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Excerpt for Mountains of Love by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Mountains

of

Love



The “Dove Valley Series”



Book 1



A Story of Faith, Redemption,

and Timeless Love



by: Tammy Hesler



Copyright 2018 by Tammy James Hesler



Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Final Thought



Chapter 1



Ezekiel woke to a bright light shining in his eyes. He blinked rapidly against the harsh illumination. A beeping noise resonated from somewhere nearby. Forcing his eyes open he found the source of the annoying sound. It was some sort of monitor.

The action of moving his head caused a fierce, hot pain to shoot through his skull. He raised his hand, to find the cause of his agony, but he was restrained. Feeling a pinch, he looked down and noticed his hand was bleeding. It was no use, he could not get free. The questions began running through his mind. Was someone holding him captive? He had to get out of here, but where was he? “Ok,” Zeke said, “There has to be a logical explanation.” He just needed to calm down and think. He felt so groggy if he could just clear his head, he might get some answers. How had he gotten here? Where was here? What was the last thing he remembered? Nothing came to him no matter how hard he tried to recall what happened. He opened his mouth to call out to someone, anyone, but the pain seared through his face like fire once more. This was a nightmare. It had to be a nightmare!

Ezekiel closed his eyes and then suddenly, he had a slight memory of flying backward through the air and landing outside of a door. As he lay there trying to make sense of what was going on, he remembered a boot crushing his cheekbone. He distinctly recalled the metallic taste of blood in his mouth; dimly he realized that this must be related to the gap he felt where one of his back teeth had once been. The huge man had shown no mercy, as he put Zeke in a headlock and rammed his head into the side of a truck. That was the last thing he could recall before the lights had gone out.

Then he saw her, his angel, his beautiful mother, Bonnie Kate. She stepped closer and he inhaled her scent. She smelled like home and goodness and everything wonderful that was uniquely her.

“Zeke, you’re awake! Keep calm Son. You must settle yourself down. Stop moving around, before you get hurt." She said, noticing the bloodstained sheet and dislodged IV needle.

His face had turned crimson from the exertion of trying to get free. “Get these off me now!” He demanded, through his teeth.

She gently stroked his head,“Quiet down now and I will find the nurse and she will remove the restraints.” She assured him, pushing the nurse call button.

Turning empathic eyes on him, “I’m so sorry you had to go through this Zeke, but believe me, there was no choice, they had to put those on because you were thrashing around and could have done further damage.”

She wiped away tears of joy, “Son, listen to me your injuries are severe. You have been in a coma for almost a week now. I know it may be hard for you to understand because you’re medicated, so just lie still please. Let me get the nurse, and I will finish explaining what happened.”

Ezekiel closed his eyes, allowing the welcome rush of a relief, to flood through him. The utterly confusing blurred reality, he had upon awakening, was slowly coming into focus.

Karen, the night nurse entered the room and stopped short at seeing him awake. She shook her head, causing long, dangling, earrings to jingle. Then, she propped her hands on her ample hips, displaying a set of ultra-hot, pink glittery nails, and said, “Well, now, sir, it looks like you’ve decided to rejoin the living!”

Zeke watched Karen bustle over and check his vital signs. The smell of antiseptic struck his nose. He felt the expected prick, as he watched her reinsert the IV needle.

When finished, Karen leaned in to hug Bonnie, "We have a lot to be thanking the good Lord for." She gave her old friend a long appraising look. Her upswept copper hair was as neat as always. But the rings under her eyes had traveled as far down as her beautifully prominent cheekbones.

Ezekiel didn’t miss Karen’s scrutiny of Bonnie Kate. Knowing his mom the way he did, he was certain, that no one could have dragged her away from this hospital to go home and get rest. She had always been fiercely dedicated to her family.

When Karen finally left, he fixed his mother with an imploring stare, "Tell me" He whispered, his voice hoarse and raspy,“I want to know what happened"

Bonnie Kate turned her eyes to the monitor for a long moment, simply listening to the sound of her son’s heartbeat. She remained quiet, just, finding peace in the fact that her prayers were answered. She still had her son. Her eyes swung back to drink in the sight of her Ezekiel. His six foot three frame took up every inch of the hospital bed. He was in definite need of a shave. The scruffy beard covered his strong cleft chin, he and his twin brothers had inherited from their father. His light blue eyes matched hers perfectly. Bonnie knew she was blessed with three very handsome boys.

They were a handful when they were young, and things didn't get any easier with three teenage males in her house. Still, she loved the good and bad. Her mother gave her some advice that held true all through the child-rearing days. She used to say, "When they are little they step on your feet, but when they are big, they step on your heart.” All she could do was hope and pray that her son would come to realize his destructive behavior was not only affecting him but everyone who loved him.

After collecting her thoughts, she finally said, “All I know is what I was told. The police report said that, you showed up around 9:00 PM at Long Necks Bar on horseback. As a matter-of-fact, you rode your horse straight into the bar. That event evidently raised quite a ruckus until Gus, the bartender, made you park Pegasus outside. Obviously, you had already had a few drinks, and from what everyone said, more than a few. You challenged Bull Boone to a game of pool. After playing a few rounds, his wife Jeannie came into the bar to try to drag him out and take him home.

I’ve always felt sorry for her; she’s been trying to straighten him up for years. Anyhow, apparently you made a rude and obscene comment to her. It seems as though Mr. Boone didn't take too kindly to that, of course. According to all the witnesses, he broke the pool stick over your head, and that is when the fight broke out. Of course, I say fight, but I don't think you were in any shape to put up any sort of fight at all. The eyewitnesses said that, you were way too drunk to even attempt to defend yourself. Bull almost beat you to death. He would have succeeded, but the bartender had called the police the minute the fight broke out.”

Zeke stared up at the white tiled ceiling as he listened to the story. Flashes of that night were still coming back in bits and pieces. It was like, it never even happened to him, except this pain was very real. He recalled arriving at the bar looking to have a little fun after a hard day of working cows. Everything after that was just a blur.

Ezekiel looked up when he heard the hospital door open. There stood a tall figure with a large brimmed cowboy hat, faded jeans, and a western shirt. This modern-day cowboy was a solid mountain of a man that he was proud to call Pop. He looked like he had just stepped out of an old western movie. In fact, everyone in town had always compared his parents to John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara.

Bronson froze in mid-step with the coffee cup at his lips. “Well Son, it's about time you got your lazy backside up, you’ve been snoozing for about a week." He drawled, with his lips curving ever so slightly upward. Braun, as his friends called him, was still an impressive figure, with a six foot five sturdy frame. The gray hair curling up around the brim of his cowboy hat gave him a distinctive rugged look.

Bonnie Kate ran to hug him. “Can you believe it, Braun? He’s awake, and back with us. Thanks be to God!”

Bronson stroked her hair and ran a gentle finger down her cheek. “You’re right my love, this is truly a miracle!” He turned his attention back to his son.

Ezekiel watched his father warily. After hearing the story, he wasn’t pleased with himself. But, his father was certainly going to hit the roof. The Bartlett boys had been raised to have the utmost respect for women. Bronson had insisted that his sons were always to be gentlemen. They were taught to open doors, carry heavy packages and most certainly, never use any strong language in front of one.

Zeke closed his eyes in dread, as his father approached him. With each boot step, he could feel himself tensing more and more. Suddenly that large work-hardened hand clamped down on his shoulder. When the hand began to shake, he lifted his curious gaze up to his Pop.

He was stunned, the massive mountain of a man, who had never once shown any signs of weakness, was having a complete breakdown. He covered his father’s hand with his and matched Bronson’s tears with a few of his own. Braun abruptly stopped after a moment and got himself under control. Turning to Bonnie Kate, he said, “We must give thanks to God.” He led her by the hand to kneel and pray for Ezekiel’s continued healing.



Chapter 2



“Man, what a fantastically gorgeous springtime day, I must say, sir, I am feeling downright chipper just to be out of that stinking hospital bed.” Zeke said, turning to his old bloodhound Huckleberry, as he collapsed back onto his living room sofa, and turned on the TV.

Suddenly, the doorbell interrupted Ezekiel’s ballgame. He sighed at the thoughts of having to try and pull himself back up off of the couch. His cast felt like it weighed a hundred pounds as he heaved himself back to a prone position, he started for the door wobbling quite precariously on his crutches as he got up.

“Hold on a second,” he hollered out from across a room. “Let me figure out how to work these things.” He made his way to the front door ever so slowly. Huckleberry happily trotted ahead to give the newcomer a warm welcome with a swift wag of his tail.

Zeke grinned through the screen at his visitor. “Well,” he said, “if it isn’t Pastor Kirkland. That is what they are calling you these days, isn’t it?”

James’ green eyes twinkled with good humor. “Are you going to stand there doing a great impression of a stork or let me in?” Zeke glanced down at his bandaged foot, “Yeah,” he said, “it’s still too painful to put pressure on.”

James took in his surroundings. The massive white rock fireplace stood as grand as ever while, the vaulted pine ceilings and enormous windows still spanned one whole side of the great room. The wagon wheel chandelier, still hung monumentally, in the center of the family room. Yes indeed, everything seemed exactly the same. He had a lot of wonderful memories of spending time with the Bartlett boys growing up.

In his mind’s eye, he could still see Ms. Bonnie Kate weaving her baskets or in the kitchen canning food from the garden. Bronson would have been building a fire or maybe reading his bible. The boys would have been romping through the house throwing a football, or racing one another up and down the spiral staircase. He really must get out one day and visit the elder Bartlett’s at their new home.

The pastor turned his attention to his old friend; with the bandages and extensive bruising, he saw very little resemblance to the handsome, All-American jock who was one of his best buddies all the way through high school.

Bonnie Kate had tried to prepare him for seeing Zeke by telling him what to expect. He thought he was ready, but mentally, it was still quite a shock. The jagged surgery scar spanning the full length of his cheek was still pretty fresh. The nose had most certainly been broken, that would explain the two fading black eyes that were still visible.

Ezekiel caught a whiff of cinnamon as James walked past him, “What is that smell? Please tell me that is, the heavenly scent of Susie’s cream cheese pumpkin cookies.”

James lifted the lid and looked down into the bakery box. “Well, my wife was sweet enough to send you a couple of dozen homemade cookies she was baking for the church fundraiser; However,” he looked down, paused, as he visibly counted the cookies left in the box. He gave his friend a sheepish look, “I guess I must have eaten a little more than I realized on the drive over. Anyhow,” he said, shoving the box at Zeke, “look on the bright side you still got a few left.”

Turning his attention back to Zeke’s face, James let out a soft whistle. “Man-o-man, Bull sure did a number on you.”

Ezekiel gave him a lopsided grin revealing a missing tooth. “Why don’t you tell me something I don’t already know.”

James grabbed a soda out of the refrigerator and threw a couple of pieces of beef jerky at Huckleberry before taking a seat and propping his feet up on the coffee table. “So, are you going to press charges?”

Zeke stared at the ballgame for a minute and shook his head, “I don’t know what to do. By all accounts, I was plainly in the wrong and deserved to have my tail kicked. But, he went above and beyond anything that was necessary to get his point across.”

“How are those twin brothers of yours doing?” James asked.

“They are still as different as day and night. Mitch is working for the FBI as a profiler, and Adam is doing what he has always loved, performing music. His contemporary Christian band is phenomenal. This week I believe he has a show in New York. They both stay gone a lot, and I certainly do miss them. They should be coming home for Christmas. Much to my mother’s complete dismay, neither has married, and they are just as single as I am. Instead of the baby blues, Bonnie Kate has the grandbaby blues. It is her fondest wish to hold her first grandchild in her arms.”

Suddenly, his mind drifted back to the current problem, “I’ve got to do some hard thinking to figure out what the right thing is in this situation.” he stated.

James nodded his agreement, while scoring a shot in Zeke’s indoor basketball hoop. “That’s something you and the good Lord will have to work out. Speaking of the big man upstairs, have you been in touch with him since all this happened?”

Ezekiel gave him a wry grin, “Somehow I don’t think he’s too happy with me these days. And for that matter, I’m not happy with me these days either. I’m probably the last person that he would want to hear from.”

James rolled his eyes heavenward. “Come on Zeke, you know better than that. Think back to all those Sunday school lessons we sat through. Jesus did not spend all his time hanging out with the saints. A great deal of his time was spent with people who are considered less than reputable. The number one thing we tend to do when we’re not living right, is to run from God. Sometimes we feel guilty for sinning, while, other times we’re just not ready to give up our so-called fun.”

Zeke let out a bark of laughter. “Man, if that ain’t the truth! I went in to Long Necks Bar looking for a good time. The funny thing is, I’m having about the least good time I’ve ever had in my entire life. In fact, I think I’ve had about as much of this so-called fun as I can handle for one lifetime.”

James slanted him a sideways look, as he stroked Huckleberry’s head. “I used to think I couldn’t have fun without a couple of beers. The fact is, I am so much happier when I get high on life than I ever was in my drinking days. I believe the good Lord has given you a wake-up call. Sometimes he just has to hit us over the head to get our attention, in this case, literally.”

Zeke smiled brightly, “Gee, thanks, but then again, what are friends for? Oh, that’s right, they have to come around and point out all of our stupid mistakes that we make. Thanks for that ole buddy.” He called over his shoulder, as he hobbled into the kitchen to get a fresh batch of snacks before turning the game back up.

Later that night, Zeke couldn't sleep. He was simply content to stare out the window framed sky that sparkled with silvery stars, and think. The reason for James’ visit was not lost on him; it was time to cut out all the nonsense and straighten his life out. He knew everything his friend had said was absolutely right. His mother and father had raised him to be a Christian. They were wonderful God fearing people. Bonnie Kate and Bronson had made sure their children were in church each and every week. Zeke himself had been a Christian, but after he had got a taste of the nightlife, he turned away from God. Maybe it was true; perhaps this was God’s way of bringing him home. The one thing that he knew right here and now is, no matter what, he would never step foot in a bar again.

The next day, Zeke was still contemplating the whole event as he gazed across the pasture at his herd of Appaloosas from the front porch. He rubbed his old coon dog’s head. “You know, Huckleberry, we are blessed to have yet, another, picture-perfect day. Brought to us by none other than the good Lord above. Look at that sky. Did you ever see such a vivid blue and check out those milky-white clouds drifting past. And just look at those snow-capped mountains. They are certainly a fine shade of majestic purple today. Grandma Bartlett used to call them, “Mountains of Love” She would recite the old Dove Valley legend “If you hike through these mountains with your intended, it will seal your love for a lifetime.”

Huckleberry raised his baleful droopy eyes to look at his master, sighed, and then plopped his head back down. Zeke continued eyeing the old hound dog. “I don’t think I’ve ever slowed down enough to realize how little you do each day around here. How do you justify consuming the number of dog treats and food you eat every day? You couldn’t have possibly burned off half the calories you take in by just lying there and never moving a muscle. I guess your folks never explained the importance of earning your keep.” Zeke smiled down, as Huckleberry began to snore.

The past couple of days he was able to slack off of the pain medicine; allowing him to focus and think more clearly. The number one question in his mind was, why did he make rude comments to Jeannie? He had always liked her. She was such a sweet lady in every sense of the word. It was hard to believe, (even with alcohol involved) that he could make obscene comments to a fine church going friend. He was so ashamed and disappointed in himself.

Taking another sip of his ice tea he continued contemplating. It was time to stop playing games and be honest about his behavior. Was it jealousy? The answer was yes. He had always envied Bull for having such a beautiful, and elegant lady such as Jeannie. He had always thought to himself, that guy didn’t deserve to have such a lovely, kind soul. Meanwhile, he had looked for years and couldn’t find the woman of his dreams.

Bull Boone had the whole package; wife, kids and all but didn't appreciate any of it. So probably somewhere in the back of his crazy drunk mind, he thought by making a play for Jeannie he could steal her away. Was he in love with Jeannie? Closing his eyes and leaning his head against the back of the rocker, he thought about that long and hard. The answer was a definite no. When he envisioned the woman of his dreams, he would include some of the exceptional qualities that she had. But, if truth be told, it would not be a carbon copy of Jeannie Boone.

As he pulled up a chair to prop his sore foot on, he heard his old friend’s words from last night saying, “Are you gonna prosecute?” That was an excellent question. Should he prosecute someone who gave him pretty much what he deserved? Yeah, Bull went overboard for sure no doubt about it. Strangely enough, Zeke couldn’t muster up too much hatred for the person who had put him in the most pain he ever felt in his entire life.

Although Sheriff Hayden Alexander might be right, pressing charges against Bull may prevent him from doing harm to himself or someone else again. He can’t just be allowed to continue attacking someone who insults him or makes him mad. If he is not held accountable for his actions he probably won’t stop. Man-o-man, he had some difficult decisions to make. The answers that he needed, were just not coming to him.

Zeke would have to rely on his great grandmother’s advice. She would say, “Pray about it, sleep on it, and the answer will undoubtedly present itself in the morning.” And, she was usually right.



Chapter 3



Zeke woke to the sound of Huckleberry howling. The clock flashed 8:32. He rolled out of bed, and peered down the road. The dust kicking up, indicated someone was heading down to his driveway.

He couldn’t immediately identify the truck. Snatching up the cleanest pair of jeans, he ungracefully hobbled over to the bed and struggled to pull them over his bandaged foot. After locating his crutches, he headed downstairs. He would master maneuvering these stairs if it killed him, and it just might, he ruefully thought to himself.

Opening the screen door, he immediately recognized the sable-haired lady climbing out of the truck. It could only be Jeannie. She had worn her hair with that cute little shoulder-length flip, since high school. As she stepped out of the truck, the morning sun glinted off of her bright yellow sundress making her look like a pure ray of sunshine.

She reached down and patted Huckleberry on the head, before looking up to greet Zeke with a hesitant smile. He walked out to unlatch the wooden gate and let her in.

“Wow, this is beautiful. I love the white picket fence. Did you build it yourself?” She said, stepping through the rose-draped archway.

“I built it, but Mama came out and planted all the roses.” He explained, holding the gate for her.

Jeannie gave Zeke a warm hug, and then glanced up to admire the trellis. “No wonder these flowers are so amazing, I think she has the greenest thumb in town.”

He chuckled, “Boy, you got that right! She still doesn’t trust me not to murder them. She stops by once a week, just to be sure I’m doing right by her little darlings.” He explained, reaching out to pick a still dew dampened, rose for her.

“Have a seat,” he said, carefully maneuvering his way back up the porch steps “Can I get you some coffee?”

“Oh yes, please, it’s still early yet, my brain’s not fully engaged without adding another cup or two of coffee.” Jeannie said, as she breathed in the sweet scent of the peach-colored flowers.

Zeke glanced down at his crutches, looking a little chagrined, “I might have bitten off a little more than I can chew. You may need to give me a helping hand. I don’t think I can juggle two crutches, and both cups. That may take a little more practice with these things, before I can attempt that trick.”

“Well,my nose tells me we won’t have to wait long.” she said, with an appreciative sniff.

He gave her a broad grin, “Tell me about it; automatic coffee makers that magically turn on bright and early in the morning, filling the house with that wonderful rich, aroma, are a bachelor’s best friend.” He said, heading into the kitchen.

A few minutes later they were back out on the porch. She relaxed back in the chair and sipped her coffee, “I could get used to the ranch life, this is a tranquil place. Those are some beautiful Appaloosas you have there. Isn’t that how you make your living these days? ” she said, pointing out a large spotted, white stallion, calmly grazing, swatting the gnats away with his tail.

He nodded his agreement with a proud smile, “You have a good eye, that’s Pegasus, he is an amazing horse. Together we have won the Montana State Barrel Racing Championship four times! We have this connection that I just can’t explain or even described to anyone, but it’s like he intuitively predicts my next move. Sometimes, we’re so in sync when we compete, it’s downright scary.”

Zeke fixed her with a hard look, “Ok, so what’s going on? I know, you didn’t come here to admire my Appaloosas.”

She slanted him a nervous, sidelong look, “Ya got me, I think you already know why I’m here.” She admitted, with a nervous laugh.

He shook his head, “Not exactly.”

She took a shaky breath, “Ok, I am going to lay it on the line.” She jumped up and began to pace, wringing her hands, “I have come to ask you not to press charges against Bull. I know you have every right to put him behind bars and he deserves it. It may not be a bad thing, he might sober up in jail.

 They have treatment programs and things that can help him. That is actually what he needs, because my husband is an alcoholic. But what I’m asking you to consider is, we have a family, and a mortgage and everything would be lost if he got locked up and couldn’t work. Our family depends on him; there is no way I could replace his salary with the cost of daycare; I could work two jobs, and it still wouldn’t be enough.” She finished explaining, then risked a glance his way.

Zeke continued to rock and stare out at the mountains without saying a word.

Jeannie turned to him with unshed tears glistening in her eyes, “Zeke did you hear me? Are you at least going to answer? Even if the answer is no, just say something.” She begged.

Finally, he smiled at her, “Would you please sit down, you’re making me dizzy.”

She sat.

“Jeannie, you know I’ve always had a soft spot where you’re concerned. I think you could ask me to hand you the world on a silver platter and I would do everything in my power to make it happen. It’s not even a matter of forgiving him for what he’s done to me; because we both know that I’m partly to blame. But, we also both know, that one of these days, he’s going to hurt somebody much worse and possibly be looking at a murder charge.

I know that when Bull Boone is not drinking, he will do anything for anybody. He is one of the nicest people and best friends I ever had. But get a few drinks in him, and he’s downright dangerous.” He blew out a frustrated breath, and ran a hand through his hair.

“I know that Zeke, you’re not telling me anything that I don’t already know. He’s not the same man that I fell in love with. I would give anything if I could change him. I have tried everything; I don’t know what else to do. We have gone to counseling and I have begged,and pleaded with him. I’m desperate, and I don’t know who to turn to for help.” She mumbled, with sad tears of defeat trickling down her cheeks.

The silence stretched out between them. Finally, Zeke nodded decisively, “I’ll tell you who you are going to turn to, Jesus himself. Bull needs God, and until he gets God in his life, things are never going to change. I think it’s time that Bull Boone and I play let’s-make-a-deal.”

Jeannie raised her eyebrows. “What in the world are you talking about?” she asked.

“Well,I’ve got a one-time offer to make him. Bull has to meet me in church on Sunday; we offer our apologies to each other and God. The last part of the deal is we both must keep our head out of the bottle. No drinking for either of us ever again. Otherwise, I will prosecute him to the fullest extent of the law.” He declared with a still small amount of an uncertainty, but yet at the same time, feeling somehow, the idea was inspired by someone other than him.

Jeannie gave him a grateful smile, “I do think, Sir, that is one of the most awesome ideas, I have ever heard. I don’t know whether he will go for it. But personally, I think it’s more than a fair offer, and he would be crazy not to take you up on it.” She concluded, with obvious admiration.

Zeke held up one finger, “Wait a minute, there is one thing I left out.” He turned to face her, “Most of all, I owe you a huge apology. Jeannie, I am so sorry that I was unforgivably rude. That is the one thing that I’m kicking myself for more than anything. I have nothing but the utmost respect for you. I have racked my brain to try to figure out what came over me and after many days and nights of soul searching, I think I’ve come up with the truth of the matter.”

She shook her head, “It’s ok Zeke, you’re forgiven, you don’t owe me anything.” He held his hand up, “Please let me finish, I need to explain. Up until very recently, I don’t think I understood it myself. I have always cared so much for you. I watched you grow up from a cute little girl that transformed to a beautifully attractive creature. I have no idea exactly when that happened. All I know is one day I looked up, and you were all grown. So many times I wanted to ask you out. Maybe, take you to a movie, dinner just to spend time with you.

Then, you met Bull, and he beat me to it. It was all because I didn’t have the nerve to approach you first. I watched you get married, settle down, and have babies. Do you know how many times I wished that I was in his place? I felt like he didn’t deserve you, and deep down inside I was jealous to the bone.

She stared at him with wide eyes, “Oh Zeke, I had no idea! You never even let on like you had feelings for me. This is a complete shock! Bull had said many times he felt like you cared for me as, more than just as a friend. I told him he was wrong and I believed that with all my heart. The number one thing that I have to say to you is, although I’m flattered, my wedding vows are very sacred to me, and I would never betray my husband!”

Zeke held up both hands in a surrender mode, “Wait a minute, you never let me finish. After going over everything in my mind, time and again. I have come to realize that, I am not in love with you, Jeannie. My feelings run very deeply for you as a friend, and that is all there is to it. I do believe that you and Bull belong together. Even if I were truly in love with you I would respect your marriage and back off, and that is the truth of the matter”

She gave a soft laugh, “Well, that is a relief.”

He put his hand over his heart, “You wound me, you don’t have to sound so happy that I’m not in love with you.”

“No, it’s not that, I’m just relieved because I value our friendship and I’m so thankful we will be able to remain friends. Now, for the hard part,” she said on a huge sigh, “trying to convince Mr. Boone to show up in church on Sunday, to take your deal.” I would say wish me luck, but I think a prayer would be more effective.

Zeke stood to give her a hug, “I have faith, and I’m already believing this miracle is going to happen.”



Chapter 4




Zeke parked his truck and sat in the church parking lot. He just couldn't bring himself to get out of the truck. It was a fantastically bright and clear spring morning, and he had the view of a classic big Montana sky. The bright blue canvas, yielded a seemingly endless row of dove- white, mountains.

It had been so long since he had been to church, he had almost forgotten, what a wonderful view the churchyard held. He wasn’t even sure how to act, or even what to say, around churchgoing people anymore.

Closing his eyes, he could remember coming here as a child. The excitement of meeting up with his friends, and playing ball at church picnics after Sunday Services, were sweet memories.

Just then, the church bell rang, jolting him back into reality. Maybe it would just be best to turn my truck around and head home. He jumped, as a knock on the window startled him. James’ smiling face was suddenly looming in his car window.

The preacher shook his head, as Ezekiel rolled the window down. “It’s awesome that you made it, I’m excited to see you! Today’s sermon is terrific, but I don’t think you’ll get very much out of the message from all the way out in your truck.”

Zeke gave him a wide grin, “Well, I got as far as a parking lot.”

James chuckled. “Don’t tell me the big, bad bronc riding Zeke, is scared to face a few of his old friends in the church today?”

Zeke swung the door open. "Out of my way, Kirkland! Let it not be said, that Ezekiel Bartlett was chicken. You just go get your sermon warmed up and ready and you’ll find me sitting in the front row, bright eyed and bushy tailed”.

Zeke caught sight of his mother standing on the front steps, visiting with a few of her friends.

She looked over Ana Campbell’s round shoulder, just as Ms. Campbell was excitedly revealing the title of the new song she would be singing in church today. Bonnie Kate blinked her eyes in disbelief. There was no mistaking the tall, lanky figure striding towards her. He was so much like a younger version of her Bronson that, she knew him immediately.

The look on his mother's face was fantastic. She covered her mouth in complete astonishment. She walked dazedly away from a confused Ms. Campbell and made a beeline directly to him. She put her arms around him and let out a relieved sigh. “I almost gave up hope that you'd ever return to God, but here you are.

I have prayed for this day for so long, but, I never thought I would ever live to see it happen.”

Bronson walked up behind Zeke and patted him on the back. “This is a fine day indeed young man! We’d best be going in if we expect to get a seat." Ezekiel wasn't sure if he had ever, in his whole life, seen such a look of pride in his father’s eyes.

Minutes later, the sweet sound of Ms. Campbell and the choir streamed out of the speakers. The air truly vibrated with the angelic music. Ezekiel got a whiff of Mr. Campbell’s spicey cologne, as he leaned into him. He winked at the younger man; causing a bushy gray eyebrow to come to life, over a twinkling eye. “Ain’t she something?” he whispered.

Zeke couldn’t help but smile fondly at the old man. Mr. and Mrs. Campbell had been married for 50 years. They had always been wholly devoted to each other. This is what I hoped to one day find, a love that will last a lifetime.

Half of the church service was over before he looked around. What am I going to do, if Bull doesn’t show up? Could I really press charges against the man? They all silently waited for Ms. Campbell to exit the podium. He began to nervously fumble with the church bulletin. He stopped abruptly, after realizing the crinkly noise was streaming through the quiet church. His mind began to wander once again. Did I actually have the heart to do that to Jeannie and the kids, after she begged him not to? If Bull keeps drinking and living the same life, something bad was bound to happen. But, what can I do?


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