What unseen hand guided Kody Douglas's horse to that bleak, windswept South Dakota farmhouse? The "half-breed" cowboy--a man of two worlds, at home in neither--would never know. But when he finds a lovely, vulnerable young woman there, abandoned in the darkest hours of the Depression, he cannot simply ride away and leave her. Charlotte Porter reluctantly follows this hard, embittered yet compelling man to his family's homestead. But the more she learns about him, and the secret child who haunts his memories, the more she aches to comfort him and make him her own. Can two outcasts--brought together by hard times and shared faith--truly find love in so cold and heartless a world?
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August 11, 2008
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Excerpt from The Journey Home by Linda Ford
South Dakota, 1934
He didn't know why God answered his prayers any more than he could explain why he still said them. But there it stood, the protection he'd moments ago begged God to provide, an old farmhouse, once proud, now with bare windows and a door hanging by one hinge. Deserted by the owners, as were so many places in the drought-stricken plains. The crash of '29 had left hundreds floundering financially. And years of too little rain resulted in numerous farms abandoned to the elements. He didn't hold out much hope of 1934 being any different.
Kody Douglas glanced upward. The black cloud towering high into the sky thundered toward him. An eerie yellow light filled the air. A noisy herald of birds flew ahead of the storm. Kody ducked his head against the stinging wind and nudged Sam into a trot. They'd better get inside before the dust storm engulfed them.
In front of the house, he leaped from the saddle, led Sam across the worn threshold and dropped the reins to the floor. Sam would remain where he was parked until Kody said otherwise, but still he felt compelled to make it clear. "You stay here, horse. And don't go leaving me any road apples. You can wait to do that business outside."
He grabbed the rattling door and pushed it shut. A hook hung from the frame. The eye remained in the door, and he latched it.
"Probably won't hold once the wind hits," he told his ever patient mount and companion. Man got so he talked to the only living, breathing thing he shared his day with.
Kody snorted. You'd think a man would get used to being alone. Seems he never could. Not that he cared a whole lot for the kind of company he encountered on the trail. Scoundrels and drifters willing to lift anything not tied down. Kody might be considered a drifter, but he'd never stoop to being a scoundrel. He had his standards.
He yanked off his hat and slapped it against his thigh, creating his own private cloud of dust.
He jammed the hat back on his head and glanced around. Place couldn't have stood empty for long. No banks of dirt in the corners or bird droppings on the floor. The windows were even still intact.
The wind roared around the house. Sam tossed his head as the door banged in its crooked, uncertain state. Already the invading brown dust sifted across the linoleum. The air grew thick with it. The loose door wouldn't offer more than halfhearted protection, and Kody scanned the rest of the house, searching for something better.
"Don't go anywhere without me," he told Sam as he strode through the passageway into a second room. The drifting soil crunched under his boots.
Again, God provided more than he asked and certainly more than he deserved. A solid door stood closed on the interior wall to his right. He could shelter there until the duster passed. He yanked open the door.
"Hold it right there, mister. I've got a gun and I'm not afraid to use it," a voice cracked.
Kody's heart leaped to his throat and clutched at his tonsils. His nerves danced along his skin with sharp heels. Instinctively he raised his arms in the air, then slowly, cautiously, turned to locate the source of danger. He almost chuckled at the sight before him. A thin, brown-haired woman pressed into the corner, eyes steady, mouth set in a hard line. She held a rifle almost as long as she was tall.
The upward flight of his arms slowed and began a gradual descent. "You ain't gonna shoot me." It was about more'n she could do to keep the rifle level. The business end wobbled like one of those suffering trees in the wind outside.
"Back off or you'll see soon enough what I mean to do."
He lowered his right arm a few more inches, at the same time taking one swift step forward.
She gasped as he plucked the rifle from her.
He cracked it open to eject the bullet. The chamber was empty. He roared with laughter. "Lady, you got more guts than a cat stealing from a mother bear." Amusement made his words feel round and pleasant in his mouth. Unfamiliar, even. It'd been a long time since he'd done more than growl his words. He pulled his gaze from the woman who triggered the amusement, knowing his keen look made her uncomfortable.
She jutted out her chin. "This is my house. Get out."
She lived here? In this deserted house? Alone?
He stilled the questions pouring to his thoughts to deal with the immediate concern. "I don't intend to go out in a blinding dust storm. And no God-fearing, decent woman would expect me to."
She swallowed his accusation noisily. But nothing in her posture relented from her fierce protectiveness.
"I mean you no harm." Without seeking her permission, he sauntered to the corner farthest away, leaving her to plot her own actions. He made like he didn't care what she did, though his every nerve danced with alertness. Might be she had a hunk of wood hid beneath her skirts and would sneak up on him and smack him hard enough to give him a headache to regret. He didn't much figure she could overpower him even with a weighty length of two-by-four. He held back a heartfelt chuckle. Gotta admire a woman with so much spunk.
He heard her slight hiss and from the corner of his eyes saw her take a faltering step toward the door, maybe more intent on escape than anything.
The wind shook the house. The light faded. Through the window he watched the black cloud envelop them. Dust billowed through the cracks around the frame. They needed something to cover the window. In the dim light he made out a pile of material on the floor and, ignoring the woman's indrawn breath, went over to investigate. A ragged quilt. "Why don't you have this over the window? It might keep out some of the dirt."
"What a wonderful idea. I should have thought of it myself." Her sarcasm nearly melted the paint off the wall.