Life on her brother’s ranch is lonely for Ellie Strickland. Ed’s ungracious manners and tight-fisted habits keep visitors away and his mother and sister close to home. But when Cole Newcomb, son of the wealthiest rancher in the county, meets Ellie by chance, he is struck by an unexpected impulse to rescue her from her solitude—and Ellie’s lonely summer is transformed.
When Cole asks her to go with him to the Fourth of July dance, Ellie is determined that nothing, from an old dress to Ed’s sour temper, will stand in her way. By the time the Fourth of July fireworks go off at midnight, will they herald only more heartache, or maybe—just maybe—a dream come true?
A short and sweet Western retelling of the beloved Cinderella story, approximately 21,000 words.
Cole was silent for a minute, twisting a wilted stalk of grass in his fingers. He looked at the girl’s profile, with the loose wisp of chestnut hair drifting forward on her temple and the smudge of dirt across her cheek. He was beginning to understand. It had begun to come home to him that he had never met her before. She must have been just a kid when he went away to college, he reflected; and he could not remember ever having seen her at any of the picnics or dances held at the various ranches during his summers at home. He had a good memory for faces, and Ellie’s had no place in his recollection. She must have been out here all the time, he thought…
“Don’t you see much of the other girls around here?” he said, watching her face as he spoke.
“No,” said Ellie. “Not since I finished school. We don’t have the time to—I mean, we’re not—”
She stopped work for a second and turned to look straight at him. “Oh, what’s the use of pretending. I know nobody likes us, because Ed is all anyone ever sees. Mama and I don’t go much of anywhere, except church sometimes when he’ll let us use the team. The girls don’t come here—why should they, when they don’t know me? I don’t mind so terribly, most of the time, but—” Her eyes met his with a sudden quick, plaintive longing that rang in her impulsive speech: “If it just goes on like this, for years and years, how are we ever going to have any friends? How am I ever going to meet—anyone?”
Cole understood—perhaps even understood the unspoken meaning of the last word. He looked down at the ploughed ground, for he had no answer. He understood too well. Even in a crowd, on one of those rare outings she spoke of, Ed Strickland was the kind of person whom people would give a disgusted look and then go off to talk to somebody else; and his pretty but quieter young sister and hard-working shadow of a mother, neither of the personality to put themselves forward, would remain unnoticed.
Ellie had gone back to her work, on her hands and knees thinning out radishes, and there was no sign on her face of self-consciousness at having spoken out to him this way. In truth, seeing so few people had made her regard the presence of any human being in the same light—she had spoken to Cole Newcomb in a direct, natural way that might never have been hers if she had been more accustomed to the society of young men. Perhaps this was one of the reasons for the tug of sympathy that Cole felt toward her. He was at all the disadvantage of a handsome and well-off young man in that girls were often extra bright and sweet of manner around him, which he occasionally found trying. Ellie’s simplicity was refreshing. It was a shame, he thought, that a nice little girl like her had to be stuck away out here alone, when plenty of the young people he knew would have been glad to have her around if they’d only had a chance to meet her—
A curious smile slowly crossed Cole’s face. An idea had come into his mind. He looked at Ellie again.
He could do it…it would be the easiest thing in the world.
Yes, he could…Not at once, though; that would be too obvious.
He had it all planned when he stood up.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Elisabeth Grace Foley is a historical fiction author, avid reader and lifelong history buff, the author of Peacemaker Award-nominated Western novella Left-Hand Kelly, and short story collections The Ranch Next Door and Other Stories and Wanderlust Creek and Other Stories. Her work has appeared online at Rope and Wire and The Western Online. Her other books include a series of short historical mysteries, the Mrs. Meade Mysteries; and short fiction set during the American Civil War and the Great Depression.