A Mail-Order Hope

By: Janelle Daniels

Why was he so upset over that? “Maybe we don’t owe you, but one good deed deserves something in return.”

“Consider it done. I’ve had more treats from you than I’ve had in years.”

He had no idea who he was dealing with. “I’m not giving up on you. Until I’m satisfied that you’re living a full and healthy life, I’ll keep coming back. See you next week,” she added a little too sweetly as she moved toward the door.

He growled at her on her way out.

Chapter 2

Asher dumped his camping gear on the ground before stepping on his porch a week and a half later. He’d left shortly after Belle’s visit and hadn’t returned until then. He wasn’t hiding, exactly. No. He wasn’t hiding at all, he reassured himself. He’d needed the time away to think, to hunt.

He’d most definitely not been hiding from Belle and her threat—promise—to return. And spotting the basket on his porch, she’d made good on her promise. She’d come back just as she’d said. Determined. Stubborn. Didn’t the woman know when to give in?

He stomped up the rickety steps, clumps of dried mud chunking off his boots with each step, before he fished a note attached to the offering.

Mr. Walker,

Don’t think that just because you have avoided me, I’ll stop. As I told you, I’m not giving up. You might as well accept it. I hope you have a chance to enjoy these muffins. But if some hungry creature steals them before you return…your loss.

Warm (but not too warm) regards,

Isabelle Sweeney

His lips twitched as he read the note twice. He didn’t want to be amused. He really didn’t. But heaven above, how she become so stubborn? He hadn’t paid much notice to Ivan’s brides, but with Belle’s attentions, how could he not notice her?

It wasn’t only that she was beautiful. He’d seen plenty of beautiful women, but she was so much more than that. He’d been annoyed with her first visit, but after an hour of listening to her—the way she found humor in the smallest things, the way she spoke about others—her light had drawn him in.

He could’ve sent her away at any time, told her he wasn’t interested in what she had to offer, but he’d done neither. In truth, he’d looked forward to her visits.

But that didn’t mean they could continue, he reminded himself as he returned the note to the basket. She didn’t belong on the mountain, and she had no business visiting him. She had no business interfering in his life.

He was his own man and had his own reasons for his seclusion. The fact was, Belle represented the very reason why he needed to remain here. She was gorgeous, lovely, amusing, and everything else he would’ve found favorable in a woman...before.

He shut down that line of thought immediately. The past didn’t matter. All that mattered was now. Belle could push and pull him however she wanted, but he would not budge. He didn’t have anything to offer the world, and he refused to put others in jeopardy from his inability ever again.

If a man couldn’t defend his own fiancée, then what use was he?

Nothing. Absolutely nothing.

Asher wanted to avoid town. He’d thought up a ream of excuses he could give for missing his monthly supply run, but all of them fell flat.

So instead of staying in the woods, he’d hauled his hide out of the cabin and down the mountain into town. There really was very little to worry about anyway. Belle, or any of Ivan’s other would-be brides, would likely still be at their home this early in the morning. Women with no need to work generally didn’t rise with the sun. And that worked out just fine, because if he thought he would run into Belle, it might’ve made him stay home.

“Good morning,” Asher called out as he walked into the mercantile.

Mr. Stevens poked his balding head around a mountain of bagged flour. “Asher? You’re early.”

“I thought I’d get a head start today.” His ears burned at the falsehood, and he cleared his throat, hoping to sweep away the discomfort.

The man stepped around the merchandise, wiping his hands on a pristine apron. Asher knew that apron would stay spotless throughout the day, even if the owner had to change it several times.

“I can come back later if it’s not a good time.”

“Now’s as good as ever. Perhaps even better, since we aren’t flooded with customers.” He stepped around to the counter and pulled out Asher’s invoice. “Do you want anything out of the ordinary?”

“The usual will do.”

“All right then,” he agreed before taking the amount due from Asher. “Gabe isn’t here yet to help you load. He’ll be here in an hour if you want to come back, or you can load it yourself.”

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