Present Day: Abby loved David all her life. They were inseparable growing up. After high school, when he joined the Marines she did too.
Then disaster struck.
After leaving the Marines, she returns to the family ranch in Montana hoping to heal her shattered heart.
On a ride into the foothills she sees something glowing in the side of the mountain. When she goes to investigate she discovers a fist-sized sapphire that turns her already fragile world upside down.
1882: Jake Barrow is a part-time gambler, full-time hired gun. His decisions are based on hunches and the turn of a card. He’s in the foothills when a young woman comes tumbling down the mountain. Unsure whether Lady Luck has dealt him a good hand or a bad, he takes one look at the beauty at his feet and doesn’t need to shuffle the deck to know she’s his destiny.
The cloying scent of roses hung heavy in stifling air.
An occasional leaf rustled in the stop-and-start breeze, and a solitary bee droned in the background. Murmuring and shifting came from the onlookers on white folding chairs. Tissues dabbed at damp brows on an unusually scorching May afternoon.
All became quiet as a commanding figure strode onto the stage. Clapping broke out that quieted when he raised his hand. He began to speak. “Good…” The microphone shrieked.
He tapped it and tried again. “Sorry ladies and gentlemen.” He cleared his throat and his sonorous voice boomed out a lengthy welcome before his features settled into solemn lines befitting the occasion. “PFC Jennings, for action above and beyond the call of duty, for saving twenty-three lives—both civilian and service—I award you the Navy and Marine Corp Medal.” With great ceremony, the President pinned the octagonal bronze medal on the Marine’s chest.
“Thank you, Mr. President.” Not by so much as a twitch did the Marine acknowledge the tension building between tight shoulder blades or the stabbing pain between the eyes.
Once again, applause broke out from the seated attendees on the verdant lawn.
The President turned off the microphone. “I’m sorry we couldn’t honor your fallen, fellow Marine today but his mother is ill. We’ll have the presentation next month. You’ll attend of course.”
“Of course, Mr. President.”
“I’ve been told he was an exemplary man and Marine.”
The Marine’s heart tightened. “None better.”
“What are your plans now?”
“My family has a ranch in Montana, sir. I’m going home.”
“Two tours in Iraq, then saving nearly two dozen people when a fire broke out in a nightclub when you were finally stateside, I’d say you earned it.”
I didn’t save the one that counted.
“Good luck to you.”
“Thank you, Mr. President.”
With a clipped nod, a salute and sharp, tight-cornered turn, the Marine marched off the stage, this time the applause thunderous.
Once through the crowd of well-wishers, the Marine reached a beat-up red convertible, hopped in and pulled out into traffic. At the first stoplight, Abigail Jennings threw her hat in the back seat, pulled the pins from her long russet hair and shook it free. Her bags packed, and in the trunk, she headed west.
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