Tomorrow's Lasting Joy--AudioBook (Texas Promise 5)



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His pa named him Cain because his birth was a curse… but what happens when he’s the only one who can save the town?

Anna Mae Harding never thought getting married would be so hard. It’s not that she hasn’t had any offers. On the contrary, it seems like someone is always asking her to be his wife. The trouble is, she up and fell in love with the wrong man years ago, and no matter how much she tries to forget him, no one else she’s met has measured up.

Texas Ranger Cain Whitelaw is happy to leave the town where he grew up behind him forever. Being around his childhood friends stirs up too many old feelings—feelings that are best left buried beneath the cracked desert dirt. The hardest part is seeing Anna Mae Harding. Each time he looks at her, he gets a hankering to sweep her off her feet and carry her to the church for a surprise wedding. But he had too rough of a childhood—and has seen too many things as a Ranger—to ever become a family man. That’s why he’s better off shaking the dust of Twin Rivers from his worn boots and never returning.

When one of Cain’s enemies sets his sights on Twin Rivers and threatens both Anna Mae and his friends, Cain finds himself not only returning home, but facing a choice between his duty to the Rangers and the closest thing he has to a family. And he’s not quite sure who will survive the outcome…

From jagged mountains and green river valleys, to cattle ranches and vivid sunsets, Tomorrow’s Lasting Joy offers a powerful story about loyalty, love, and the bonds that hold us together through the deepest of trials.


Desert, Mexico; July 1886

was going to die.

Mae stared down at the giant wound on her ankle and tried to suck in a breath
of air, but breathing only seemed to make her lungs constrict.

Calm down. You have to calm down. You won’t be able to get yourself
out of this situation if you panic.

inched herself a little higher, letting the rocky wall of the outcropping where
she was hiding support her back, and stared out at the mountains surrounding

rocky peaks jutted up toward a brilliantly blue sky, while the pinks, yellows,
and grays of the mountains almost made the rocks look like a gentle, streaked
sunset. It would normally be a pretty view, the kind she could look at for
hours, taking in the majesty around her.

seeing how she hadn’t come across a single person since she’d taken the turnoff
onto the narrow mountain trail yesterday morning, the view before her only made
a sad desperation spring up in her chest.

was almost out of water, but she couldn’t walk on her ankle to search for a
creek. And if she left the little outcropping where she was hiding, there was a
good chance the wrong men would find her.

meant her odds of surviving another night in the desert were nonexistent.

gritted her teeth against the fiery wave of heat in her ankle, then leaned her
head back against the warm sandstone wall.

should probably count it a success that she’d survived as long as she had.
After all, the men who’d kidnapped her outside of Fort Ashton five days ago could
have killed her right away. But instead, they’d tried to cart her clear down to
Mexico City, which had given her a chance to steal a horse and rifle three days
into the journey and escape them.

fact, if a woman was going to be kidnapped, everything about her situation had
seemed downright successful—right up until a rattlesnake had bitten her
yesterday afternoon.

crumpled her skirt in her hands, pulling it up a bit farther as she looked down
at the dirty, burning cut. After she was bitten, she’d hobbled to the little
outcropping that formed a shallow cave above the mountain trail and lain down,
tucked securely out of view from anyone who might search for her. And she’d
sent the horse away, since she’d had nowhere to hide it, and trying to keep it
was more likely to lead the desperadoes who’d kidnapped her right to where she
was hiding.

she’d taken a knife to the bite, hoping to cut out the venom before her ankle
swelled overmuch.

now she wasn’t sure taking a knife to her skin had ended up better than leaving
the rattler venom inside her. A thin rim of white was growing around the edge
of the wound, surrounded by puffy, pink skin that felt tender to the touch. Inside
the cut burned as though it was on fire, and the whole thing had swelled up
just as big as it would have without trying to cut out the venom.

Dear God She slid down the
sandstone wall until she lay on the single blanket she had—the one she’d taken
off the horse before sending him away. Dear Father, please

the rest of the words wouldn’t come.

should she pray for? Rain?

by the cloudless sky, there’d be no rain today, and she didn’t have enough
water to last until tomorrow, when there was a slim chance rain might form over
the mountains in the afternoon.

couldn’t pray for rescue either, not in such a remote stretch of desert.

she’d escaped her abductors, getting far away from the large trail that ran
from Chihuahua to San Antonio had seemed like a smart choice. After all, it was
sure to be the first place her kidnappers would look for her.

it was also the first place her brother, Daniel, the sheriff of Twin Rivers,
would look. And now that she’d been away from Twin Rivers for five days, he and
his friends were sure to be searching.

it was almost as though this stretch of desert, with its wild and craggy
mountains, had been forgotten by every living person.

pulled up her skirt a bit more, then stared down at the red lines streaking from
her wound up her leg, inching ever closer to her heart. If only she had
something to clean the wound with, but she couldn’t afford to even dribble a
few drops of water on it, not when she needed every last bit of water for

beaded on her forehead, and she slid her tongue over her cracked
lips in an attempt to moisten them, only to find her tongue itself was too dry
for that. Her stomach was starting to feel ill, too, and her head had been
pounding for several hours—sure signs that the heat was making her sick.

rolled onto her side, wincing at the burst of pain in her leg but managing to
shift just enough to look up at the scorching sun from beneath the shaded
outcropping of rock.

she ask God to spare her life for another day?

was it pointless even to try?




do you mean she escaped?” Ranger Cain Whitelaw grabbed the youth by the
shoulders and dragged him close enough that the boy’s shaky breath fanned
against his chin.

sun beat down on them, its unrelenting rays brutal in the July heat. But Cain
didn’t give the summer heat a thought as his hard gaze bore into the brown gaze
of the boy who wasn’t quite old enough to be a man.

needed to calm down. This was just another missing person. Just another body
needing to be found in the desert.

he’d done it once, he’d done it a hundred times. His mission was simple. Track
down the missing woman, recover her body, and bring it back to her family.

it didn’t feel nearly that simple, because it wasn’t just any missing woman. It
was Anna Mae Harding.

curse nearly rose up in his chest, but he tamped it down. This was exactly why
his father had taught him not to get too close to people. Not to care. To shake
the dust of his hometown off his boots and never return.

caring made a man weak, and a Ranger couldn’t afford to be weak.

Cain tried not to let himself care about the boy’s answer, tried to pretend
that the search for Anna Mae was no different than searching for any other
woman who’d been abducted. Tried to pretend that he didn’t know how it felt to
run his hands through the soft, silky strands of her hair or press his lips to

it! He was never going to find her if he kept letting himself get distracted.

didn’t help that her brother was with him. As sheriff of Twin Rivers, Daniel
Harding had put together the posse to search for Anna Mae, and ever since Cain
had joined him, he’d wanted to know every last detail about how Cain planned to
find his sister.

now, Daniel was edging steadily closer to where Cain stood with the boy, likely
trying to hear every word of their conversation.

that Cain could blame him. If someone else was running the search for Anna Mae,
he’d behave the same way.

also didn’t help that three of the other seven men in the posse were Cain’s
childhood friends. In fact, it seemed every last man in the posse cared far
more about what happened to Anna Mae than was advisable given the situation.

best way to find a hostage was to stay unemotional and logical. That was true
for every lawman, whether a Ranger or a Marshal or a sheriff.

there was nothing detached or professional about their mission. Every time they
searched a canyon and found nothing, or shook out their bedrolls to get some
shut-eye, Cain felt the disappointment of seven other men piling on top of his

was almost too much for a man to handle.

me!” Cain snapped at the boy, who’d spent far too long staring at him and far
too little time giving him answers. “How did she escape?”

in his gaze must have told the boy he was serious, because the youth licked his
lips and started yammering. “W-we woke up one night and she was gone.” He
jabbed a thumb over his shoulder to where three older men sat tied up on the
dry desert ground. “Just ask them. We didn’t do anything to her.”

looked at the men. His posse had ambushed them in a narrow canyon a quarter
hour ago.

wouldn’t call kidnapping her not doing anything.” Cain’s hands involuntarily tightened
around the boy’s shoulders, and he glared into the youth’s dark eyes.

splotches of color appeared on the boy’s cheeks. “I meant, we didn’t hurt her
any. El jefe’s
orders. We were just taking her to him.”

still a crime in Texas and Mexico.” Did the boy really think not hurting Anna
Mae somehow made it all right for the men to abduct her?

jaw clenched.

me about the horse.” He jutted his chin toward the old beast that the desperadoes
claimed Anna Mae had stolen from them when she escaped two nights ago. “Where
did you find it?”

a half mile back.” The boy nodded toward where the trail disappeared around a
mountain. “That’s why we’ve been searching.”

followed his gaze. He didn’t like this. Not one bit. Oh, he could believe the
part about Anna Mae escaping her abductors. If anyone was bound to give a gang
of kidnappers trouble, it was Anna Mae Harding.

woman might be beautiful, but she had a tongue sharp enough to peel the skin
off a rattler. She wouldn’t have made a compliant hostage for a single minute.

having the horse show up on the trail without Anna Mae could only mean trouble.

woman might have been careless tying the horse while stopping for water and allowed
the beast to get away. But not Anna Mae.

had finally inched himself close enough to hear everything being said, and the
dark look in the sheriff’s eyes told Cain that his friend was thinking the same
thing about the horse appearing without Anna Mae.

she run into another group of bandits? Or maybe more of Velez’s men had found
her, but the horse had gotten away?

was she lying dead somewhere, waiting for him to stumble upon her sun-bleached

gulped in a breath of air, trying to shove away the image filling his mind.

he called to Daniel’s deputy, who was standing guard with the rest of the
posse. “Take him back to the others and tie him up.”

lanky lawman strode forward and grabbed the boy, then jerked him toward the

need to keep searching,” Daniel said the moment the deputy led the boy away. “She’s
got to be out there somewhere.”

five days, she’s likely not alive.” Cain kept his voice firm, his gaze steady,
trying to shove aside that they were discussing the woman with wavy, dark hair
and vibrant eyes who used to share her lunch with him at school because his ma
never bothered to make sure he was fed.

woman who’d invited him to Easter dinner this spring as though he somehow
belonged in a room full of smiling, happy people. The woman who’d come to his
tent the last time he’d ridden into Mexico and told him she was worried about

though his life mattered enough to worry over.

swallowed, doing everything he could not to let loose a string of curses, then
scanned his sorry-looking posse and the four outlaws they’d somehow managed to

he’d ridden into Mexico last time, he’d been on official Ranger business and
had thirty Rangers with him, plus the posse Daniel had rounded up from the
border town of Twin Rivers, Texas.

he wasn’t on Ranger business now. If anything, the director and assistant
director back in Austin would be furious with him. It wasn’t every day a Ranger
captain left his post, which was currently Alpine, a town about two days north
of Twin Rivers. But when he’d gotten a telegram that Anna Mae had gone missing,
he’d simply had to leave his lieutenant in charge and ride straight to Twin

his previous assignment wasn’t quite as finished as he’d thought in June, when
he and his men had packed up camp and left.

and his posse had already been searching for Anna Mae south of the border, but
none of them had spent the past thirteen years tracking down criminals like he
had. They’d searched the main roads and obvious places where desperadoes might

sister’s still alive,” Daniel quipped. As though there was no other option for
how they might find Anna Mae. “The desperadoes said they had her three days ago,
and she escaped that night. Anna Mae can survive two days and two nights in the
desert on her own.”

agree,” another voice said.

looked over to see that Harrison Rutherford had sauntered up behind them.

a Ranger, Cain didn’t often claim he had friends. But if there was one man in
all the world he could still call a friend, it was the dark-headed lawyer who’d
insisted on accompanying him into Mexico with the rest of their childhood
friends, Sam, Wes, and Daniel.

repositioned his dark hat on his head, better shielding his face from the sun. “If
anyone can survive this long in the desert, it’s Anna Mae.”

she has water,” Cain shot back, his throat suddenly thick. Because if she
didn’t have water…

shook his head. “The lot of you will need to take these desperadoes back to
Twin Rivers. No plea deals this time. That young one was arrested before.”

remember.” Daniel sent the boy a dark look.

men said Velez was behind this?” Harrison asked. “I thought this business with
Velez was over.”

it ain’t as over as we thought.” Cain raised his eyes to the mountains
surrounding him, scanning them for any sign that more of Velez’s men might have
found them and were planning an attack.

half of last year and the beginning of this year, Cain had spent nine months
stationed in Twin Rivers with his men, trying to root out cattle rustlers that
had moved into West Texas and driven thousands of cattle over the border. But
no one had realized just how powerful the man behind the rustling was.

rather, there was more than one man behind the cattle rustling. Harrison’s
father Bartholomew Rutherford, had been powerful too. He’d owned a trading
company that transported goods that crossed the border from Twin Rivers to San
Antonio. When Bart Rutherford had joined forces with Javier Velez and launched
a massive cattle rustling operation, Rutherford had seen it as a way to make
easy money. Velez had seen it as a way to steal Rutherford’s shipping contracts
before ultimately poisoning the man.

better get moving.” Daniel glanced up at the sun, likely judging how many hours
they had left until darkness fell. “We’ll split the group. I’ll have Bryce, Sam,
and Martin take the outlaws back to Twin Rivers while Harrison, Wes, you, and—”

Cain glanced over his shoulder at the outlaws. “I’m not going to send four
seasoned criminals back with only three men. Everyone goes back—except me.”

lips pressed into a flat line. “If you think I’m going to tuck my tail between
my legs and stop searching for my sister—”

not going to tuck anything anywhere. What you’re going to do is take these here
men back to Twin Rivers. Leastways, that’s what you’ll do if you don’t want the
rest of us to end up dead. You understand?”

see how we’ll end up dead.” Daniel’s eyes bored into him. “They’ll be three of
us plus you left here.”

how many men are in the other group of desperadoes looking for Anna Mae? At
least four. And who knows this section of desert better? Them or us? And who’s
to say the other desperadoes didn’t ride to La Colina
or Chihuahua or wherever Velez is running things to get more men?” Cain gave
his head a shake. “No. The lot of you are going back to Twin Rivers. We’ve got
men in need of a jail cell.”

we don’t have my sister,” Daniel growled.

body. We don’t have her body.” Cain jabbed a finger into Daniel’s shoulder, his
gaze flat and hard. “Don’t go getting your hopes up about things that aren’t
likely to be.”

jaw turned to granite. “I refuse to believe she’s dead.”

man.” Cain dropped his hand, then dragged a breath of hot desert air into his
lungs. “Alive or dead, none of that changes the fact that I’m the best tracker
you know. If more outlaws come looking and it’s just me, I can disappear. It’s
a heap easier to hide one man in these mountains than four.”

don’t like it,” Daniel growled.

do I,” Harrison agreed.

took a step closer to Daniel, bringing them nose to nose. “Do you want my help
or not?”

met his gaze evenly, his face haggard from too many sleepless nights and endless
days spent under the hot desert sun looking for his sister. “I want to do
what’s best for Anna Mae. Leaving only one man to search for her isn’t it, and
you’re not going to convince me otherwise.”

just how much experience do you have finding abducted women?”

muscle pulsed at the side of Daniel’s jaw, and his hands clenched into fists.

get at least three cases like this a year,” Cain drawled. “Sometimes as many as

successful are you at recovering the women?” Harrison asked.

sighed, then reached up and dabbed at a streak of sweat trailing down his cheek
with the bandana knotted about his neck. “I’m always successful at recovering
them—or rather, their bodies. And then I track down the men who killed them and
bring them to justice.”

pressed his lips together, his gaze sharp enough to cut through the boulder
that the desperadoes were sitting beside. “Fine. I’ll leave you here alone like
you ask, but you better bring my sister back, and I expect to see her alive.”

spun on his heel and stalked off, his hands still clenched into fists and the
rocky ground crunching beneath his boots.

rubbed the side of his jaw, thinking he should probably count himself lucky
Daniel hadn’t swung one of those fists at him.“She’s his only sister, Cain.” Harrison
drew in a breath beside him, his shoulders slumping. “Go easy on him.”

can’t. There’s nothing easy about any of this. And the last thing I’m going to
do is stand here and lie to him about the likelihood of seeing his sister

really think she’s dead, don’t you?” Harrison lowered his voice, even though
there wasn’t anyone close enough to overhear them.

frowned. “I’ve been a Ranger too long to imagine any other outcome five days
into an abduction, but I promise you I’ll do what I can. Now please, get the desperadoes
out of here before nightfall. This stretch of desert has far too many mountains
and canyons that would make for a good ambush. I don’t want a one of us here
after dark.”

heaved out a breath, his deep-brown eyes scanning the jagged peaks surrounding
them. “I don’t see things like you do, I suppose. Neither does Daniel, and he’s
a lawman who was raised in a lawman’s home. The rest of us, we look out over
the desert and mountains, and we just… We don’t see where the bandits might be.
We don’t know which route they’re most likely to take. We don’t…”

settled a hand on the back of Harrison’s shoulder. “Few men do. But I promise
you here and now, I’ll do everything in my power to bring Anna Mae back to her

sighed. “Do you think there’s still some chance, any chance she might be alive?”

wanted to shout the word no and release a string of
blistering curses. But there’d been hope in Harrison’s voice when he’d asked
the question, just as there’d been in Daniel’s. And it was flickering in Harrison’s
eyes, too, much the same as it had in Daniel’s.

It also made him
dread what was going to happen when he rode into Twin Rivers with Anna Mae’s
body in a few more days.

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