Winter Rose

Chapter One

BARKLEY HOME

All was quiet in the Barkley home. Gene was back in school, Audra was in Colorado visiting her aunt and Jarrod, Nick and Heath weren't home yet. Victoria looked out the window and watched as the rain fell from the sky. She knew it was snowing up in the mountain areas of California. That being the case, she was glad her older sons, who had been up in the mountains near Strawberry hunting, would be home soon. When she heard the living room door open, Victoria turned around to see Jarrod and Nick taking off their coats and hats.

"Well, it's about time you boys got home. You were due in at noon." Victoria smile turned downwards when the door remained shut. Her next question had both Jarrod and Nick stopping any movement and looking at her with great concern in their eyes. "Where's Heath?"

"He's not here?" Nick asked as he quit loosing his gun belt up as he glanced at Jarrod, who had also stopped taking his gun belt off.

"No," Victoria's voice held worry in it, "weren't the three of you traveling together?"

Jarrod shook his head. "We were until Monday. Heath headed in early; he said he forgot he promised to help the Carter's mend their roof. He should have been in yesterday morning." He fastened his gun belt back up. Nick, who wasn't about to stay behind, fastened his back up also. It might be raining, but it wasn't coming down so hard that they couldn't ride to their neighbor's and find out if Heath had made it to their home and stayed for some reason.

Victoria knew what her sons were hoping, and she wasn't going to try to stop them from checking. She had grown to know Heath as well as she did her sons by birth, and not sending word if he was going some place and would be gone longer than originally thought was not normal. She feared it was more than simply going to the neighbors and not coming home. Still, she could hope she was wrong. "You'll catch pneumonia riding out in this rain." It was a real concern, but fear for her blonde haired son kept the protest from being as strong as it might have been.

Both Jarrod and Nick knew their mother had a valid worry. Still, they threw grabbed some dry coats and headed out. They had to find out if Heath had made it in or not. With the rain coming down, the two brothers wasted no time in getting to their neighbors, Jason and Maria Carter. The couple had only bought a small nearby farm. They were the salt of the earth and they were soon good friends of the Barkleys, especially of Heath's.

Getting wet was exactly was exactly what Nick and Jarrod got. By the time they stood in the Carter's living room, Mrs. Carter was drying their coats and handing them hot chocolate. "I wish he was here." Mr. Carter sat in 'his' chair near the living room window his face now full of worry himself. He didn't like what he was hearing. "I should have known something was wrong when he didn't show up. He's a man of his word."

Nick would have gotten back on Coco and started the hunt for his missing brother, but the rain was coming down even harder. That being the case, Jarrod was able to get him to consent to wait until the rain lit up before they started a search of any kind.

STRAWBERRY MOUNTAINS

Heath, who had never made it out of the mountains, stood inside the two story home which was made from logs that he'd stumbled across when he took a wrong turn and watched the snow coming down hard. He knew his family would wonder where he was, but what there was nothing he could do about it. When he heard some moans coming from the bed that sat in the room he was in, Heath turned around. The young woman he'd found ill in the cabin was stirring just a bit. He hurried over to check on her.

"I wish that fever of yours would break, Miss." Heath talked to no one but himself. "I don't want to have to bury you too." He'd found who he assumed was either the woman's husband or brother dead in the living room when he entered the home and buried him. He could only guess that the man had had the same thing as the woman. He knew he was taking a risk in staying, but what else was he supposed to do? The ill woman needed help.

He picked up the rag that set on the nightstand and dunked it into the basin of water that sat along side the basin. He then laid the dampened material on the woman's forehead. "Sure wish I knew what to call you, I feel funny not calling you by an actual name, girl." Girl, that's what he'd been calling her ever since he'd found her lying on the couch and moved her into the bedroom.

Heath couldn't help but gaze upon the woman's dishwater blonde hair and somewhat roundish face. Looking at her, he suspected that if she stood up she'd be somewhere around five feet four inches, maybe. He pulled over a chair and sat down and waited. What else could he do?

The minutes and hours ticked by and Heath, without meaning too, fell asleep. During that time the woman's fever broke and she opened her eyes. Startled to see a stranger sitting in the chair her brother had recently made, she might have let out a scream or at least hollered, but it didn't take a genius to figure out he must be the one who had been taking care of her while she was ill. The moment that realization hit her eyes widened. William should have been taking care of her! "You're not looking well, dear brother, you should rest too." Her words from a few days ago came back to her and she found herself letting out a small gasp of worry.

As small as it was, the gasp woke Heath up. He leaned over and felt her forehead. "Nice to have you back among the livin'." His lopsided grin and friendly tone of voice helped his patient relax. "Ya've been pretty sick ma'am."

"Name's Rose Adeline Diamond; you can call me Rose. Who are you and where's my brother?" She looked around the room once more, as if by doing so he would appear in the room.

Heath's smile left as he thought on the man he had buried. "My name is Heath Barkley…." He hesitated, hating the fact that he had to tell the young woman her brother was dead. The instant he did hesitated, Rose's head knew what had happened, but her heart wanted to deny it and she cried out as she tried to sit up, "William! Where's my brother, William!"

Heath quickly, but gently, put his hands on the woman's shoulder and held her down, not hard to do in her weakened state. "He….he was dead when I found you. I buried him next to a couple of graves behind the house." By the date on the headstones, he had knew whoever lay beneath the stones were quite old when they died.

"Our parents," Rose spoke barely above a whisper, "They died five years ago. Oh, William!" she burst out sobbing, "How could you! You're not supposed to die! She continued to cry and ask the question more than once. All Heath could do sit next to the bed and assure her she had a friend in him and would have friends in his family. They would help her get back on her feet.

Rose turned her head away from Heath and closed her eyes. It wasn't that she was ungrateful, she wasn't. She realized the stranger had given up a lot of his time to care for her and bury he brother and appreciated it greatly. It was just that her heart hurt too bad at the moment to acknowledge it. "Oh William," she muttered as she fell back to sleep, "you weren't supposed to leave."