In the small town of Chapman Springs, Texas, the impact of war, progressive social ideas, and the struggle against discrimination threaten to divide the town, and destroy the hope many of its citizens once had for positive change. As the veterans of war continue to return to a divided nation in the autumn of 1969, Solace Ranch persists in its efforts to provide returning war-torn soldiers with a place of refuge, peace and healing, giving them the opportunity to re-build their lives, souls and hearts, and possibly liberate them from the past.
Benjamin Bleecker has experienced first-hand the horrors of war, and suffered the discrimination that many citizens of Chapman Springs have cast upon the men returning from war. As the town prepares for the renewal of vows between Leath and Brooklyn, Ben hopes that Solace Ranch will prove to be his best chance at beginning a new life, where he can learn to trust again.
Marianne Benedict once believed that she could be one of the pioneering women who might pave the way for a new way of thinking in town, but discrimination and underhand tactics to destroy her flower business have slowly eroded trust in her belief that the people of Chapman Springs could make a positive shift toward equality and acceptance.
When a shocking murder occurs at the celebration of her best friend’s vow renewal ceremony, both Ben and Marianne are thrust into the center of controversy. Will their budding attraction to one another be destroyed by the accusations and negativity surrounding them, or can their growing love bring hope and trust back into their lives?
“Did you and Leath meet in Vietnam?”
“We met on our way home, in the Freedom Bird.”
“The plane that brought us home from war.”
“Oh.” Marianne shuffled her feet and watched the ground. Ben didn’t worry too much about snakes right now with the cooler weather, but he continued to scan the area just in case.
As they grew closer to the ceremony, the crowd grew louder. From a distance, he spotted people mingling and his skin grew tight. He hated anyone to see Marianne with him. Didn’t want to start rumors or ruin her reputation, but she didn’t seem concerned.
He saw the body seconds before Marianne let out a loud wail. He tried to stop her as she ran up to the tree and fell to her knees.
“Carla! Carla! No! No!”
He took her in his arms and moved her away, but only after checking to see if there was anything he could do to save the girl. There wasn’t. Her throat was slit, eyes wide and lifeless.
He recognized death. He’d seen more death in his life than he’d ever like to admit.
Marianne continued to wail and within seconds, streams of people came running. One man glared and pushed Ben out of the way then grabbed Marianne into his arms. “What have you done to my daughter?” he censured.
Ben shook his head, shocked at the clamor of voices and wails. Leath’s dad and the sheriff worked at easing people back from the crime scene, while Leath tended to Ben.
“What happened?” Leath asked. Ben shrugged as he tried to find his way out of the fog that shrouded his every thought, every word, every action. “We were walking back. Saw the body under the tree. I…I don’t know.”
“What have you done to my daughter?” the man bellowed, surging toward Ben.
Ben shot a glance in Marianne’s direction as he stumbled out of the way of the encroaching, angry man. He wasn’t sure if the man was talking about her or the woman under the tree. A woman held Marianne and patted her back as she continued to cry.
Brooklyn approached the man who was hurtling his body to Ben and reached for his arm. “Mayor Benedict, please calm down,” Brooklyn advised. “Your daughter is safe. Ben was just showing her around the property. Your daughter needs you right now.”
Mayor Benedict? The mayor was Marianne’s father? Christ.