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Sitting in her mother's rocker, Rachel Hollister stared into the fire that burned cheerfully in the rock fireplace. When she wasn't reading, cooking, or doing needlework, which was seldom, she enjoyed letting her thoughts carry her into the past. It made her feel less lonely, somehow. Tonight she felt in the mood for a long walk in the sunlight with her wonderful dog, Denver. Her lips curved in a soft smile as she recalled the rolling green pastures, crisscrossed with fences, and the way the tall grass had always caught at her skirt, making her wish her pa would let her wear britches more often. But, no. Pa had been nothing if not a stickler on decorum. Just because they lived on a ranch didn't mean his daughter should dress like a boy. As her dream reality took on detail and substance, a delicious languor settled over Rachel's body. In her mind's eye, she breathed deeply to savor the smells of alfalfa and freshly cut hay. Sunlight bathed her face, and she let her head fall back to fully enjoy its gentle warmth. The rest of the afternoon was hers to do with as she wished. All her chores were done, and she didn't have to go home until almost dark. Denver barked insistently at her, wanting to play. Up ahead, she saw a lone tree where she might find a stick to throw. Laughing and calling to the dog, she broke into a run. Denver loped beside her, yellow ears flopping, tongue lolling. Oh, how glorious it was to run again-to feel her long hair coming loose from its pins and the breeze touching her cheeks. When Rachel reached the tree, she cast about, looking for a fallen branch. Beside himself with excitement, Denver jumped up and down, barking with eagerness. When Rachel finally found a stick, she drew back her arm and threw it with all her might. The dog raced after the projectile and soon returned with it clamped between his teeth, his expressive brown eyes dancing with pleasure. Laughing, Rachel wrested the branch away from him and sent it flying again. And so it went until both she and the dog were exhausted. Rachel stretched out on her back under the tree to stare up through the network of limbs at the powder blue sky and the clouds drifting by. With a huff, Denver flopped down beside her and settled his head on her shoulder. If Rachel concentrated, really concentrated, she could almost feel the dog's panting breaths stir her hair and catch the doggy scent of his soft fur. Denver, oh, Denver. How dreadfully she missed him. The thought jerked Rachel back to the present, and her lovely dream world vanished like a tendril of smoke. With a huge ache of loss in her chest, she pushed up from the chair and took a restless turn around the large ranch kitchen. No sunlight ever penetrated the double layer of boards over the windows, and it had been nearly five years since the door had been opened. Darby, the elderly ranch foreman and the closest thing to family that she had left, had modified the kitchen so her every need was met. She had running hot and cold water, a flushing commode, and a brand new washing machine. On a weekly basis, he went into town and bought supplies as well. She wanted for nothing, and yet this evening she found herself filled with yearning, anyway-for all the things Darby couldn't possibly give her. Foolish, so foolish. She had all that she needed. How ungrateful of her to long for more. Heavy of heart, Rachel paused at the back door. Flattening her palm against the thick planks, she felt the coldness from outdoors seeping through the planks. Just there, she thought, beyond the wooden barrier, is the world I once knew. It was so very close, only a few inches away, but it may as well have been a million miles. She had given up on ever being able to open the door and step out onto the porch again. It was such a small thing, something other people did every day and took for granted, but for her, the simple act of opening the door had become all but impossible. Doc Holliday claimed there was still hope, that people with her condition sometimes recovered. But Rachel no longer believed him. Maybe other people got well, but it would never happen for her. This kitchen had been her prison for five endless years, and she'd come to accept that she would live out her days cut off from the world. Resting her forehead against the oak, Rachel thought of all the wonderful stories on her bookshelves about beautiful damsels in distress who were rescued by dashing heroes. Sadly, she had no hope that a handsome prince might come to call. That only happened in fairy tales. Determined to shake off her low spirits, Rachel spun from the door and walked determinedly to the water closet. A nice, hot bath sounded lovely. Afterward, she would make chocolate drops and eat them until her seams popped. Why worry about getting fat? No one ever saw her, anyway. And she wasn't sure if anyone ever would again.