Golden Paradise (Vincente 1)
diggings. Your father had paid my sister and me to look after your mother. Then he left with his partner—a man some believe to be of dubious reputation. Your mother got a letter saying they struck gold; shortly thereafter it was learned that your father was killed in a cave-in."
    "No!" Valentina cried, reaching out for Salamar's hand. "No, it cannot be!" Tears blinded Valentina and rolled down her cheeks. Trying to control her emotions, she gripped Salamar's hands tightly. "Was . . . did anyone find my . . . father's . . . body? Is there proof he is dead?"
    "The proof is whether or not you believe Samuel Udell's word. Your mother refuses to admit he's dead. She says she'd know it if he wasn't coming back."
    "Since we only have Samuel Udell's word that my father is . . . dead, and you implied that he might not be trustworthy," Valentina concluded, clutching at straws. She could not accept that her father might be dead. He had been so alive. She loved him so much.
    "Well ... if you want to look at it that way; not many men trusted Mr. Udell. I tried to tell your father he was unscrupulous, but he didn't heed my warning. Be that as it may, your father is most assuredly dead. Why else would he stay away so long? Your mother needs to face the truth or she won't ever get well. She's too weak to get out of bed, just lays there moaning. It was like she gave up when she heard about your father. She's been counting the days until you arrive." He gave Valentina a tight little smile. "I believe I have won your mother's soul to the Lord and she sees the error of her wicked ways."
    Valentina was weighed down by emotions she could not ignore. Her heart ached for her father; she was worried about her mother. She wanted to strike out at this hateful pious man. "My mother's soul doesn't need saving, Reverend Lawton. Don't you ever dare say that she had wicked ways."
    He gave her a condescending glance. "We can all do with a little soul-searching, miss. You might do well to remember that."
    Valentina glared at the man. She had no intention of being in his company any longer than was necessary. She felt an urgency to be with her mother, but the buggy wheels seemed to turn so slowly.
    By now she realized Salamar had not spoken a word. Looking into her companion's face, she saw her concerned frown. "We will have a doctor look at your mother, Valentina," Salamar said with assurance. "As for your father, I, like your mother, will not believe any harm has come to him until there is proof."
    "Yes!" Valentina cried. "We won't believe the worst unless we have to. Mother would know if anything dreadful had happened to Father."
    The mules were straining at the bit as they maneuvered the steep hill. "Will the animals not go faster?" Valentina urged frantically. "How much farther is it to your house?" She was beginning to think they would never arrive at their destination.
    Percival Lawton glanced at Valentina, hoping her temper had cooled. She sure was stubbornly defensive of her parents, he thought. That spoke well of her in his eyes—even if the parents didn't deserve her blind trust. "It's just a short ways now. Right over that next hill. Patience is another of God's virtues, Miss Barrett," he reminded her.
    Valentina was using all her strength at the moment to hold onto what shred of patience she had left. Realizing it would do no good to try to reason with this man, she tried to concentrate on the scenery. Vaguely she noticed the bars and saloons they were passing. Loud music filled the air and she could hear the shouts and laughter of merrymaking. The whole atmosphere had a feeling of unreality.
    When Percival  Lawton drew the mules to a halt, Valentina glanced at the small house. It was neat and shining with a fresh coat of paint. She was surprised that his house was so near the business part of town. There was a general store across the street and what appeared to be a saloon next door. She thought it a strange place for a man of the cloth to

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