Jacquie, Thank you for allowing me to visit with you again on Romancing the West.
When I was approached to write a Christmas story to add to a historical western anthology, I’d just been reading Oregon Outlaws by Gary and Gloria Meier. A story in the book caught my attention, first because it happened in the county where I grew up and second it seemed like the perfect type of miracle story that went with the holiday.
Dave Tucker was a young man who grew up in Wallowa Valley and made friends with the wrong people. They talked him into helping them rob the First Bank of Joseph. During the get-a-way several, including Tucker (who lost a thumb and finger) were wounded and captured. Only one man with a money bag got away and was never caught.
Tucker pleaded guilty to bank robbery and was sentenced to seven years in the Oregon State Penitentiary in Salem. He served over four years of his sentence working in the prison shops and mail office. Being a model prisoner he was released and returned to Wallowa Valley to face his family and friends and rebuild his life.
Twenty-seven years after his release from prison, Dave Tucker became the vice-president of the very bank he’d robbed.
This story intrigued me, so I set up a similar situation in my novella, Christmas Redemption. My hero, Van Donovan, was younger, fifteen and rebelling from a strict father. His job was the lookout for the robbery. Only one man was killed, a bystander, and the outlaws got away with the money leaving Van to go to prison. Which is another plot line in the story. ;)
Van doesn’t return and become the bank president, but he does return with a trade, boot making (which I’ll tell you about on Research Thursday here at Romancing the West), and to make amends with his family.
|Paty Jager, Author|
Only upon his return, Van learns the fate of the wife and daughter of the innocent man killed during the robbery. His guilty conscience pushes him to help the daughter, and he discovers the strong-willed young woman squatting in the building he purchased for his boot making shop is one and the same.
While Van is hardened from his belief his family never contacted him while he was in prison because they were disappointed him, he has a benevolent side that reaches out to anyone in need. And a toughness he learned from his father as well as defending himself in the prison.
This story started out to be in an anthology that became too big to be included, and I have it available now until January 1st in ebook through Smashwords for free.
The blurb for Christmas Redemption:
Van Donovan returns to Pleasant Valley, Oregon where twelve years earlier as a boy of fifteen he left in handcuffs after standing guard for a bank robbery. He's learned a trade and excelled at it and is ready to prove to his father and the town he can amount to something.
Upon his return he learns the fate of the daughter of an innocent man who died in the robbery crossfire. To make amends he takes her out of the saloon and gives her a job, not realizing she'd been squatting in the very building he'd purchased for his business.
Can two battered hearts find solace or will the past continue to haunt their lives?
Van worked hard to wash away the images of the men handling Tessa like she was a whore. He'd witnessed the fear and humiliation in her large green eyes. Now fear widened those same eyes. Only this fear was almost frantic.
"What's wrong?" He stepped closer.
"I-I…" She glanced at the building in front of them and then at her feet.
The calico cat slinked around the corner of the building, set its yellow eyes on Tessa, and trotted over, lacing back and forth around her ankles.
"You and the cat seem to be friends." The minute he spit the words out it dawned on him- Tessa was his squatter.
She bent, scooped the cat into her arms, and buried her face in the animal's thick fur. Van's heart squeezed.
"I have a feeling it's your pallet in my storeroom." He motioned to the cat when her face and wide eyes appeared over its back. "The cat and I met before. In the back room."
She sucked in air then coughed. The cat launched out of her arms. Tears streamed down her rosy cheeks.
Van slipped an arm around her and maneuvered her into the building, away from the prying eyes peering through the saloon doors and from the street around them. Inside, he closed the door and moved to add wood to the potbelly stove he'd started before heading to the saloon.
She stood just inside the door, huddled in his coat, the whole time he added two sticks of wood and placed a chair beside the stove.
"Sit and get warm." He maneuvered her to the chair and she sat.
"W-why are you doing this?" she asked, gazing up at him, searching his face. He could stare into her spring green eyes—round and wondering like an innocent child—all day.
"You didn’t look like you wanted those men pawing you, and I need help setting up and running my shop." And I can't let your life be awful because of me.
"Who are you? Why are you here? In Pleasant Valley?"
Van swallowed the wad of shame strangling his throat and studied the stove. She deserved the truth but would she understand his part in her father's death? He wouldn't know until he told her. He looked her square in the eyes.
"I lived in Pleasant Valley some years back and after learning a trade decided to return and reconnect with family." There until she heard his name that should suffice.
"Who's your family? I've been around here my whole life I probably know them." Tessa pulled his coat tighter around her shoulders.
The action reminded him of the men at the saloon and her scant clothing. "Why don’t you go back and change into your clothes. I'll get a pot of coffee going. Then we'll sit down and discuss what I see as your job." He turned his back to her and dug in the box he'd placed by the stove. The old battered pot he used for shop coffee was in it somewhere.
The cat's purring and the soft skim of her shoes across the wood floor faded. He ran a hand over the back of his neck. The muscles started knotting when she'd asked about his family. Damn! Sooner or later he'd have to tell her, but it would be best if he could keep it quiet until she fully trusted him and learned to see he wasn't the same boy who raised havoc on the town just to get his father riled.
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