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The “Dove Valley Series”

Book 1

(A Novella for the Heart)

by Tammy James Hesler

Copyright 2016 by Tammy Hesler

Caribbean Style Publishing

Table of Contents

Chapter 1

Ezekiel woke to a bright light shining in his eyes. He blinked rapidly against the harsh illumination. A beeping noise was resonating 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 red hot searing pain to shoot through his skull. He tried to find the source of the pain, 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 told himself, “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. 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 suddenly, he had a slight memory of flying backward through the air and landing outside a barroom 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. “Zeke” she cried out, “keep calm Son! You must settle yourself down. Stop moving around, before you hurt yourself." His face had turned a bright crimson from the exertion of trying to get free. “Get these off me now!” he demanded through his teeth. She gently stroked his head whispering “Quiet down now and I will try to find the nurse. She will remove the restraints.” She turned empathic eyes to him “I’m so sorry you had to go through this, but we had no choice, they had to put those on because you were thrashing around and could have done further damage.” She wiped away her tears of relief and said, “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 what’s going on because you’re medicated, so just lie still please. Let me get the nurse, and I will finish explaining what happened.”

The night nurse rushed into the room and stopped short at seeing Zeke awake. She shook her head causing long, dangly, earrings to jingle. Then, propping hands on ample hips, displaying a set of ultra-hot, pink glittery nails, she said, “Well, now sir, it looks like you’ve decided to rejoin the living!” Bonnie Kate watched her bustle over and checked all his vital signs. The smell of antiseptic struck her nose as she tried not to watch the IV needle being reinserted. When she 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 drug her away from this hospital to go home and get rest.

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, listening to the sound of her son’s heartbeat. She remained quiet just simply finding peace in the fact that her prayers were answered. She still had her son, and he was alive. Her eyes swung back to drink in the site 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 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 that 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, you showed up around 9:00 PM at Long Necks Bar on horseback. As a matter fact you rode your horse straight into the bar. That event evidently raised quite a ruckus until Gus the bartender made you park Thunder outside. Obviously, you had already had a few drinks; 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. According to all the witnesses, he broke the pool stick over your head, and that's 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, you were way too drunk even to 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 of what had happened to him. Flashes of that night were once again 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 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." 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 distinctively 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 him 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 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, while wiping his tears. Turning to Bonnie Kate, he said, “We must give thanks to God”. He led her by the hand to kneel down to pray for Ezekiel’s continued healing.

Chapter 2

The doorbell interrupted Ezekiel’s ballgame. He wobbled a little precariously on his crutches. “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 the visitor. “Well 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 gonna stand there doing a great impression of a stork or let me in?” Zeke glanced down at his bandaged foot. “Yea,” 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. The vaulted pine ceilings, the enormous windows spanning one whole side of the great room, the wagon wheel chandelier. Yes indeed, everything seemed exactly the same. He had a lot of wonderful memories spending time with the Bartlett boys growing up. In his mind’s eye, he could still see Ms. Bonnie Kate sitting in that leather recliner weaving her baskets or in the kitchen canning food from the garden. Bronson would have been building a fire or reading his bible; as the boys romped 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 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 which 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 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 of the homemade cookies she was baking for the church fundraiser; However,” he looked down as he was visibly counting 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. Adam is doing what he’s always loved, performing music. His contemporary Christian band is doing 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 a single as I am. Instead of the baby blues, Bonnie Kate has the grand baby blues. It is her fondest wish to hold her first grandchild in her arms.”

Suddenly his mind drifted back to the current problem and he matter of factly stated; “I’ve got to do some hard thinking to figure out what the right thing is in this situation.”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. As 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 run from God. Sometimes we feel guilty for sinning, 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 is giving 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 we make. Thanks for that ole buddy.” He hobbled in the kitchen to get a fresh batch of snacks before turning the game back up.

Later that night, Zeke lay in bed. He began thinking about everything. 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 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 Appaloosa’s from his front porch. He rubbed his old coon dog’s head. “You know Huckleberry; this has got to be one of the most beautiful picture-perfect days I have ever seen. Look at that sky. Did you ever see such a vivid blue? Check out those puffy white clouds drifting past. And just to 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 than sighed and 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 to take in by just laying there and never moving a muscle. I’m guessing 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 contemplated. 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, elegant lady as Jeannie. He had always told himself, that guy didn’t deserve to have such a lovely, kind soul. He looked for years and couldn’t find the woman of his dreams. Bull Boone had the whole package, the wife, the kids, and 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 is a definitely 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 dry dust was kicking up, indicating someone was heading down his driveway. He didn’t immediately identify the truck. Snatching up the cleanest pair of Levi’s he could find, he ungracefully hobbled over to the bed and struggled to pull them over his bandaged foot. Finding his crutches, he headed downstairs. He would master maneuvering these stairs if it killed him and it just might (he ruefully thought to himself).

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 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.” 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 as he reached out to pick one for her. “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.”

“Have a seat,” he said as he carefully maneuvered his way back up the porch steps “Can I get you some coffee?” “Oh yes please,” Jeannie said, as she breathed in the sweet rose scent of the peach colored flowers. “It’s still early yet; my brain’s not entirely engaged without adding another cup or two of coffee.”

Zeke glanced down at his crutches. He looked 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 two coffee cups at the same time. That may take a little more practice with these things before I can attempt that trick.” “Well,” she said, with an appreciative sniff, “my nose tells me we won’t have to wait long.” 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.”

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,” she said, pointing out a large white stallion with a leopard pattern of dark spots. He was calmly grazing while 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.”

“Ok, so what’s going on? I know you didn’t come here to admire my Appaloosas.” She slanted him a sidelong look, “Ya got me, I think you already know why I’m here.” 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.” Zeke continued to rock and stare out at the mountains without saying a word. Jeannie turned to him with tears in her eyes, “Zeke did you hear me? Are you at least going to answer? Even if the answer is no, just say something.”

Finally, he smiled at her, “Would you please sit down, you’re making me dizzy.” She sat and he began again. “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 gonna 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.” Tears were streaming down her face. “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’ve tried everything I don’t know what else to do. We have gone to counseling, I have begged, pleaded with him; I’m desperate, and I don’t know who to turn to for help.”

The silence stretched out between them. Finally, Zeke nodded decisively, “I’ll tell you who your gonna 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?” “Well,” he said, “I 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. Jeannie gave him a grateful smile. “I do think, Sir, that is one of the most awesomely inspired ideas I have ever heard. I don’t know whether he will go for it or not. But personally, I think it’s more than a fair offer, and he would be crazy not to take you up on it.”

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 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, take you to a movie or dinner and spend time with you.

Then, you met Bull, and he beat me to it; 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, 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 your friendship and I’m so thankful we will be able to remain friends. Now, for the hard part” she said with a huge sigh, “Trying to convince Mr. Boone to show up in church on Sunday.” I would say wish me luck, but I think a prayer is more effective. Zeke stood to give her a hug “I have faith, and I’m already believing this miracle is going to happen.”

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