Epilogue for To Win Her Heart

When To Win Her Heart first released, I sponsored a fan fiction contest and invited readers to write an epilogue focused on Chloe and Duncan, two of the secondary characters from the book. They had their own budding romance going on and needed a more complete happily-ever-after. The winner of that contest was Nancy Kimball. She was still unpublished at the time, but since then, she has gone on to have her own work in print. Reading the epilogue she wrote, I could tell at once that she had great talent. I hope you enjoy her epilogue for To Win Her Heart.

Epilogue for To Win Her Heart by Nancy Kimball

Chloe was not surprised the Grants had yet to notice her approaching their front porch. Eden’s nose was buried in a book she was reading aloud from Levi’s lap on their rocking chair. His eyes never strayed from her face the entire time Chloe had watched them coming up the path to their cabin. She suddenly regretted this unannounced visit and was debating turning back toward town with her problems when Ornery spotted her. His barking from his place beside the rocking chair killed that idea.

“Chloe, is that you?” Eden called.

“Yes Miss Eden, I mean, Mrs. Grant.”

“Everything alright?” Levi asked, setting Eden gently to her feet as he stood.

“Sure. Well… not exactly.”

“Oh my,” Eden said, steadying her rounded belly with her hands as she took the steps quickly toward Chloe. Levi kept a hand to her elbow and the other on her back to steady her. “Is it Harvey and Verna?”

“No, the Simses are fine,” Chloe said, suddenly very sorry she had come.

“Duncan? Your mother?” Levi asked, as concerned as his wife by the looks on their faces.

“No, they’re fine. Everyone’s fine. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t a come.” Chloe’s head drooped under her Sunday bonnet.

“No Chloe, I’m glad you did,” Eden said. “I didn’t have much of a chance to visit with you and Duncan after service today.” Eden approached her and pulled her into a tight hug.

“Careful Miss Eden, you’ll squish the baby!”

Levi chuckled and Eden pulled away to rub the top of her tummy and smiled.

“Don’t you worry about the baby, Chloe. With a father like Levi, I’m sure our little blessing is already plenty strong.” The look the couple exchanged made Chloe’s heart break. It embodied everything she wanted between her and Duncan, and exactly why she was here. Levi finally tore his gaze from Eden to address Chloe.

“Why don’t you two… fine women, enjoy the porch while I . . . get the lemonade.”

“Thanks, Mr. Grant.”

“Thank you, Levi.”

He kissed Eden on the forehead and Chloe watched him retreat into the cabin.

“I’m sorry for interruptin’ your afternoon Miss Eden. Oh, fiddlesticks! I keep doing that, don’t I?”

“Please Chloe, just Eden, and we’re always glad to receive visitors. It’s the only time the second rocking chair gets any use.” Eden flashed Chloe a grin as she took her arm and led her toward the porch. Ornery reached it first and flopped down, content Chloe was no threat. His grey fur waved like tall grass in the breeze. The sight reminded her of Duncan’s red hair when it escaped his cap. Chloe and Eden were just settling into the rocking chairs when Levi emerged with two glasses of tea.

“I thought I might gather more…” Levi’s brow furrowed and Chloe waited patiently, used to how often Mr. Grant’s train of thought derailed. Then, just like always, it was back on track again and the frown disappeared. “More vegetation for your next wreath. Your packet of dandelion looked a little low . . . earlier.”

“Thank you, Levi.”

Mr. Grant waved back at them as he and Ornery headed off toward the wildflowers that surrounded the cabin. Chloe was not so simple she missed the fact Mr. Grant was giving them privacy. She knew Eden had plenty of blooms, leaves and flowers already pressed and dried from when they had worked together at the library last week on Eden’s design for this year’s spring auction.

Eden had brought the pressed flowers and ribbon. Chloe had made her now famous lemon pound cake, and Verna had kept them both in sweet tea while Levi spent the day in his shop working. Chloe thought it fine that Mr. Grant still visited the library everyday for his lunch time, and funny that Miss Eden still made him sign out any book he took home with them.

“You look troubled, my friend,” Eden said, and suddenly Chloe had no idea how much time had passed while she had been staring into her tea glass. “Do you want to talk about it?”

“I can’t marry Duncan,” Chloe blurted and Eden nearly dropped her tea glass.

“Oh, Chloe, what on earth happened?”

“It started right after the council voted him Sherriff and it's just got worse and worse Miss Eden.”

“What got worse? I don’t understand. We were all so proud of him after the way he rescued Levi and I that day at the schoolhouse and took control of the situation. Mr. Draper said he knew that night Duncan was the right man to take Sherriff Pratt’s place.”

“That’s just it Miss Eden, ever since Duncan became Sherriff McPherson, he ain’t got no time for me. I see him at church on Sunday, then when he comes to dine at the café on my shifts. Even then, he’s always with Mr. Draper or Mr. Fowler, or Reverend Cranford. I shoulda figured it out sooner Miss Eden.” Chloe fought tears and wiped at her nose with the edge of her pink floral shawl.

“Figured out what Chloe?”

“He’s changed his mind about marryin’ me! Just like he changed his mind about being a stone cutter like his pa, only he’s too good a man to say so.” The dam burst then, and Chloe’s typical strong demeanor fell away in a torrent of tears. She covered her face with her free hand to try to hide her embarrassment. Eden took the tea from her and set both glasses on the porch rail before taking her hand.

“Chloe, Duncan loves you. He wouldn’t have asked you to be his wife if he didn’t.” Chloe’s head shot up so suddenly Eden drew back a little, though she kept her light grip on the girl’s hand.

“He did ask me to marry him Miss Eden, right after he almost died! I was just so happy he was alive, and that a good, honest man could want me for a wife, I never stopped to think he was just happy to be alive and not in his right head - seein’ how it got busted as good as his ribs.” Chloe sniveled and felt her heart start to smart again.

“Oh Chloe,” Eden rose from the rocker to embrace her. Chloe melted into the comfort of Eden’s hug but felt terrible about crying all over her dress. Chloe would have cried it all out there in Eden’s sheltering arms, but someone was coming.

The distant thunder of pounding hooves, at a full gallop by the sound, had also garnered Levi and Ornery’s awareness off in the distance. Chloe saw the pair break for the cabin at a dead run.

The lone approaching horse churned up such a great cloud of dust, it made it impossible to make out who rode it. Spencer was a fairly peaceful town, but Chloe could see Eden was growing alarmed too. Her grip on Chloe tightened.

Ornery broke away toward the stranger, spewing vicious growls and barks of alarm as Levi reached the porch. Chloe was certain he was going for the rifle that hung just inside the door of almost any home in Texas. Chloe prepared to shoo Miss Eden into the cabin when she recognized the tweed flat cap and black vest at the center of the approaching cloud of dust.

“It’s Duncan!”

Levi was less certain from the way he held the rifle ready. Chloe was about to beg Levi not to shoot him when the business end of the rifle suddenly dropped. He must have recognized Duncan too and Chloe was busy praising the Good Lord silently when sudden indignation took hold. She broke free of Eden’s grasp and charged down the steps toward the man and horse pulling to a sudden stop before a barking dog and a furious woman.

“Duncan McPherson! What’s the meaning of this! Charging up here like the devil is chasin’ you and scaring Miss Eden in her condition!”

“I’m alright Chloe,” Eden called from the porch, but the young couple paid her no mind. Ornery did, for he finally stopped barking.

“What did you expect lass?” Duncan said, throwing his leg over the front of his saddle and hopping to the ground. “Ye cannae give a gent a note that tears the rainbow from his sky and the heart from his chest and not expect him to feel more than a wee bit strongly ‘bout it.” He crossed his arms over his chest, just below the tin star on his vest. His face serious for once, Chloe thought he’d never looked more handsome and it made her even more furious.

“Don’t you dare blame me for this Duncan. I’m trying to help you!” Chloe felt tears welling up again and cursed her lack of self control. What she wouldn’t give for a deck of cards to shuffle to calm herself.

“Help me?” Duncan’s hands moved to his hips now. “By refusin’ to be me wife without even telling me why ye cannae?”

“Yes! And you know why… you proposed to me after almost dyin’ and might not have been thinkin’ straight. All those times we talked about how much you wanted to be a stone cutter like your pa and you just up and decide to become a lawman instead.” Chloe had to suck in a deep breath to continue. “Well frankly Duncan McPherson, it tells me you don’t know your own mind!”

Lord, forgive me, I can’t tell him the truth. I’m not good enough for him anymore. Chloe could feel the hot tears on her cheeks. The pain in her chest was mirrored in the eyes of the man she loved.

“Chloe… darlin’…” He reached for her and she stepped back.

“Duncan, please.” It was bad enough she was crying. If she felt that light, reassuring touch of his, she would crumble like an old biscuit. She tried to look away, but couldn’t. His eyes, those laughing, dancing eyes that were stormy and drawn now refused to release her gaze. Duncan took his cap off, his red hair unleashed to glisten in the sunshine as he descended to one knee. Chloe could do nothing but stare as Duncan squinted up at her.

“Chloe, ye’re right. I asked you to share my name after thinkin’ I’d nae have any more tomorrows. But I ken exactly what I was sayin’… because I knew I wanted to spend all the rest of ‘em with ye. And I still do lass, and if it’s this star keepin’ us apart, I’ll give it up.” Duncan reached up and started to unpin the badge from his chest. Chloe’s stomach dropped. Duncan loved being sheriff.

“Duncan, wait.”

“Chloe, it be true I didn’t see myself a lawman comin’ up. I’m thinkin’ the Good Lord wanted this for me instead, and I enjoy helpin’ keep my best girl and our town safe but I cannae keep at it if it means ye’ll nae have me. I love ye Chloe, more than anythin’ but the Good Lord himself, and I want to give ye so much more than me name lass, if ye’ll have me.”

Chloe couldn’t breathe. Could it really be true? He still wanted her for a wife?

“Well lass, what say ye? Will ye have me?” Chloe swallowed. Her red haired hero, offering her all he had was more than her heart could take. She had almost made a mess of things, shot from the hip without praying or talking it through. But the Good Lord loved her too much to let her wreck it all. So did Duncan.

“Yes, if you’ll have me, too.”

Duncan leapt to his feet and Chloe readied herself to be kissed. But Duncan started dancing a jig instead, just like he used to at the Hang Dog. Chloe threw her head back and laughed, the sound of it mingling with that of the Grants coming from the porch.

“Wahoo!” Duncan cheered as he twirled and kicked, arms flapping as he beamed.

“Oh Duncan,” Chloe laughed, grabbing his arm to bring him to a stop before wrapping her own around his neck. Growing up in a saloon, Chloe had seen men and women kiss her entire life. So it took her by surprise when Duncan’s lips claimed hers at last, her own train of thought derailed, with no survivors. Kissing Duncan was like tasting love, drinking a promise, and feeling forever all at once.

“Duncan?” Mr. Grant’s voice. Chloe felt Duncan smile just before he broke their kiss.

“Aye, Mr. Grant?”

“Were you expecting anyone… to join you?” Chloe was in the middle of turning toward Mr. and Mrs. Grant when the sound of rattling wagon wheels pulled her attention the other direction.

“A thousand pardons Levi, but actually, I am,” Duncan said. Chloe stared at the wagon. Only one family in Spencer had a pair of paint horses. The Cranfords.

“I’m goin’ to intrude even more on yer kindness and ask ye to be my best man, Levi.” Chloe was not registering anything Duncan was saying, even though she was still in his embrace. From behind Mrs. Cranford, Chloe’s mother waved back at her from where she sat beside Roy. Chloe’s heart swelled like bread dough.

Suddenly, the Grants were beside them, and Ornery was barking up a storm as Pastor Cranford pulled the wagon to a stop.

“I don’t know how you expected me to keep up with you young man,” Pastor Cranford said with a friendly scowl. Chloe turned on Duncan in a flash.

“You aim to marry me now?”

“Ye bet yer bonnet I do lass, that is… if the Grants don’t mind us usin’ their garden and all.”

“Of course not!” Eden said.

“We’d be honored,” Levi said at the same time, drawing a laugh from everyone but Chloe.

“Wait a minute. How’d you know I’d say yes again?”

Duncan’s grin widened and he drew up tall, placing his tweed flat cap back in place.

“Faith like a mustard seed. Right, lass? I ken the Good Lord were on me side, and besides…” his freckled face wrinkled in mischief. “I’m the sheriff. If’n ye said nae, I planned to lock ye up till ye changed yer mind.”

Fresh peals of laughter rang through the small group. Chloe’s mother reached for her, tears of happiness in her eyes. “Oh Chloe, my girl, how I’ve dreamed of this day.”

“Me too, mama.” Only it was better than Chloe had dreamed.

Emma Cranford picked her a bouquet of wildflowers from Eden’s garden, while Chloe was being fussed over in the cabin by her mother and Eden. When she finally emerged, her hair done into a beautiful, sweeping twist and wearing Eden’s finest lace shawl, it gave her tingles to her toes to see Duncan’s look of appreciation from where he stood with Levi and Pastor Cranford. Her steps were slow and measured, unlike the beat of her heart.

Surrounded by everyone she held dear and the beauty of God’s creation, Chloe wed Duncan. When they shared their first kiss as man and wife, Chloe reveled in the love of her husband and the God who had brought them together.

Mr. and Mrs. Duncan McPherson.