Anna Miller's small Midwestern town upbringing led to a safe, uneventful life. Until everything changed. While packing up her parent's home after their deaths, she discovers a shocking family secret. Anna is determined to find answers and follows the clues to a small town in Wyoming.
Sexy local rancher Logan Harris crosses her path and for the first time in her thirty years, Anna finds herself caught up in passion she can't resist. Wyoming opens a whole new world to her as she follows the clues to her family's history. Anna embraces the growing new love Logan and a sense of belonging in the small town, finding the start of happiness. As she unravels the secret, present and past collide with lies and vicious deceit, she must find the strength to fight for her future. She must choose the path to her own love and family - Logan's love or her true family heritage. Is her family in the past or the future and is her heart strong enough to decide?
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|Publisher:||Hekla Publishing LLC|
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About the Author
Heidi Herman write women's fiction, spinning stories of emotional growth and life lessons. After a thirty-year career in corporate America, she retired and began writing children's books based on her mother's Icelandic heritage. After publishing several books based on Icelandic mythology, she turned to her true love, novels. Today, she lives with her husband in South Dakota, and spends time in the rodeo and team roping worlds, which are prevalent themes in her writing.
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"You poor dear, first your mother last year and now your father."
"I'm sorry for your loss."
"I'm so sorry."
Anna nodded numbly and willed the pieces of her body to hold together through hug after hug and the occasional iron-gripping hands clasping her forearms as they shook her emphatically.
"Miss Miller, please call if you need anything."
It had been days since she had heard the first of these common phrases directed at her. "We did everything we could" had been followed by, "The road was wet when he swerved. It was instantaneous. He didn't suffer."
The line of faces stretched down the aisle to her left, so many people still waited. She swayed slightly and refocused on the tall man with thinning hair in front of her. He wore a charcoal gray suit with a shimmery silver tie covered in tiny dots of blood-red diamond shapes, lined up diagonally with military precision. His nose was large on his face, but his eyes were a beautiful amber brown, glinting with unshed tears.
"I'm so sorry. We'll all miss him," he said as he grasped her shoulders gently, sincerely.
How many times would she hear those words spoken? In some eyes, she saw pity, some compassion, and others were just blank. The required words repeated and ran together. They sounded hollow. She struggled to respond with the socially mandated appreciation, mumbling thank yous and you're-so-kinds.
A vise settled into her chest, squeezing her lungs until no air could escape or enter. A silent sob escaped her.
Three weeks passed since that afternoon she got the call. Anna went through the motions of life's routine in a fog, barely remembering the details of tasks and activities that once seemed so important. She had not been to work; not that it mattered since she worked for a temp agency. Since the funeral, Anna didn't bother to call the office to request an assignment. She didn't have the energy. It all seemed so pointless. She gave up her apartment. After packing up a few cherished possessions, donating the larger furniture to charity, she moved back into her parent's house, her house now.
Anna pulled up to her parent's former home and parked her small car in the driveway. She got out and leaned against the car's frame for a moment, looking up at the structure that had been her home for so many years. She had grown up in this house, and she was surrounded now with warm bittersweet memories. The two-story, three-bedroom house sat back from the street always had an aura of peace, but now it seemed silent and empty.
Reaching into the back seat, Anna wrestled with the large, flat pile of unfolded boxes, twisting and tugging on the ungainly stack that slithered and refused her efforts to extract them through the car door. Frustrated, she yanked them out one at a time, leaning each against the rear quarter panel, where each declined to cooperate and promptly slid to the ground. Tears pricked at her eyes and she resisted the urge to stomp on the unapologetic pile of cardboard. Biting her lip, she grabbed two edges — one for each hand — and stomped to the front steps, her arm held out awkwardly to keep from tripping herself on the box flaps.
Old maple trees graced the front yard, casting chilly shadows across the path. Every summer, they created a privacy screen of leaves between the sidewalk and the home's wide front porch. Anna had spent countless hours on that front porch. Some of her earliest memories were of running up and down the steps, dashing between her parents' cozy spot on the porch swing and the enticing blinking of the numerous lightning bugs around the yard. She crossed the porch and leaned one cardboard square against the doorframe, where it promptly threw itself to the floor. She rolled her eyes and dug into her pocket for the keys, her slightly shaking hands fumbling as she tried to slide the key into the lock and open the door. She threw one box in and kicked the other from its resting place on the porch floor before turning around and heading back to the car for the others. Successfully managing the remaining four at once, she turned and headed back inside. The light blue house with its gray shutters and shiny black front door had been host to countless barbeques, holiday parties, and birthday festivities. She stepped in and closed the door behind her. The living room looked nearly as it always had, comfortably casual, but now there was a light coating of dust on the tables, highlighted by the weak sunbeam struggling to brighten the room. Years of Christmas celebrations, football game-day gatherings, and lazy Sunday afternoons reading had been here. It was so quiet now, but the memories soothed her, easing the constant ache of her loss. Anna knew every inch of the house, and it had never seemed too large when the three of them lived here together. It was odd to be here again, in the space so familiar but now so quiet. The home seemed much larger now, each room seemed to echo the smallest movements.
Anna had already spent days organizing and rearranging rooms, and was now nearly ready to box up clothing and sort through financial papers. She had gone through the same process after her mother died, although on a much smaller scale. It had been easier then, with her father here to share the sadness and smile over silly memories. "Remember this hideous scarf? I gave it to her for Mother's Day one year and she wore it to church to make me happy. I never realized how ugly it was because she smiled and wore it with pride," Anna laughed. "But, now that I think about it, I think that was the only time she ever wore it." Her father had smiled, running his hand across the silky fabric. "Yeah, I think it was too ugly to wear. But, sweetie, she kept it."
There was no one here now to relive those little moments with her. She quickly finished the work in the living room, she hadn't changed much or boxed anything up beyond the personal papers. The master suite, which faced her now, was much more difficult. Deciding what to keep, what to give away, and what to toss was tougher with items as personal as clothing. Each one had so many memories attached.
Taking a break for lunch, Anna moved into the kitchen, her favorite room of the house. Like most homes, it was a place of many happy memories. She had always loved this room with the walk-in pantry and small sunny dining nook. Her mother had always called that the heart of the house. Anna agreed. Making popcorn for movie nights, Saturday afternoons learning how to make cookies, and times of pumpkin carving, Easter egg decorating, and summer lemonade-making. The project of stripping wallpaper and repainting the walls and cabinets had taken days. At the time, it felt like a punishing chore, but now she recalled the silliness and laughter she and her mother had shared. Every visible brushstroke and drip of paint held on to the memories of those days.
She smiled as she pulled out black forest ham and Swiss cheese from the refrigerator. Slicing sourdough bread left over from the previous night's dinner, she layered it with the meat and cheese. Returning the packages to the refrigerator, she grabbed a handful of green grapes before kicking the door closed with her foot. Reaching into the cookie jar, she added a peanut butter cookie to the plate and headed for the deck.
Early May in eastern Iowa was a forecast gamble. Some years it would be eighty degrees and sunny, others times it would be windy, cold, and gray. Today was the best kind of day. It felt like a perfect seventy degrees; the warm rays of the sun were a treat to soak up. Anna enjoyed the balmy temperature while the sun played peek-a-boo with the big fluffy white clouds that lazily drifted across the robin's egg-blue sky.
She snorted at her mind's description. "A little over the top there, doncha'think?" she asked herself, breaking the silence of the day by speaking aloud. Her parents would have enjoyed this day. She missed them both keenly, but today was more of a nostalgic ache than the aching sense of loss. Some days, the pain seemed to ease a little and right now, she allowed herself to enjoy this moment of contentment. She watched the birds as they flew from the feeders to the trees and she worked her way through the ham and cheese sandwich. As she finished the fruit and cookie, Anna stood up, sighing, and headed back into the house.
She doubted anyone would ever know if she had dirty dishes piled in the sink, but she washed up her few dishes and set them in the strainer anyway. Looking around the kitchen, there was no additional cleanup to be done and she resigned that she couldn't avoid it any longer. She needed to tackle the bedroom. It had been hard enough when she had helped her father but now it seemed so much more difficult facing the same task alone. She dragged the cardboard wardrobe box near the closet door, next to the smaller ones she had positioned for folded clothes, shoes, and miscellaneous items. Next to them, she had a plastic bag for trash, a dust rag, and furniture polish. She worked mechanically, blinking her eyes to clear the tears that threatened to spill over as she slowly packed up the last of her father's life.
After an hour, she finished emptying the dressers and cleaned each surfaces inside and out. She knew the exhaustion she felt was more emotional than physical. "Just the closet," she said aloud, "and then we reward ourselves with a pizza tonight." She winked at her parents' photo on the wall.
Anna grabbed two large armfuls of clothes, carried them out, and tossed them on the bed for sorting. She decided to donate the entire pile to the resale shop, except one sweater she wanted to keep. Walking back to the closet, the empty space revealed three boxes lined up at the back wall. The first contained some of her mother's old photos, a few scarves, and mementos her father had kept. The ugly scarf was in the stack. Anna laughed. He must have snuck it back in after she had put it on the toss pile. The second box was full with what appeared to be years' worth of receipts and tax forms.
"Ugh," she said aloud. "There is no way I'm going through those." She shoved the box back into the corner with her foot.
The third box was different, not a box but a plastic file storage container. Anna sighed as she dropped to her knees, sliding the box closer and flipping the top open. She smiled, a wash of memories flooding over her. This was a project box. She and her father had created many boxes just like this one. Every box contained the notes, photos, and research data on any number of topics that caught her father's interest. Her favorite father-daughter activities had been research projects.
The distinctive clear lid triggered a memory. Most of their project boxes came with blue lids, or maybe that's just what Dad always chose. This one had a matching milky-white semi-opaque lid that looked familiar. Anna recalled seeing this on the floor of her father's study recently.
Dad had been a huge history buff, and Anna would often get caught up in his enthusiasm. From riverboats to pearl buttons, everything had a story. They both had a love for the Mississippi River and its part in the Quad Cities history, the four towns on either side of the state line: Moline and Rock Island in Illinois and Bettendorf and Davenport in Iowa. They had toured many of the state's Silos & Smokestacks National Heritage Area historic sites and volunteered together for the heritage area at the state fair. Ten years prior, Anna helped her father research the history of the family's home. Even her mother had been fascinated with the original owners and the hardship of early life in the area. Anna remembered the long hours of research with fondness. Somehow, working with her father never felt like work. He made it into an adventure. Using their research, they compiled the full life detail of a person, the details so vivid they would often create stories about daily life. Anna remembered those stories as if they were books she had read. She imagined a family crossing the plains in a wagon train, what their days were like and how excited they must have been about the trip. Their months and years of work carving out a homestead in the wilderness. Then, the fear and sorry they must have felt when tragedy struck. The records only reflected the tragic history of a large family nearly wiped out by an epidemic and their struggle to keep the farm. There was always so much more to the story, she thought.
"You would have made a good pioneer, Anna," Dad had said. "You're not afraid to get dirty and you learn how to do the task that needs to be done. Keep that attitude and you'll always succeed in life." He was always turning ordinary moments into the basis for sage advice.
Occasionally, they would research a specific person or event in history. Buffalo Bill had been one of those projects. After they had visited the famous folk hero's local birthplace, Anna and her father spent months learning about his life from cradle to grave. That was years ago, but she smiled, remembering how much fun it had been.
Anna wondered what project he had undertaken this time. She found it odd he never mentioned a new interest.
Opening the box, she tossed the lid aside and saw that the box was half-full with notebooks, printouts, and copies of official-looking documents. She grabbed a handful of papers and files from the top, twisted her legs around and plopped the pile in her lap. A well-folded single page slipped out of the pile. It looked like a copy of a fax, the letters distorted but still readable. Anna read the first line. "The Idaho Voluntary Adoption Registry is a confidential cross-reference." She paused and re-read the line again, intrigued. Who would her father be doing adoption research for and why would he not have enlisted her help? She recalled that he had taken a ski trip to Idaho just before Christmas. What resort had that been? At the time, she thought it was unusual for him to take such a trip but had secretly harbored the hope he had taken a lady-friend on a romantic weekend getaway. He had been distant afterward, and she had assumed it was either a solo trip or a disappointing rendezvous. Either way, he hadn't offered details, and Anna had not pressured for any beyond the expected "how was your trip?"
She fanned out the papers, stopping at random for a clue. District of New York Port of New York read one page, the lines filled with a flowing cursive script indicative of records of decades past. She squinted at the top. 1946. She found similar records for Philadelphia, Boston, and San Francisco. What did New York, Philadelphia, Boston and San Francisco have to do with Idaho? She didn't see a connection.
Anna continued to flip through the papers. Many were filled with general references to genealogy research. Had he been researching a specific person? Anna thought so from some of the pages, but there weren't any names highlighted. Whenever they created a project box, they always included an elaborately detailed summary page, outlining their project focus and interesting highlights. Anna suspected her father used those summaries as another learning exercise for her. This box didn't have a detailed summary, so it wasn't clear what the topic or purpose or the project had been.
She found a copy of an Iowa Census from 1952. Now Iowa? She found copies of phone book pages listing hospitals in Sioux City, Cedar Rapids, and Des Moines. Each one had a dark X.
She still searched for a name. Who had her father been researching? How had he managed to keep this a secret? An even better question was why had he kept it a secret? Did he have a secret new friend after all? Was there a mysterious troubling stranger he felt compelled to verify the background of? That seemed far-fetched. It was far more likely it was a boring innocuous project he considered too dull to include her in. She supposed adoption research could be dull, searching through courthouse or online records. She realized she had never actually thought about the process for researching adoptions. How would one go about it? She wished he had included her on this project. It might have been less interesting than their previous ones, but since it turned out to be his last one, she couldn't help feeling cheated.
Now that she thought about it, maybe he had shared a small piece of it with her. The memory of a conversation months back. She had come to the house to make dinner, as she did at least two or three times a week back then. She recalled popping her head in the study, and he seemed surprised to see her, as if he had been a thousand miles away in thought and was startled by her appearance. He had dropped some pages into a box with a lid just like the one she looked at now.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Her Viking Heart"
Copyright © 2018 Heidi Herman.
Excerpted by permission of Hekla Publishing.
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