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The Lady and the Mountain Promise (The Mountain Series Book 4)

By Misty M. Beller

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Chapter One


“I now pronounce you husband and wife. Bryan, you can kiss your bride.”
Marcus Sullivan turned his gaze away from the couple, trying not to watch this man he barely knew kiss his baby sister in front of half the town.
It was an honor to officiate over Claire’s wedding ceremony, the second one he’d performed in the three months since he’d taken this church in Butte. His church. Correction, God’s church. And the flock He’d called Marcus to shepherd. A burning in his heart to minister to the mining families in the town.
Once the lovebirds pulled apart, Marcus caught the blush spreading across Claire’s face. Something tightened in his chest, but he pushed aside the emotion and sent her a wink. How could he trust her care into the hands of another man? Bryan seemed like a good enough chap, but Claire was his baby sister.
Inhaling a breath, he raised his eyes to the crowd, and motioned toward the happy couple. “I now present to you, Mr. and Mrs. Bryan Donaghue.”
Cheers and woops from the surging crowd took over the small chapel, and Marcus stepped back from the clamor.
The piano to his right struck up a melody, a flowing sound like a brook rushing over stones. He glanced over. The piano was a Godsend, a gift from the family who had sent for him, and now paid his salary.
But where had Claire found a pianist to play the instrument? And such a lovely one, at that. Her rich black hair pulled into a knot, framing the most delicate features he’d ever seen on a woman. So lovely, with dark eyes that were almost haunting.
“Good job, Preacher.”
Marcus turned as someone clapped him on the shoulder. “Ol’ Mose. Thank you, sir.”
The man, his new grandfather, offered a toothy grin. “Put me in mind o’ when ya married yer Gram an’ me. Yer a good man, son.”
The man’s smile was always infectious. And Marcus had honed the skill of smiling no matter what his mood. “I appreciate it.”
The piano music died away, and Marcus glanced over at the woman sitting by the instrument. She started to rise. This was his chance to introduce himself. See if she’d like to play the Sunday morning hymns.
He gave a reciprocal clap to Ol’ Mose’s wiry shoulder. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to go catch someone.”
“Sure, son.”
Marcus swiveled to stride toward the piano, but the woman was gone. He glanced into the crowd. She couldn’t have strayed far in this mass.
He scanned for anyone with black hair. A few grubby miners, but they sure didn’t fit the bill. What color had the woman been wearing? Something dark. Navy? Or it could have been forest green. Why hadn’t he paid closer attention?
Marcus wove through the people, scanning all around him. A few hands snagged his arm.
“Liked those verses you spoke, Preacher.”
“Done good with the weddin’, Parson.”
He nodded and waved to each person, never stopping his forward movement. As hard as he’d worked these last four months to get to know the folks of this town, a guilty twinge settled in his midsection to sluff them off now.
But he needed to find that woman.
He burst through the open back door of the church as sunlight glared in his eyes. He raised a hand to shadow his face. A crowd milled in the yard, preparing for the celebratory picnic Mama and Aunt Pearl had planned.
No dark haired woman.
Where in the City of Jerusalem could she have gone? The lady couldn’t have disappeared into thin air.
“Are you hungry, son? I think your Mama’s trying to get everyone on the lawn, and I imagine she’d appreciate you shepherding your flock.”
Marcus turned to his father and studied him. Everyone said their resemblance was uncanny, though his father seemed an inch or two shorter than Marcus’s own six feet three inches.
Marcus forced a nod. “Yes, sir.”
As disappointment weighed heavy in his chest, he turned to deliver the invitation to the congregation still lingering inside.

~ ~ ~

Thank goodness she’d slipped out of the church before anyone from the wedding could accost her.
Lilly Arendale settled into the rocking chair and set the wooden runners in motion. The minister’s words of hope still echoed through her thoughts. That and the intense expression behind his smile.
She pulled her cloak tighter around her shoulders. Winter nipped at the heels of autumn, making the nights especially cold. Soon, she’d need to start building a fire in the tiny warming stove before they went to bed.
Which meant she’d need to buy firewood. Either buy or gather, but she hardly had time to traipse outside of town with her two-year-old daughter to gather chunks of wood.
After turning up the wick on the lantern, she picked up the leather-bound book and pencil from the table beside her. She stroked a hand over the surface, her fingers finding every groove and indentation in the binding. She opened to the first page. Her own script. The Musings of Lilly Marie Arendale.
Flipping faster, she found the first empty page. She’d almost reached the end of the book. A pang tightened her chest. This was one of the few possessions she had left of Pa-pa’s. Soon, she’d have to move on to a new volume.
Fitting the slender wooden stick between her fingers, she opened her soul and wrote.

To my better self,
Today, I played the pianoforte, for the first time since leaving England. It was the most rapturous, heart-rending thing I’ve done since Pa-pa died. As I fingered the cold, ivory keys. Heard and felt the familiar melodies soaring in my chest. I think it might have completely broken my heart, had I not sat before so many people.
It was a good thing their eyes were captured by the more beautiful scene of love before them. Claire was a lovely bride, with her flashing eyes and the white lace train on her dress.
And the way she looks at her amor. She never gave a thought to music. Most likely did not hear a note. Yet I am thankful I could add even a small amount of beauty to Claire’s special day.
It is my own tiny way of partaking in what will never be.

Dahlia stirred in the bed near the corner, and curled in a tighter ball. Lilly closed the book and replaced it on the table, then rose to lay another blanket on her daughter.
As she drew near the bed, Dahlia’s sweet innocence tugged at her chest. This precious child. The one solace she’d been granted for the remainder of her days. The one bright flame amidst the darkness.
Lilly raised a corner of the covers and slid into her spot next to the child. Together, they would fight against the chill.
Together, they could fight against anything.

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