Written in 22 minutes. No time for edits.
It was nearly sunset when Jason was able to take the letters out to the Lazy W. He’d packed them carefully into his saddlebags, wishing he’d found a way to handle all of this without bringing Elizabeth more pain.
It was an unsettling sensation to switch off the last five years of resentment he’d felt towards Elizabeth. He’d stopped writing her after his telegrams had gone unanswered, but the letter from his grandmother a year later with its single off hand mention of the Webber girl marrying into the Lewis family had changed things. He’d wondered at first if maybe she’d just lost interest or if he’d imagined how they felt about each other—
But to know that Elizabeth had married into the Lewis family, one of the most respectiable—and wealthiest in Diamond Springs—he’d started to think that maybe she’d wanted something better than a guy who’d needed to leave town to make his money.
He’d never dreamed she’d married the head of the family—the much older Cameron Lewis. He’d expected Alexander or Peter, Cameron’s sons. He’d known them growing up, and Elizabeth had always been the prettiest girl in town. He wouldn’t have been surprised if one of them had used Jason’s absence to court her.
He wondered where those sons were now, and why they weren’t helping her with their youngest brother. Why Elizabeth appeared to be struggling to make ends meet on her family’s ranch when the Lewises had once had more wealth.
Jason suspected the answer to all these mysteries were hidden somewhere in her letters—and now the resentment he’d once felt had been replaced by concern. Worry.
Something had happened to drive Elizabeth away five years ago-to make her stop writing him. Something had destroyed the Lewis family’s wealth.
He just didn’t know how to find any of that out without hurting Elizabeth.
As Jason rode up the drive towards the ranch home, he furrowed his brow at the gray horse hitched up out front of the house. He’d seen Elizabeth’s small collection of horse on his He previous visit—this wasn’t one of hers.
Jason had no sooner tied up his own horse than the door opened and the owner of mystery house revealed himself as Ric Lansing stalked out of the front door, the porch door slapping against the wall of the house.
“I am out of patience, Elizabeth,” Ric snapped, all the charm and swagger Jason expected from the older man, absent. “You either agree now or—” He sputtered to a stop as Jason stepped out from behind his horse and tipped the hat back on his head.
“Is there a problem here?” Jason asked, flatly.
Still inside the house, Elizabeth stood at the threshold of the door. He couldn’t quite see her face clearly behind the mesh screen. She didn’t move. Didn’t open the door.
“Nothing that concerns you,” Ric snarled. He threw another glare at Elizabeth before stalking down the steps and roughly untying his horse. He mounted and took off down the drive at a gallop.
When Ric had passed under the arch entrace of the ranch, Elizabeth finally pushed open the door and stepped outside, her face pale but her expression carefully blank. “Did you bring them?”
“Leave them on the porch.” Then she went back inside, the door slapping shut.
Jason ignored that direction. He grabbed his saddlebags and, cautiously, pulled the door open to step inside her foyer.
The house looked the same as it had when he’d last been in it—the week before her elder brother, Steven, had died from an infection. The wallpaper was a bit thinner, some of the furniture in the parlor had faded, but it looked familiar.
Elizabeth was standing in front of the mantel, holding herself tightly. At the sound of his footsteps, she turned to look at him. “I didn’t ask you in.”
“No, you didn’t. But I was worried some of the letters might get taken by the wind.” Jason flipped open the saddle back and started to take out the letters. There were a few stacks of them, bundled together with twine.
Her lips were thin, nearly white as she watched him. “I’d forgotten how many…” Elizabeth took a deep breath. “She never mailed a single one.”
She stepped closer to him—just a few feet—so that she could pick up one of the bundles. “She didn’t even bother with postage.”
“I’m sorry. I don’t know if it does either of us any better to have these,” Jason admitted. He took out the final stack and held it out.
Elizabeth frowned as she took them. “These are—” She met his eyes briefly, then they darted away. “These are addressed to me—” She ran her fingers over her name. “These are yours.”
“Yeah. All twenty-four. Twice a month for a year.” The corner of Jason’s mouth quirked up. “Felicia Jones even packaged the telegrams with them.”
She closed her eyes and a tear slid down her cheek. Just one. Elizabeth pressed the bundle to her chest as she took a deep breath. “You—” She looked at him. “You didn’t forget me.”
Her breath was shaky as she exhaled. “I didn’t forget you.”
“I know.” He looked at the letters. “And you had more faith in me than I did you. I should have—I should have asked my grandmother about you.”
“I should have asked her about you,” Elizabeth repeated. “She might not have answered me, but maybe she would have told you.”
After a long moment, Elizabeth met his eyes again. “Thank you for bringing them in. I am relieved to have them back. But I should be getting supper together for Cameron—”
“I’ll go,” Jason told her. “Before I do, there are just—there’s just—Lansing looked angry when he left. Is he bothering you?”
“He’s always bothered me,” she murmured. “Since I turned seventeen. It’s nothing new, and I can handle it.”
Jason wasn’t sure about that, but he didn’t want to press it. He’d keep an eye on Ric Lansing in town and find out for himself. “Where are Alexander and Peter?”
Elizabeth blinked at him, then frowned. “What?”
“Cameron’s other sons. Why aren’t they here? Why—” He swallowed his question about why she’d married the father, not the sons.
“They’re—they passed away.” Elizabeth held his letters out. “You should take these.”
“I wrote them to you. They’re yours.” Jason tipped his head. “How long ago? When did they die? My grandmother never wrote about it.”
She stared at him for a long time—so long he didn’t know if she’d answer. Then finally, Elizabeth sighed. “Five years ago. And because I know you’ll only ask someone else—Alexander killed his brother, then himself.”