was right. After all, how many of these women as girls would have dared chase down a street rat to give him their money?
“Does this woman have a name?” William eyed him beneath his bushy brows.
“Amelia E. Taylor.” An uncontrollable grin tugged on Nathaniel’s lips. He’d never spoken her name out loud. But he’d never forget her name. Never forget her kindness and … the kiss.