Hank's Runaway Bride (Brides of Chimney Rock Book 1) (Mia Blackwood) » p.14 » Global Archive Voiced Books Online Free (2023)

Silas excused himself. “I’ll head upstairs to keep an eye on things. Hopefully the twister keeps headin’ to the north. If it turns back toward us, I’ll be back with Jim.”

Everyone watched him head back upstairs. They could hear him pacing from window to window above their heads. His footsteps would fade as he left the kitchen, then grow stronger as he returned.

Otis could feel the tension in the room. The fear was palpable. He cleared his throat and began to sing one of his favorite hymns, “The Rugged Cross.” The song always comforted him in times of trouble, and he hoped that it would comfort the others as well.

Despite his many years, his voice was strong and true. The low baritone was soothing to raw nerves all around. Soon Esther joined her voice to her husband’s, and the two blended in a beautiful harmony. They kept singing until Silas returned, one soothing hymn after another.

“It’s safe to come up now,” Silas said from his perch halfway down the stairs. “Twister’s moved on.”

Madeline was the first to mount the steps, with Josephine and George right behind her. The others followed, one by one, with Elijah bringing up the rear behind his father. Pardner stayed put in his corner, clearly uncertain as to the wisdom of heading upstairs with strangers.

Josephine immediately went to the window next to the stove and looked out. The storm was still raging outside, yet had seemed to lose some of its intensity. The hail had stopped and had thankfully stayed small enough to have not caused any visible damage.

As the others settled back into their seats, or in the case of the boys, ran back upstairs to continue their battle, Josephine closed her eyes and said a silent prayer of thanksgiving and a plea to keep Hank and Caleb safe. Then she went back to making coffee and tea for everyone. It helped to keep busy.

Chapter 10

Josephine awoke early the next morning to the sound of the rooster crowing. She opened her eyes and was momentarily disoriented. It took her a moment to realize that she was in the parlor instead of her room upstairs.

She stood up and looked out the window. The sun was just about to peek above the horizon. It looked as though the clouds from yesterday’s storm had finally moved on. She hoped it was a good omen. Her stomach was still in knots from worrying about Hank and Caleb.

She neatly folded the blanket she had used the night before and carefully placed it on the seat cushion with her pillow on top of it. She fixed her hair before the mirror over the mantel and smoothed her skirts before she headed into the kitchen to wash up.

In the quiet of the morning, she prayed for Hank’s and Caleb’s safe return. Worry ate at her insides so much that it was hard to even breathe. It had taken forever for her to fall asleep the night before and when she finally had, she had nightmare after nightmare.

As she washed her face, she heard the baby crying softly upstairs. The cries did not last for long, so she knew that Lydia was awake and that the others would be soon as well. She quickly stoked the stove and got the fire going, then hurried out to the chicken coop to gather some eggs for breakfast.

While she was gathering the eggs in her basket, she saw Elijah head into the barn and heard Silas and Walter greet him. She smiled, pleased that everyone on the ranch was so accepting of a colored family being there. Perhaps her secret was not as horrible as she had thought. It certainly gave her hope.

By the time she had gathered all the eggs, Jim came out of the barn with a fresh bucket of milk. He carried it into the house for her, then left her at the door with a tip of his hat.

“Thank you!” she called out the door after him. He waved in response, then disappeared back into the darkness of the barn.

Jim had no sooner disappeared when Josephine saw Silas exit the barn on his horse and head out toward town at a brisk pace. She wondered where he might be heading at that hour, but shrugged and closed the door. She had a large breakfast to prepare, not to mention extra loaves of bread to bake for the day.

First thing, though, was the milk. She quickly moved it from the table where Jim had placed it and into the bottom right door of the ice box. She would separate the cream from yesterday’s bucket after breakfast, and then work on making some butter. George loved to help with the butter churn and it was a good outlet for his energy.

She decided to make flapjacks for breakfast. Since she did not know when everyone would be waking, she reckoned that she could keep the batter handy and make them as needed. Once she had a big bowl of batter started, she began to work on making the dough for several loaves of bread.

She had no sooner started mixing the flour, when Madeline arrived with George and Theodore in tow. Pardner followed at George’s heels. George quickly ran to the door to let the dog out.

“Good morning,” Madeline called as they filed into the room.

Josephine gave her a smile. “Good morning. I trust you slept well?”

Madeline grinned. “I slept well enough, but was a little confused as to why I was in your bed when I first woke up.”

“I had the same problem on the sofa!” Josephine laughed.

They had played musical bedrooms the night before. Otis and Esther had slept in Caleb’s parent’s old room downstairs so they would not have to manage the stairs. Theodore slept with George and Pardner in George’s room. Madeline had given her bed to Elijah and Lydia, as it was made for two. She was going to sleep on the sofa, but Josephine would have none of it. She gave up her own bed, so Madeline might get a more restful night’s sleep.

In a well-rehearsed dance, Madeline quickly donned an apron and took over mixing the dough while Josephine moved to the stove to begin making the flapjacks. As she placed two skillets on the stove top, George began to grow excited.

“Ooh, whatcha making, Miss Jo?” he asked excitedly.

Josephine smiled as she added some lard to the pans so the flapjacks would not stick. “What does it look like I’m making, George?” she teased. She knew that flapjacks were his favorite meal and she loved how excited he became over them.

George thoughtfully watched her preheating the pans and adding the lard, then saw the bowl full of batter. He began to jump up and down excitedly, and tugged at Theodore’s shirt.

“It’s flapjacks! Teddy, Miss Jo’s making flapjacks! Hers are the best I’ve ever ate!”

Theodore began to grow excited as well. His brilliant smile spoke volumes.

“Eaten,” Madeline corrected George. “The best you’ve ever eaten.”

“Eaten,” George dutifully repeated, then his eyes grew huge. “Oh, yours are good too, Aunt Maddy!” He was horrified that he had just insulted his aunt.

Madeline chuckled. “It’s all right, George. I agree with you. Miss Jo makes the best flapjacks.”

Josephine blushed, but held her tongue. Her natural instinct was to dismiss any compliments given to her, thanks to her step-father’s sharp tongue, but Hank had insisted that she learn to accept a compliment gracefully.

“Has anyone else come down yet?” Madeline asked Josephine as she began to knead the bread.

“Just Elijah, but he headed straight out to the barn.”

Madeline looked to Theodore. “Theodore, would you please make certain your father knows that breakfast will be waiting for him when he’s finished with his morning chores?”

“Yes, ma’am,” Theodore answered with a solemn nod, then headed outside to tell his father. George ran along behind him.

Once they were alone, Josephine tried to keep her mind off her worry for Hank and Caleb. “Do you think the Washingtons will settle down around here?”

“I don’t see why not,” Madeline replied as she shaped the bread and placed it in a bowl. “We certainly don’t have a local supplier for horses around here.”

Josephine nodded in agreement. “I just worry that not everyone will make them feel welcome. Do you think there’ll be any problems?”

Madeline gave that some thought as she pumped some water onto a clean, empty flour sack and wrung it out over the basi

n in the sink. “I don’t think so. There might be a feather or two ruffled here or there, but once they see Caleb accepting the Washingtons, no one would dare raise a hand to them.”

“Good,” Josephine sighed in relief. “I’d hate to think they might feel unwelcome. I really like them.”

“So do I.” Madeline placed the wet towel over the bowl, then set it on the shelf above the stove top to rise. “That should make two loaves. Do you think we should do another batch?”

“I think so. We have five extra mouths to feed, after all. I thought I’d make some cornbread to go with the beans for supper tonight, though.”

“Mmmm, that sounds delicious. Oh, good morning, Mr. and Mrs. Washington!”

Otis and Esther Washington made their way into the kitchen, arm in arm. Josephine loved how tender they were with one another and hoped that she and Hank would end up as much in love as they appeared to be.

“Oh, none of that formal nonsense, please, Miss Madeline,” Otis chuckled. “Just call us Otis and Esther.”

She smiled back at him. “If you insist.”

“Oh, we do, we do,” Esther agreed. “Anything I can do to help? I’m pretty handy in the kitchen, if I do say so myself.”

Madeline almost dismissed her offer, then realized that might come across as an insult. She knew that if anyone had taken her in, she would expect to pull her own weight as well. “We do need to check to see if yesterday’s milk is ready to be skimmed yet. If it is, the skimmer is in the top right drawer of the cupboard, and yesterday’s cream should be in a bowl in the top right of the icebox.”

Esther grinned. “Excellent. And where would I find yesterday’s milk, then?”

Josephine motioned to the icebox near the door to the root cellar. “It’s in the bottom left.”

Esther happily got to work on skimming the cream. It felt so good to be doing something in a normal fashion after all that time on the wagon that she hummed as she worked.

While Josephine enjoyed the sound of Esther’s humming and normally found music relaxing, nothing could quell the knot in her stomach. Her mind flashed all kinds of horrible images of what could have happened to Hank during that storm yesterday. She was torn between praying that they had not yet left Gering and that they would show up at any moment, safe and sound.


It was mid-afternoon and Josephine was outside working in the garden with George and Theodore when Pardner began to bark. Truth be told, the boys were playing more than they were working, but after they had spent the morning churning butter, Josephine felt that they deserved some time to play.

She stuck her pitchfork into the earth she had been turning over and walked to the front of the house where she could get a good look down the road. She could just make out some riders in the distance and shaded her eyes against the afternoon sun to get a better look.

It only took a moment for her to recognize Silas and his horse. Another man rode alongside him. She thought it might be the sheriff and her heart filled with dread. Why on earth would the sheriff be coming back?

She was about to turn and head inside when she saw that two wagons were following behind the riders. The fear and dread in her heart melted away like the last of the winter snow and was quickly replaced with excitement and joy. That had to be Hank and Caleb!

Josephine called out to the boys, raising her voice to be heard above the dog’s excited barking. “George! Come quick!”

George and Theodore abandoned their hill of dirt and ran toward Josephine’s voice.

“Yes, Miss Jo?” George asked as he turned to look where she was looking. He could see there were people down the road, but from his vantage point, he could not get a good look at who it might be. The fence line blocked his view.

“Go and wake your aunt. Hank and your Uncle Caleb are home!” Relief washed over her as she saw the wagons laden down with wood and boxes. Who else would be coming this way with two wagons full of building materials? And following Silas, to boot.

George ran off with a loud whoop of excitement, with Theodore in tow. Josephine knew that Madeline was exhausted, but she also knew that her friend would want to greet her husband as soon as he got back home.

It took everything inside her to stay where she was and not run down the road and greet Hank. Only two things stopped her—her fear of the sheriff and the possibility of embarrassing Hank. She was not certain which was the greater of the two. Instead, she ran to the barn to see if any of the ranch hands were there, so she could tell them the good news, but the barn was empty.

She called the dog to her side and tied him to the hitching post just outside the barn. He was pretty good about not leaving the yard, but she did not want him getting under foot in his excitement. He knew who was coming down the road before anyone else could see them!

As she waited for the men to return, she stood near the barn and began to wring her hands in her work apron. She was nearly buzzing with excitement over seeing Hank, safe and sound, and yet filled with dread over the sheriff being there. To calm herself, she closed her eyes while she waited and said a prayer of thanks to God for keeping him safe during the storm yesterday. For keeping both of them safe.

She had no sooner finished her prayer when she heard the screen door at the front of the house close with a bang. Excited shouts from George joined the excited barking of the dog. She opened her eyes and, moments later, Madeline appeared from the side of the house. She was grinning ear to ear and was almost running toward Josephine. It was more of a brisk, waddling walk, truth be told.

Josephine ran to her friend’s side and they clasped their hands together in excitement, each pleased to see that their man had made it home safely. It took her a moment to realize that she had not seen the boys come back outside.

“Where are George and Theodore?” she asked with a quizzical look on her face.

“Oh, they took off running down the road. I don’t think Theodore would’ve gone at all, but George grabbed his hand and was dragging him along.” Madeline laughed as she remembered the sight of the smaller boy nearly pulling the larger one off his feet.

Josephine could easily see George dragging Theodore down the road in his exuberance. She joined in her friend’s laughter. They stood there arm in arm, smiles plastered to their faces, and waited for their men as the gentle breeze tugged at their hair and their skirts.

When the men pulled the wagons into the yard, both Josephine and Madeline ran to greet them. Silas and the sheriff rode in alongside them, and both boys were up on the buckboard with Caleb. They stopped the wagons just outside the barn and quickly hopped down to give their ladies a hug. The boys clambered down on their own.

“Oh, Hank! I’m so glad you’re all right!” Josephine exclaimed as she threw her arms around his neck. She buried her face in his shoulder, ashamed of the tears that threatened to burst forth.

Hank wrapped her in a bear hug, picked her up and spun her around once. “We’re fine, Josie-darlin’. It’d take more than a twister to keep me from you.”

Josephine began to tremble and made a sound that was a half-sob, half-laugh.

Hank pulled her arms from around his neck to release the grip she held on him. He needed to see her face, to see what was wrong. He saw the tears spill over her bottom lashes, pulled off his gloves, and wiped her tears away with his thumb. “Now, what are those for? We’re home now, safe and sound.”

“I’m sorry. I’ve just been so worried. I thought maybe…”

He cut her off by giving her a kiss, square on the lips. She turned a pretty shade of red as he did so. He knew that kissing her in public was not exactly proper, but at the moment, he did not care.

“Hank, stop it,” she protested weakly as she playfully slapped his shoulder. “People will see.”

He grinned. “Let ‘em. The more people know that you’re mine, the better!” Hank pulled her into his arms again, for another long hug.

The sheriff cleared his throat as he walked up, eager to get down t

o business so he could begin his trip home. If he left soon, he might make it back tomorrow morning.

Hank felt Josephine stiffen in his arms. They pulled back from their hug, but he kept his arm around her for moral support. He knew how worried she had been about her step-father finding her, but now that he knew why the sheriff had hunted her down, he could not be happier for his bride-to-be.

The sheriff nodded politely to Josephine and offered a tip of his hat. “Miss Martin?”

Josephine swallowed hard and nodded. “Yes, sheriff?” she squeaked out past the lump that had suddenly formed in her throat.

“You certainly are a hard woman to find. It helped, once I knew that you were using a different name.” He gave her a playful wink. “I must admire everyone’s loyalty to you. Not one person gave you up. If I hadn’t run into Caleb and Hank on the road, I’d probably still be looking for you.”

Hank could feel her tremble at the sheriff’s words and gave her a reassuring squeeze. He knew that she had nothing to be worried about, but he agreed to let the sheriff deliver the news himself. A small part of him worried that she might change her mind about marrying him after she found out, but he tried to squash that fear like a fly that was pestering you.

“I’m not going back,” Josephine blurted out. “I’m not. You can’t make me!”

The sheriff tried his best to not smile. He almost succeeded. “I’m not taking you back. Don’t worry. I have something for you,” he explained as he reached into his vest pocket inside his long coat.

Her brow furrowed as she watched him pull out an envelope. He handed it to her, and she stared at it as though it might bite her. The envelope was clearly addressed to her, though there was no address listed on it. It simply had “Miss Josephine Randall” written on it in a neat, flowing hand. Her hands began to shake.

The sheriff and Hank both stood there, watching her. When it looked like she might stand there all day, Hank gave her a little squeeze.

“Well? Aren’t you going to open it?” Hank prodded. He knew what was in that letter. She certainly had nothing to be afraid of.

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