Sneak Peek: Heart of Integrity – Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Not even the blazing sun could shake the chill from Susan Kelly’s bones. Had she really come all this way—crossed thousands of miles of tumultuous sea—for this? California was supposed to be an escape. A fresh start. But nothing had changed.

Nothing except the climate.

Back home in Ireland, she’d be soaked by now. But she hadn’t seen a drop of rain since she’d arrived in Lone Pine six months ago. It was strange… not what she was used to at all. But it was bliss.

At least, it had been until last night.

“Morning, Miss Kelly!”

“Mornin’, Dr. Reed.” She nodded in greeting, plastering a smile on her face to mask the emotions churning inside her. She was good at that, her father had told her years ago. Good at acting, at pretending.

At lying.

The elegant physician strode past, small pockets of dust skiting up in his wake. He looked like a doctor—imposing and dignified. But the townsfolk loved him, and she could see why. He was a dote, as she would’ve said back home. A gentle, kindly man.

She couldn’t imagine him asking his daughter to do what her own father had made her do most of her life back home.

A sour sensation twisted in her gut. 

She was no saint—she knew that. But she’d been so glad to leave all the secrets and corruption behind. She’d hoped Da would’ve been, too. But she never could depend on him.

Her steps slowed. There it was.

How different it looked today. For the past few months, it had been a haven—a place she could truly be herself and actually help people. Letters and packages had always held a comforting charm, but as she eyed the little post office now, her heart ached so deeply it was hard to breathe. It was only a matter of time until it was ruined somehow. He always managed to destroy anything she held dear. 

Slowly, she approached the little wooden steps. Funny how so many of the buildings here were made of wood. She supposed it made more sense, due to the climate. In Ireland, if the buildings had been made of wood, they’d have been rotted through in no time.

No, she certainly didn’t miss the damp. There wasn’t anything she missed, except her mother’s grave. Had it really been ten years last week since she and Da had huddled beside it, watching the gravediggers cover up her mother’s coffin with shovel after shovel of mossy dirt?

She’d now lived longer without her mother than with her. But all her life, she’d been in the suffocating grip of her father.

Memories of the conversation with Da the previous evening echoed in her mind.

No sooner had she sat down to supper, as the locals called it, than a strange scuffling had sounded outside her little kitchen door, followed by a short, sharp knock.

For a brief fragment of a moment, she’d thought it had sounded like his knock. But just as quickly, she’d dismissed the notion. Surely, if he were planning to travel all that way, he’d have sent word to her first. 

Unease had tightened her gut as she’d approached the door, silently debating whether or not she ought to answer at all. 

“Who’s there?” she’d called out. 

Seconds of silence had ticked by.

“It’s late, mind. Who is it?”

The sound that’d met her ears had taken a moment to believe. She’d held her breath. No… It couldn’t be…

“Someone who didn’t want to spoil the surprise, Missy!”

It was. It was really him. Here. 

For a moment, she’d been tempted to run. To hide. To stay free from the inevitable entanglement.

But some deeply-embedded sense of obligation had compelled her to turn the key and handle, and pull open the little wooden door. 

His eyes had latched on to her, his mouth slowly opening in astonishment as he’d looked her up and down, as though some wondrous transformation had occurred. “Look at ye, girl! Why, you’ve never looked so well!” He’d met her gaze and stepped forward into her little kitchen, his arms outstretched. “Ah, my wee Susan… Gave yer da a big hug!”

Susan had stumbled forward into his embrace, her heart pounding, worry clogging her throat, choking out each word she’d attempted to voice.

Her father had released her, then looked her up and down again before turning his focus to their surroundings. “This is a fine place you’ve got yourself,” he said, nodding. “A fine wee place.” Then he’d looked at her, a melancholy admiration in his gaze.

Even as a pang of guilt had pricked her heart, she’d steeled herself, determined to maintain her defenses. “Da…”

“Now, now, I know what you’re thinkin’, Susan. But…” He’d sighed. “But, I mean it, darlin’. I want a fresh start, too.”

She’d eyed him wearily. Why now? She’d begged him to come with her all those months ago, but he’d been too wrapped up in all his wheelings and dealings. He’d begged her to stay, but she’d slipped out one night and never looked back. 

Now, there he was, standing in her kitchen on the other side of the world. 

Had he really changed? Or was it all just another lie?


“How did you find me?”

He’d taken off his flat cap and squeezed it through his hand as though he were stroking a cat’s tail. “Well, eh… Yer aunt gave me yer address.”

Disappointment nudged Susan’s heart. Her aunt, of all people, knew what he was like—knew better than to trust him after everything he’d done.


Could it be true that he really did want a fresh start, and her aunt had seen evidence of it? Evidence enough to justify breaking the promise to never let him know exactly where she’d gone?

Wary sorrow circled in her heart. “Da, why are you really here?”

The tender hope on his countenance gave way to melancholy understanding. “I told ye, darlin’… I want a new start, too. I know there’s nothin’ I can do at the minute except say it—and we both know I’ve given ye plenty of reasons to doubt me words in the past. But if yer happy for me to stick around and prove it, well… I’d love to try.”

Against her better judgment, she’d put together a makeshift bed for him in the tiny parlor. But as he’d wished her good night, she’d made it clear that she wouldn’t tolerate any of his schemes.

“I mean it, Da. I’m done with all that. And if I find out that you’re up to anything, then you won’t be able to stay here. D’you understand?”

“Of course, pet, of course. I mean it. I just want to be with my wee girl and see your new wee home and spend time with ye, that’s all. I’ve missed ye, Susan.”

Had she missed him? She hadn’t known what to say, so she’d simply bid him good night.

She still didn’t know. 

As the memories dissipated, she breathed deeply and stepped inside the little post office that had become her favorite place to spend time. She settled down in her creaky wooden chair behind the counter. Silence hovered all around her, and she closed her eyes, basking in the calm that she wished could reach deep enough into her heart to settle it.

The past few months had been wonderful—getting to know new people, being able to set foot outside in the evenings without huddling under extra layers, becoming a part of the community by working in the little post office. In truth, the only times she’d thought of her father had been with relief that she was no longer tangled in his web.

But now, it seemed that not even crossing an ocean could blow away all the cobwebs. 

She only hoped that this time—for what would be the first time in both of their lives—he was telling the truth.