A Rancher’s Matter of Honor – Extended Epilogue

Tara Gallagher O’Reilly was rife with nervous energy, nearly aflutter as she saw to every detail. Everything had to be perfect for Aubrey’s wedding day. Her sister-in-law had blossomed into a beautiful young woman, and she’d found a fine match in Carl Talbot, self-made in the newspaper business and fast on the rise in his burgeoning field.

The church was packed with the citizens of Flagstaff, Arizona, their conversations echoing in the sanctuary as they gossiped and speculated about all manner of things: the manner of the reception, the tenor of the times.

The groom’s father and mother, both fine people, were with him in another room of the church, no doubt preparing him for his big moment. But Tara knew the young man was more than capable and that he’d make a fine husband—the wedding wouldn’t be going on otherwise.

Aubrey looked at herself in the mirror, worry twisting her pretty features. Her red curls were piled up over her pretty, pale face, her blossomed body. She was angelic as a bride, blushing and luminescent. Still, Tara understood her nervousness; and while there was clearly no need for it, there was virtually no way to combat it.

There couldn’t be any doubt about Carl loved Aubrey, and she love him. Ian approved, as did both Mona and Yvonne, who’d become the best of friends in the three years since coming to know each other. Carl was the ideal addition to their growing family, but not because of his professional successes. He had every gentlemanly manner and the ethics behind them, making them real, making him real.

But her nervousness was still just as real.

Tara smiled and looked at Aubrey from behind her back, both looking into the mirror. “You’re the most beautiful bride I’ve ever seen, Aubrey. I’m so happy for you today, every day. I have to say, though meeting and falling in love with your brother was the great blessing of my life, that blessing didn’t come alone. Coming to know you, as a friend and as a sister, to love you like family, I… I’m just so lucky, so grateful.”

Aubrey shook her head. “We’re the lucky ones. You… you brought something to our family, you brought something to Ian—you saved him, in a way, and that saved the family.”

“These things, they take their own shape, Aubrey. Believe me, I was worried, too, on my wedding day. I knew Ian loved me, that we’d be married, but… something still worried me, I… I never knew why. Maybe it was all the danger of what Ian and Harris and Seymour had been through. I remember being worried about the shadows of the past, how they lingered. They stood between Mona and Yvonne at one point, as you know. Can you imagine those two ever being at odds?”

“They seem two peas in a pod.”

“They do, but… it wasn’t always that way. Each woman, and they truly were so similar, two sides of the same coin, but… it was the misery each suffered that they shared most intimately. Mona was shocked by the loss of her husband, Yvonne long-since hardened by the same. I think, maybe, I was worried that my marriage to Ian would end the same way—”

“Tara,” Aubrey said, “to even think such a thing!”

The two women turned from the mirror to face each other, eye to eye and face to face.

“I know,” Tara said, “it seems strange, impossible and irrational. But it goes to show how far the mind may go to seek out reason, justification, for that which is not reasonable or justified. We convince ourselves that these things are obstructions, and they become that only if we let them. But Mona and Yvonne didn’t! They found in one another that which was the same, not that which was different. They forged a bond, and that’s real strength—just as I forged a bond with Ian, and with you, and just as you formed a bond with Carl. That’s a bond that will strengthen with time, with challenge, whatever you face; you’ll face it together. So, there’s no need to worry, Aubrey.”

Aubrey cracked a little smile, just as a cluster of knocks fell on the door. Aubrey looked at the door with worry, and Tara knew what the girl was thinking; that Carl had changed his mind, that he’d disappeared from the area, that she’d been left in the lurch.

Tara turned and opened the door, not recognizing the woman standing on the other side of the door. “Yes?”

“I have a message, for the bride.”

Tara glanced at Aubrey and stepped back to let the woman enter. Her black hair was pulled back in a bun and she wore a beige cape, befitting the occasion. Tara looked at Aubrey, who didn’t seem to recognize her visitor. She titled her head just so, a vague smile on her face.

“What news?”

The woman drew a black Colt pistol from her handbag, pointing it at Aubrey and at Tara and then back again. “The wedding’s being canceled, I’m afraid.”

A bolt of terror shot through Tara’s body and soul. They’d all come so far and been through so much, loved and lost and fallen and then risen again. It seemed too cruel a twist of fate to be killed in a manic episode such as the two sisters-in-law were facing. And Tara knew their lives wouldn’t be the only ones at stake. Whoever the interloper was, she was deranged and deadly, and she’d kill anybody for perhaps any reason. And, being unarmed, Tara knew she had to use reason to counter this assault, if she could. Aubrey’s life depended on it.

But it was Aubrey who asked, “Who are you? What business do you have bursting in on us like this?”

“Caroline Burke,” the woman spat out, “that’s who I am.” She waited, but the only response was a pair of confused shrugs. “You’re telling me he never made mention of me?”

“Who,” Aubrey asked, “Carl? No, he never did. I… I’m sorry, but…”

Tara intervened with, “You’ve no business here.”

“You’re the one who has no business here, missy. Who are you, anyway?”

“Aubrey’s sister-in-law, her older sister. So, if you’ve got designs on her, you’re going to have to get through me.”

“So be it,” Caroline said, lips pulling tight over her teeth. “But I’ll be the one walking down that aisle.”

Tara asked, “How? How do you imagine that’s going to go? You’re going to show up in Aubrey’s blood-stained wedding dress and stand smiling next to Carl, his parents looking on? It’s a nightmare come to life! You can’t really… you…”

It struck Tara then that the woman Caroline was clearly insane. She was a woman spurned, and she was all of hell’s fury and her own rolled up on an act of desperation, confusion, the self-destruction of a human being in heart, mind, body, and soul.

“He loves me,” Caroline said, “he always did. It was his parents who turned him around, convinced him of things that just weren’t true… they weren’t true!”

Tara didn’t even want to imagine what those things might be. Instead, she just wanted to calm the woman down and get the gun out of her hands.

“I’m sure they weren’t,” Tara said, “whatever they were. But… nothing you can do here is going to solve any of that.”

“It will,” Caroline said. “They’ll see that I’m the woman for him, and I am!”

Aubrey said, “Maybe you were at some time, and his needs changed. Or maybe you changed. But however it once may have been, it’s not that way anymore. I’m sorry, I know what a wonderful man he is, how… how worthy and desirable, but he’s made his choice, and that choice… is me.”

“He won’t feel that way with your head splattered all over the wall, my fine young miss.”

Tara said, “Please, let’s all just relax a bit. This is a hallowed day.”

“Yes,” Caroline said, “my day, and I’m not going to give it up.”

“But it’s not your day,” Tara said with a slow shake of her head, “nor is it mine. And I’m sorry if love left you feeling the lesser. It may often feel that way, but truly it’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all, is it not?”

No answer came back, Tara glancing at Aubrey before returning her attention to their temporary captor.

“But you have to know that this is what God intends, for you as much as for Aubrey and Carl. There’s a man set aside for you, Caroline, as there was for me, for Aubrey. Before I met my husband, I… I was in distress over my future, wondering where I would find that man. I was living in my mother’s shadow, both of us still outshone by the spirit of my late father, the sadness of his loss. My Ian and his family, Aubrey here, as well, endured a similar loss. It’s part of life. Our mothers each suffered similar losses, their beloved husbands. But their losses brought them together, made them the best of friends. They each had to go through their own personal hell, that’s true, but they wound up finding their own personal heaven, while still here on Earth.”

“You’re talking gibberish,” Caroline said.

“No,” Tara said, “I’m making sense, you just don’t want to hear it. But it’s true and you know it. We all have our own prices to pay, our own burdens to bear as we go through life. But that’s what shapes our journeys, these are the things that take us where we need to be to find what we need to find, to become who we need to be!”

“It’s true,” Aubrey said, “my sister’s right! We don’t always understand the ways of God’s plan; in truth, we can never understand them. But they cannot help but serve us better, serve us best. We can’t assert our own will above the Lord’s!”

“This is the Lord’s will,” Caroline said. “The Lord helps those who help themselves!”

“But this helps no one,” Aubrey said, “you must see that!”

Caroline looked around the little back room of the church, at the Colt pistol in her hands. Tara recognized the fear in her eyes, the uncertainty, the growing desperation.

“I… I just love him,” Caroline said, “that’s all; more than you could understand!”

“I can understand,” Aubrey said, her voice cracking just a bit, “because I love him just the same, even more! I’m the one in white!”

“Not for long!”

Tara said, “You know she’s right, Caroline, and you know you’re not. I’m sorry, we all are. But the die is cast.”

“If you love him,” Aubrey said, “if you really love him, you’ll step aside. You’ll set him free, set us all free.”

A tense silence filled the room, the gun shaking in Caroline’s hand. She broke out in a quiet cry, a rolling pant that clearly rose quickly in her body to fill it. “I… he’s all I have…”

“But he’s not,” Tara was quick to say, “no woman should ever say that. Glad as I am for Aubrey today, and sad as I am for you, I can tell you both this—we are individuals before we are women. We do not have to live in the shadow of the men in our lives. I know this is the way it’s always been, or has always seemed to be. But there were always heroines behind the scenes, the queens of England, the warrior women of Ancient Greece. What of Louisa May Alcott, or Susan B. Anthony, or even Sacajawea, who led Louis and Clark across the continent with an infant child in tow? And, may I add, her husband was a lout and a fool, bogging down the expedition!”

Aubrey asked, “Is that so?”

“It is,” Tara said, refocusing her attention on Caroline. “That’s our misstep, ladies, sisters in arms! We put all of our own worth in the men of our lives. But that’s not the direction this country is taking! Dare we lag behind the times when they suit us better to change? Caroline, your worth is your own, not as the wife of Carl Talbot or any man! You may think in losing him that you have lost all, lost yourself. But this isn’t so. It’s in times like these that we find ourselves! We’re meant to do more than cling to our men, like veins on a tall tree growing, standing where we cannot stand alone. The time for that has passed. The time has come to stand alone if we must… but certainly to stand.”

Caroline looked at the gun in her hand, then at Aubrey, still in the gun’s sights. “But… don’t you see? That’s what I’m doing! I’ll not be passed over again!”

Aubrey said, “You will be, though, and by your own actions. You’re lining up for the noose, Caroline, you have to know that. Don’t let them win, don’t let them turn you against yourself! Whatever they’ve made you think or feel about yourself, don’t let them make that what you are.”

The truth finally seemed to sink in. Caroline looked at the Colt in her hand, then back at Tara and Aubrey as she lowered it. “Okay, okay… you’re right, I… I’m sorry. I… I wasn’t thinking…”

“We all go off at times,” Tara said.

Caroline cracked a little smile. “I suppose that’s true.” She raised the pistol to the side of her head and cocked the gun.

Both Tara and Aubrey held their hands out, eyes wide. “No, Caroline, don’t!”

“I have to!”

Tara urged her, “You don’t!”

Caroline seemed on the verge of tears… her last.

Aubrey said, “You’re among friends, Caroline! We won’t say anything of what happened here!” The gun sank slowly from the side of Caroline’s head.

“She’s right,” Tara said. “Y’know what? I’ve got an idea! Stay as a friend, Caroline. Tell Carl that you’re glad for him. Stay in town and find a love of your own, be a friend, be the person you know you can be!”

“Please do,” Aubrey said. “I… if you’ve known Carl… in whatever manner, surely I could use the counsel in being a good wife to him.”

Tara added, “And I can give you both counsel on being good wives. Caroline, you’re a lovely young woman… with obvious spirit! How did you come to be so dependent upon some man?”

Caroline seemed to look into her memory, shaking her head just so. “I… I don’t know.”

“You were Tom-fooled is how,” Tara said. “But you’re no Tom’s fool, not any longer!”

Caroline cracked a little smile, the gun sinking to her side. “I… I’m sorry, I… I’ve been a fool.”

“No,” Tara said, “you’ve been a human being. We’re all of us short of what we want to be; that’s what gives us reason to carry on.”

“My sister is right,” Aubrey said, “and I know my… our Carl will treat you with respect and welcome.”

“Certainly, he will,” Caroline said. “He’s a good man, true, pure of heart and spirit.” After a moment of silent reflection, she said to Aubrey, “He’ll make you a good husband, and I can tell you’ll be a good wife.”

Caroline slumped, all the fight in her clearly fleeing her body and soul. “Very well, I… I’m sorry for my outburst. I won’t stay and defile your celebration. I’ll go now, as is good and proper that I should, grateful for your sympathy, and for your discretion.”

She dropped her gun down on the table. “Do with it what you will. I don’t deserve your mercy.”

Caroline turned to shuffle out the door, but Tara reached out to stop her.

“Caroline,” Tara said, “we’re in a church, we’re… we’re in a place where we celebrate love, not hate, togetherness and not division.”

“Christ died for all of our sins,” Aubrey said, “isn’t that so?”

“It must be so,” Tara said, “I’ve seen it proven out before my very eyes.”

“And we’ll see it again,” Aubrey said, turning her attention to Caroline. “I’m certain of it.”

After a long, tense silence, Tara asked Caroline, “Won’t you make it so? Stay, sister… stay.”

Caroline finally broke into tears, her posture bending forward. “I… I never had sisters…”

“You do now,” Aubrey said as she and Tara embraced Caroline, the three women as one. Tara couldn’t help but feel the reverberations of the spirits of Yvonne and Mona, the twin matriarchs of the Gallagher-O’Reilly clan.

The years to come would bring a greater bond between the three women than any of them could have imagined. Old wounds were healed, new loves were blessed and savored and enjoyed. Caroline would find a love of her own, and the three couples would raise families who would take their names into greatness and glory.

The United States would roar into the next century, the united efforts of every citizen combining and conjoining to shape the course of global events. It was true that the century would be the time of the great ascendence of the United States, thrusting the entire world into the coming turmoil. And turmoil there would be, with battles studded with the names O’Reilly and Gallagher. They would be pillars of democracy, leading the free world forward to a newer and brighter future.

But at that moment, there were only the three women, brought together by suffering and sacrifice, by sympathy and by empathy. They were the balm of sufferings past, and they would be the seed of life to come. The country would flourish because of them, because of their unity—because of their fortitude and aptitude for change and for love and for life.

THE END


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38 thoughts on “A Rancher’s Matter of Honor – Extended Epilogue”

    1. This was a wonderfully written book. Tara was well read, the conniving uncle and his friend after the Galligher fortune, Ian going after the rustlers – realizing the dangers he faced and the direction from which they came. Very exciting action, very good story.

    2. I loved this book. And also the way it ended. It is so clear that faith and fear can not exist at the same time. Our lives have ups and downs and we can only trust the Lord to bring us through.

  1. This story is the epitome of building a future in the old west, particularly Arizona. As a young town there was greed, crime and people building a legacy. Two families came together, one with a fortune in a general store and the other with a struggling ranch. Entering is the daughter with riches and the son of the ranch owner. They fall in love which leads to struggle. Then rustlers steal the last of their cattle which is destined to break the ranch. A must read. “I received a free ARC copy of this book in exchange for my honest review”

  2. Another great story with an exciting follow up. Keep the awesome stories coming. Looking forward to the next one

  3. Great story Derek. Enjoyed the story and the epilogue. Hurry up with a new story. Texas born n raised except for time spent in military in the 60s.

  4. This was a wonderful story. Very uplifting as as well as forward thinking about family relationships, the changing roles through the decades and historical tones running through it. Thank you for sharing it.

  5. I really enjoyed this story. The characters are so real and it was enjoyable to see them change as the story progresses. Wonderfully written!

  6. I’ve been reading your 6 book collection, “Crossing Dangerous Paths.” I fully enjoyed this story and the others as well. I have one bone of contention with you. It’s TUCSON!!! NOT Tuscan.

  7. What great adventure this book holds. Ian had lots of adventures and became the man he needed to become facing all those dangers. Tara was quite the character helping to unite 2 families and then to become a sister to others.

  8. What great adventure this book holds. Ian had lots of adventures and became the man he needed to become facing all those dangers. Tara was quite the character helping to unite 2 families and then to become a sister to others.
    She was a woman of force to help other women find their value.

  9. This was the first book I have read by
    Derek Levine and so worth reading.
    A sweet love developed between Tara and Ian and their families formed a loving relationship as well.
    Thank you for a wonderful book I look forward to reading more of them!

  10. I very much enjoyed your book. It was well written with an original plot line, well developed characters, and proved you can create evil characters without their uttering a cart full of obscenities. I look forward to reading more by you.

  11. This was absolutely wonderful, I loved it and could not put it down! Every single chapter was written with so much excitement! You’ll have to find out more about it and read it yourself! This book was outstanding and the extended epilogue, has more to add to the story, read the story and ending to find out yourself! I loved it and can’t wait for is Author’s next book! 🌬📚🎭🐝🎶

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