Tender Touch


Lacy Butler is graced with the gift of healing. She can save strangers-even those undeserving-yet fails to save her mother. Rejecting her gift, God, and society, she's content to live alone high above the mining town of Harperville. But her solitude is shattered when Royce Darnell builds a...


Lacy Butler is graced with the gift of healing. She can save strangers-even those undeserving-yet fails to save her mother. Rejecting her gift, God, and society, she's content to live alone high above the mining town of Harperville. But her solitude is shattered when Royce Darnell builds a water flume through the middle of her mountain. To protect her sanctuary, Lacy sabotages his efforts. Little does she expect Royce to track her through a blizzard and end up half frozen to death on her doorstep. She can heal him, but why should she when he threatens to steal her peace...and her heart? With the livelihood of the miners and their families depending on his project, Royce refuses to stop building, no matter how good the reason or how lovely the masked saboteur turns out to be. Besides, he's convinced God wants Lacy to use her gift for good and not to hole up in her cabin like a reticent recluse afraid of human contact. But first, she must learn to trust, and Lacy doesn't trust anyone, not Royce and especially not God. Soon Royce finds himself in a battle to save the two things he loves the most-Harperville and Lacy. Is his faith strong enough to save them both? 




High California Sierras 1861

Royce Darnell stared at Stumpy McPherson from beneath the brow of his tan felt hat. “Are you sure you secured the chuck wagon last night?”

The older man nodded before he sent a stream of brown spittle across the snow. “I’m sure.” He wiped at the corner of his mouth where his white beard was stained brown. “There ain’t no way them raccoons could’ve got to the food. Someone had to open it up.”

Royce looked up at the gray, pre-dawn sky. “How much food can you salvage?”

“Enough for breakfast and that’s it.”

Royce brushed past Stumpy, headed up the hill to the chuck wagon. As he got close, the odor of coffee and sorghum carried. Even before he saw the damage, he could smell the havoc created by the raiding raccoons. Sugar, flour, and beans were strewn across the muddied snow.

Stumpy gestured to a tin of lard, resting in a pile of dead pine cones. “That’s about the only thing they didn’t eat. That and my chaw of tobacco.”

Royce stooped to examine the small tracks trampled into the dirty snow. They led in a clear path straight to the trees. “How did you secure the wagon?”

“I tied it with ropes and knots a man couldn’t undo.”

“Where are the ropes now?”

“Disappeared. Ain’t no sign of them. I expect if he’d left them, we’d seen they were cut.”

Royce’s jaw tightened. Three incidents in three weeks. Someone was determined to drive Royce and his men away from this area of the mountain. He glanced up to see the same certainty in Stumpy’s eyes. “There’s got to be tracks somewhere.”

“I already looked. There ain’t nothin’.”

“Stumpy, this isn’t the work of Indian ghosts.”

Royce and his crew had been building a water flume up the mountain for almost two months. The incidents hadn’t started until they had reached this exact spot, close to the ancient burial ground. The mystery and location had sparked rumors of a haunting.

“Did I say it was ghosts?” Stumpy asked. “I’m just repeatin’ what some of the men say.”

“Well, don’t repeat it. It only gives it credence and that’s what our vandal wants. He’s watched our movements for a while. It isn’t coincidence that he waited till we got close to the burial ground to stage his little scenes.”

Royce made a circuit around the wagon. With his gaze glued to the snow, he followed the prints into the dark shadows of the thick timber. He found a piece of raw bacon at the base of a trunk. Leftover biscuit crumbs were trampled by the well-defined prints of a deer.

“What’d I tell you?” Stumpy pointed to the tiny prints. “Ain’t nothin’ but raccoons.”

“And deer.” Something about the tracks bothered Royce. He turned back for a second look. The pointed hoof marks danced in a circle before they led off in a different direction. Royce followed the deer trail, wondering why the tracks were so blurred. Suddenly, he saw a flat rounded print. He hurried forward and found another and another, all trampled by the deer tracks. A few feet further on, almost obliterated by a flurry of pointed hooves, he saw the print of a boot. He outlined the print with his fingers.

No doubt. A man, walking on the balls of his feet, used the animal tracks to hide his prints. Every few steps he grew tired and his heel came down in a well-defined mark.

Stumpy shook his head. “I can’t believe I missed that.”

“Believe it. Our intruder is one clever fellow.”

“He sure has gone to a lot of trouble to throw us off and slow us down. I just can’t understand why,” Stumpy said.

“Maybe he doesn’t want to slow us down. Maybe he wants to stop us completely. Do the Harpers have any enemies?”

Stumpy made a rude sound. “I’m sure they do. Sam and Joe Harper struck it big in the rush o’ forty-nine. Harperville grew up around their claim. You don’t get rich and have a town named after you without makin’ some enemies.”

Royce frowned. “It’s been two years since I took over the management of the Golden Rose Mine, Stumpy. One hundred men and their families depend on the Rose for their living, not to mention the shopkeepers, hotel owners, and other businesses in town. They’re counting on me to keep it running.”

“Well, I reckon that’s why the Harpers hired you with that new-fangled degree in mining. They wanted answers to the Rose’s problems. Now they got them.”

“Could be some people aren’t happy with my solution,” Royce said, his gaze fixed on the animal prints.

Stumpy studied the trail then looked back at Royce. “Now why in the world would someone want to stop us from buildin’ the flume?”

“Some folks don’t want hydraulics in Harperville, Stumpy. They say it’s too risky. But it’s the quickest way I know to get the Rose back on her feet and keep this town running smoothly.”

“So now you’re thinkin’ our midnight visitor is a new enemy not an old one,” Stumpy said.

“I don’t know what to think,” Royce said as he crouched down to study the trail again. “The only thing I know for sure is that we have a very clever adversary with a definite plan.” His gaze traced the trail through the woods until it disappeared over a rise.

“And I need some time to figure out what that plan is,” he said.

He rose to his full height. “Go on back to camp and get the men to work. Put a stop to the rumors about ghosts, but don’t mention the boot prints. Tell them we found raccoons. And send Jonah Willard to Harperville for supplies. That should keep him from stirring up trouble. I’m going to track this man for a while and see what he’s about.”

“What do you want me to tell the men you’re doin’?”

He took the rifle from Stumpy’s hands. “Tell them I’ve gone raccoon hunting.”

Stumpy frowned. “Be careful. There’s a storm comin’.”

Royce looked up at the gray sky. “The sun isn’t even up. How do you know?”

“Twenty years in these mountains, that’s how I know. Weather’s fickle this time of year. It ain’t wise for a fella to be traipsin’ off on his own.”

“I won’t be on my own. Our midnight visitor will be out there, too.”

“Just be careful.”

“Don’t worry about me. Worry about getting the men back to work.”

Royce waved and left Stumpy behind, his gaze focused on the tracks. The trail cut south along a rocky ridge of the mountain. Royce straddled logs when he would have gone around and skirted clearings he would have crossed.

This fellow was more than clever. He was downright inventive. Royce wondered more and more, what the man had in mind, especially after his trail turned. The man headed higher onto the mountain, not towards town.

The sun came up. True to Stumpy’s prediction, a storm came with it. Dark clouds billowed overhead and the wind began to blow. Royce pulled up the collar of his jacket and hunkered down, certain that if he didn’t find something soon, he’d have to turn back.

He began to climb. His breath came hard and heavy. Just when he thought he’d reached the end of his strength, he came to a clearing. A winter avalanche or a spring mudslide had swept away the timber in front of him, exposing a wide expanse of the mountainside.

Royce glanced down the mountain, across the half-mile slope, and saw a dark-coated figure enter the forest. He almost shouted out loud. Then the figure disappeared so quickly Royce wasn’t even sure he’d seen it. He scanned the hillside for a trail across the snowy expanse but found none.

Just when he was sure he’d been mistaken, a fawn jumped out of the trees, bounded across the snow and darted back inside the tree line.

No mistake! He’d just caught a glimpse of the midnight visitor and his fawn. “I’ve got you now,” he said out loud as he hurried down the hill.

The intruder knew this mountain better than Royce. If he’d gone around the slide area, Royce would do the same. He turned away from the open area and set off at a run, skirting the clearing, darting in and out of trees until he came to where he’d seen the deer. Out of breath, he bent over his knees and studied the trail. Sure enough, the boots were marked over with deer tracks.

Re-energized, Royce ran ahead. He couldn’t be more than twenty minutes behind the fellow now. If he continued to run, he had a good chance to catch him.

At one point, Royce followed the deer trail for a half a mile before he realized he’d lost the boot prints. The man and deer had separated. Disgusted with his carelessness, Royce slammed his gloved palm against a tree and doubled back.

The wind began to blow icy gusts. Royce tightened his jacket and pulled down his hat. He entered another thick stand of trees and the darkness seemed to swallow him with glacial emptiness.

Soft, silent flakes fell into that emptiness. He could no longer ignore the dark billowing clouds overhead. The winter storm had grown, swift, silent, and lethal.

Royce leaned against a tree to catch his breath and looked up, thinking of his men. Work had surely stopped to prepare for the storm. It wouldn’t be easy. Their camp consisted of four canvas tents, and one wooden lean-to.

He wouldn’t even have that.

As he leaned against the tree, he felt a tremor of doubt. He hadn’t meant to come this far. Stumpy had warned him to be careful, but with his quarry so close, he’d lost his usual caution and all track of time. Had he just made a fatal mistake?

He closed his eyes against the flakes. White silence surrounded him and he began to pray for the first time that day. An answer came almost immediately.

The Harpers had found him a thousand miles away. He’d left his family in the East and all he loved because of his certainty that God had a plan for him in the West. He was certain God did not intend for him to die in a cold, empty forest on the side of a mountain.

With new determination, he focused his gaze on the trail and gritted his teeth. This man was headed to shelter. If Royce found him, he would find safety.

He set out again. The snow fell faster. A thick veil hid the tracks. He came to a clearing. A gust of wind knocked him back. He bent lower, fixed his eyes on the tracks, and staggered forward, each step a battle for power.

He began to sweat beneath his heavy leather coat...a bad sign. He would freeze from the inside out if he didn’t find shelter. He gripped his rifle and focused on the tracks. He couldn’t lose the trail now.

The temperature dropped. Snow crunched beneath his feet. Icy flurries cut at his eyes. His breath froze on his beard and mustache. He couldn’t feel his fingers or his toes.

He came to a ridge along a steep slope. Cautiously, he crept over the narrow, ice-coated path one step at a time, battling the wind all the way.

Suddenly, a fawn lunged across the path and skidded down the hill. Royce stumbled back. His boot struck a rock. He tumbled sideways before he hit the frozen ground and rolled down the icy incline, gaining speed. He made a grab for a slender tree. Pine needles slapped his face with wet snow. Something hard slammed into the back of his head and everything went black.


Pain. Sharp, shooting pain in his head brought Royce to consciousness. He was still sliding over the ground, still falling down the incline!

He willed his muscles to respond as he grabbed for a branch. He clutched the branch. Sharp pains shot up his arm, but he stopped his fall.

Mercifully, he closed his eyes again, only to open them as something pounded on his hand. He forced his eyes open and stared into the face of a man with a hat and a muffler wrapped around his mouth.

“Let go!” The man bellowed over the wind. Royce blinked against the snow dropping into his face.

“Falling...” The skin of his lips cracked and tore as he tried to talk.

“You weren’t falling! I was dragging you.”

Royce could barely hear the man over the wind.

“You have to walk. I can’t do this anymore.”

The man shoved Royce to his side. He thought he knew what the man wanted, but he couldn’t seem to make his muscles work. Everything was numb, as if his body was asleep.

The man pushed and pulled Royce to his feet before he tugged Royce’s arm over his shoulder. Groggily, Royce tried to focus on his feet. He had to keep them beneath him. He knew that. Survival was important. He had a job to do.

He’d been following a trail, following the boots, the small boots. As his eyes focused on his feet, he saw the shoes beside his. They were small.

Small boots.

Something clicked in Royce’s mind and sank deep into his thoughts. But before he could react, they came to a cabin. The little man pushed him through the door. Sudden warmth rushed over Royce. His skin tingled and his brain flashed red hot with anguish. He groaned.

“Don’t pass out on me, yet,” the little man commanded through the muffler. He slid a chair behind Royce and eased him into it. Royce flopped backwards and his head lolled.

“Wake up.” He grasped Royce’s coat and slapped his cheeks. “I can’t do this myself.”

Royce’s eyes flew open.

“Lift your arm.”

Royce obeyed, but all the while, his mind focused on one thing. This man, with the hat and muffler wrapped around his face, was his man, his midnight intruder. He knew that as surely as he knew his head hurt.

Slowly, he leaned to the side and his eyes closed.

His rescuer jerked him forward and slapped him again. “These have to come off.”

Royce nodded as he shoved at his pants and long johns. When they were off, the cabin’s owner threw a blanket over his body.

“Now you can lie down.” Royce half slid out of the chair onto a pile of pelts and blankets beside him.

The sudden comfort overwhelmed him. He wanted to close his eyes and slip away.

But his blurry gaze focused on his rescuer as he unwrapped the muffler. He wanted…needed to see this man’s face, the man who had saved his life. He forced himself to watch as he pulled off the floppy gray hat.

Royce blinked. His foggy mind was playing tricks on him. A long, golden braid fell from beneath the hat and lay across the man’s shoulder. He slipped off the coat and beneath was the slender shape of a woman.

His man...his midnight visitor, was a woman! Shock filled Royce’s mind, and his head flopped senselessly sideways.

Discussion Questions

Q1. Is it true that Jesus focused on three things during his ministry on earth as the book states?
A1. According to theologian Dr. Frances McNutt, yes.  When you study Jesus' stories, you see that he did 3 things: taught, healed the sick and cast out demons.  His purpose was to ease the suffering of the world, to show that the Kingdom of God is at hand, here and now.

Q2. Do the hands of people with the gift of healing acutally glow like Lacy's?
A2. God is the creator of the universe and if he wanted someone's hands to glow, they would.  But experience teaches us that God usually speaks to us in 'the quiet still voice'.  Lacy's glowing hands brought drama to the story.

Q3. Can a healing ministry be passed on from generation to geneartion?
A3. All Christians have the power to heal.  It is the gift Jesus passed on to us through the Holy Spirit to show the world we are His followers.  He commanded us to spread the Good News that the kingdom of God is at hand by easing the suffering of the world.  Those families that regularly practice healing prayer train their children at an early age how to listen the quiet promptings of the Holy Spirit.  So in a sense, yes, it can be passed on.

Q4. If Lacy did not believe God gave her the power to heal, why didn't he take the gift away?
A4. Lacy's healing abilities were a source of conflict in her life.  By searching for a solution to the conflict, He knew she would find her way back to Him.

Q5. Was hydraulic mining as dangerous as portrayed in the story?
A5.  Yes.  Tons of gravel and dirt were carried downstream to communities far from the mining sites.  The debris changed the course of streams, flooded towns and dumped silt on valuable farm lands.  Court battles ranged between California miners and farmers for years until hydraulic mining was outlawed in California in 1884.

Q6. Was Royce's concern for Harperville exagerated for dramatic effect?
A6. No.  By 1861 California towns that had flourished since the Gold Rush were dying.  The Sierra Mountains are still dotted with ghost towns.  These moutain communities had little or no farming or industry.  When the gold ran out, the towns were abaondoned.

Q7. Why is Mrs. Hennessey's restaurant called a chop house?
A7. In those days, most cuts of meats thick cuts meant for slow cooking.  The mines usually ran three shifts a day and the miners were on tight schedules.  Chop houses sprang up around mines so miners could grab a quick bite before or after their shift.  The chop houses featured 'chopped meat', thin slices of beef that could be seared or pan fried quickly.  Today we call these cuts of meat steaks.

Q8. When war was declared between the states, were Southerners driven out of towns as depicted in the story?
A8. Yes.  It took ten days for the news of the war to reach all parts of California and emotions ran high.   Violence erupted and sympathizers on both sides were run out of towns or tar and feathered, depending on where the majority of the town's population stood.  Eventually, Union sympathizers won the battle and California voted to stay with the Union.  California gold kept the Union Army afloat  throughout the war.


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