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His Forgotten Fiancee

By Evelyn M. Hill

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Oregon City,
Oregon Territory, 1851

“Who am I?”
Liza Fitzpatrick dropped the cleaning rag onto the counter of the dry goods store and spun around. A man stood in the doorway, his rough, working-class clothes soaked through. He was staring at her as if she were the first woman he’d ever seen.
Ten steps to the back room, half a minute to grab Pa’s rifle. She might be able to make it. Sober, the long-legged man could easily outpace her. But not the way he was swaying from side to side. It was getting dark outside, and she found it difficult to guess his age in the light from the single lantern, but beneath the beard and the bedraggled brown hair that fell to his shoulders, he looked under thirty.
“Well?” Impatience edged his tone like a well-honed knife.
She cleared her throat. “Um…good evening. Mr. Vandehey, three doors down, serves liquor—”
“That’s the last thing I need.” He sagged against the door frame, his head drooping.
She took a couple of cautious steps closer, to get a better look at the man. Red streaks trailed down his forehead. “You’re hurt!”
His head came up. “Obviously.” Those thick eyebrows could have been designed to scowl at her. His dark eyes woke the memory of a pain that she had thought buried safely away. Recognition twisted inside her like a knife plunged straight into her heart. He said, “Do you know who I am?”
“You don’t know?” She stared at him. This encounter was starting to take on the unreal qualities of a nightmare. That was ironic, considering she had been dreaming of this moment for months. She had imagined all the different ways the scene would play out—or she thought she had.
“I am trying to be patient, madam.” The man spoke with a cultured accent at odds with his wild mountain-man appearance. “I would appreciate the courtesy of an answer to my one—simple—question. Do you know who I am?”
“Yes,” she said. “You are the man I am going to marry.”
He swayed against the door frame, sliding slowly down to the ground in a faint.
Liza had thought she would never see him again.
She looked down at the man sprawled on the floor. His eyes were shut, dark lashes long against his pale skin. Liza had a thousand questions that needed answers, but now was not the time, not when Matthew Dean lay passed out at her feet.
Her emotions were in a whirl. She had been waiting for this day for over a year, hoping for it, praying for it, sometimes almost dreading it. And now that he had finally come back to her, it didn’t seem real. She crouched down, pushing up his sleeve to put her fingers against his wrist. His skin was cold, but his pulse beat strongly against her hand. For a moment he responded to her touch, his fingers curving to grasp her hand. He murmured something under his breath, and then his hand drooped.
She didn’t know whether she should laugh or cry. He had been gone for so long, without a word. Why had he come back now?
Her mother had always told her that the Lord never sent you anything unless He had faith in your ability to withstand it. Sometimes, she wished the Lord didn’t have quite so much faith in her.

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