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Chapter One
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Chapter One


Darla Winsor drove down the highway as if fleeing from impending danger. She had never been so terrified, knowing only one thing in her overwhelming state of panic. She had to run! Run... as far, and as fast as she could. Run anywhere that was away from Wellington, Iowa, the city that had faded hours ago into the background. She had to lose herself in the countryside.

The speedometer reached 80 miles per hour and, as she pressed the pedal down, her pulse quickened. She peered in the rear-view mirror like a scared rabbit fleeing from a seasoned hunter. “Go faster,” she thought, “I have to hide, I can’t look back.” Tears welled up in the corners of her eyes and down Darla’s flawless porcelain-like cheeks. She recalled the all too turbulent last year of her life. The tears streamed down in full force now, with the car accelerating to 90 mph.

The sky was clear and pastel blue with scattered puffs of white clouds floating lazily in the picture perfect sky. The sun, bearing down across the countryside, brought the temperature to an ideal 82 degrees. It was mid-summer, a glorious time of year in Iowa. Large farms dotted the countryside with grazing herds of cattle, fields of corn, milo, and barley as far as the eye could see. The crops in the vast fields were becoming ready for harvest; the wild flowers and trees were in full bloom everywhere. The countryside was alive with a radiance that was vivid with continuous life.

Cornfields sparkled in the sun, flowing like an ocean of sea green waves in the warm breeze. Barbed wire fence rows, running along the highway, were heavily laden with flowering wild rose brushes. Under any other circumstances Darla would be enjoying the drive in this beautiful country, not today, she was running to save herself, to save her sanity and her freedom. She pressed the accelerator to the floor, pushing the car faster and faster, as if speed were nonexistent. Darla wasn’t experienced driving at a high rate of speed and her heart pounded uncontrollably in her chest. She thought it would burst.

The year had started out especially happy for her, it was the last summer of college, before starting pre-med. Her parents, Paul and Ellen, had seen her off to summer classes. They were proud of Darla. It was their dream come true that she would graduate. Her parents didn’t have the opportunity to go to college and had planned and saved for her education.

Her father, Paul, was a supervisor in a tool and die plant in Davenport, Iowa. Paul had been there about 25 years and was nearing retirement. He had always enjoyed his work, and he wanted his daughter to have a college education, something his parents could not afford to give him. Although he had done well for his family, he wanted Darla to have more out of life than a small town existence. Paul dreamed of Darla doing something special with her life Her mother, Ellen, had worked only the last three years to help pay for Darla’s education. She had been quite content to stay home and be a wife and mother. Darla on the other hand had inherited her father’s lust for life and wanted more. She wanted to reach for the stars like her father had dreamed. She was her father’s daughter in more ways than one. Her quest was to search out the unknown, to seek the many adventures life had to offer. Ellen prided herself on her ability to maintain a nurturing environment for Darla. She was a great mom. Darla loved both her parents equally; she felt their diverse personalities had given her an equal balance in her life.

Ellen was happy with her employment at the dress shop. It was a perfect job, giving her a chance to see her friends and meet new people. Her mother had worried about being alone when Darla was away at school. The job was a perfect solution, and the extra money helped with the cost of college.

Darla was from an average middle class household in a town with a population of 150,000, and her parents wanted more for their only child. The three of them had been a very close and loving family. She had a wonderful childhood with all the special memories a child could collect. She now longed for the security her parents had once provided, with their love and caring she had missed since the tragedy. When she was away at college, she could go home to the safety net that her mother and father always offered. Her needs had never been much throughout her life. But when you want the shelter of home there is nothing else that can take its place. It is a place where you can go and leave all your worries at the front door until you have the strength to do battle again. Darla felt going home was the best comfort life had to give and she wanted to be home again.

Now she was on her own, running for her very existence. If only she hadn’t written that last fateful letter, the letter that changed her life forever. She had asked her parents to come to Wellington, Iowa where she attended college. Missing them, she wanted them to spend a weekend with her. They had written back; her father had vacation days and they could come for a four day weekend. Darla was excited about their visit, plus they would be able to meet her friends.

Her mother and father had made arrangements to fly so they wouldn’t waste time driving. They had planned to make it more like a vacation. The big benefit would be that they would all be together. They missed Darla and couldn’t wait to get to the city of Wellington to be with her. She was changing and becoming a young woman so fast they did not want to lose the bond shared among the three of them. They always wanted to be a part of her life no matter where it might take her. She had been a bright child and now was doing well in college. She had dreamed for years about being a doctor. Now she was on the doorstep, beginning the long walk ahead. With the support and help her parents had given, she was sure she would make it to the end just fine. Darla knew it would be demanding, probably the most difficult challenge she would ever undertake. She also knew the result would be her life’s aspiration come true.

Darla was sobbing uncontrollably as memories came flooding back. She would be the first to graduate from college in both families. They had planned a celebration following her graduation. Her heart ached as she sped down the highway at a greater speed.

The tears flowed heavily now and she sobbed aloud as the car nearly sped out of control at 95 miles per hour. She vividly remembered the day at the airport waiting for flight 189 from Columbus to arrive. The monitor in front of her flashed, flight 189 would be delayed, and please check at the airline counter for further information. She waited a few minutes and saw a line forming at the counter, airline personnel were directing the anxious friends and families to a private room.

Darla stood up and went over to one of the ladies in a burgundy and navy blue suit, the airlines colors, and asked, “Is there a problem with flight 189.” The slightly thin, tall blond, not much older than herself, asked Darla whom she was waiting for on flight 189. Darla told her, “I’m waiting for my mom and dad, Paul and Ellen Winsor.” A stab of pain went through Darla’s heart when the blond lady, whose name was Pam, told her, “Please wait in the private lounge to the right side of the departure and arrival area and there will be someone in shortly with an update on the flight.”

Darla remembered apprehension taking her over as she entered the room with a view of the runways. Muffled voices filled the room with anxiety. It was crowded with concerned people that were nervously milling around, waiting to hear something from the airline. The room was becoming warm, Darla found it stifling, and a feeling of dread was beginning to engulf her mind. Her heart was beating rapidly and fear of the unknown was taking its toll on her composure. She wanted to cry.

Dark clouds began filling the sky, adding to the gloom in the crowded lounge. She gazed out the large window, unaware of the activities on the runway. Darla was feeling a bit sick to her stomach. She looked around for a place to sit and find some peace in a room full to capacity with so many worried people. There was a mist starting to permeate the air outside to further darken the skies. Darla was thinking, “Why was it taking so long to hear something about how late the plane was going to be.” She was trying to push the thoughts of what she might soon hear, out of her head. Darla sat in a chair by the window and stared out at the runway, frozen in place.

A man entered the private lounge and introduced himself, “May I have your attention. My name is Samuel Doleman and I represent West World Airlines,” he took a long deep breath. He made an announcement that would haunt Darla the rest of her life. He was a stout man with thinning brown hair. Mr. Doleman looked like a school teacher with his wire frame glasses. He had a look of sadness about him and Darla’s heart sank even deeper waiting for the announcement. Samuel Doleman stood at the front of the room and began, “Ladies and gentlemen, I have news of flight 189. Please, may I have your attention? I am extremely regretful to inform you of an unfortunate incident involving flight 189,” he paused a moment to gather his thoughts. “Flight 189 experienced engine failure and crashed at 2:45 pm. It is with my deepest sympathy that I must inform you there were no survivors.” He continued with great sorrow in his voice, “We at West World Airlines are here to offer any assistance we can at this time of need. We are here to offer help in any way.”

The people in the room gathered around Mr. Doleman, they were asking questions with voices filled with anguish. Was he sure there were no survivors? That was the most asked question, Could they go to the crash site, where were the bodies being taken for identification, what should they do? They bombarded him with endless questions.

Darla sat motionless. She couldn’t move or talk. She remained in place at the window staring blankly into space until Pam came over to help, “Can I call anyone for you?” Darla replied, “I have no one to call, I am alone now.” Tears blurred Darla’s vision as the car reached 99 miles per hour. She didn’t see the sharp curve ahead! The car swerved out of control, down a steep embankment, crushing everything in its path, rolling over and over. Glass went flying with a horrific crashing sound. The car came to a sudden stop tangled in a mess of barbed wire, almost unrecognizable. The small red car lay at the edge of a cornfield. Darla was unconscious, blood trickling down the side of her tear stained face.

Hours must have passed before Jonathan Sanders came upon the wrecked car rolled in barbed wire at the south corner of one of his many cornfields. He was on his tractor, checking the corn for tasseling. Harvest time was near and a close watch was most important.

Jonathan loved his land and could be often found checking the fields or one of his herds of cattle, staying ahead of any problems. He enjoyed the process of planting, nourishing, and harvesting. The work could be demanding, although he found comfort and pleasure in his labor of love. He had acquired over 2,500 acres of land in his short 35 years. He was a solid businessman in the community and his heart belonged to his fertile land. He had been born and raised about 5 miles from his farm. Planting, tending, and harvesting was all he had ever known. The cattle were a recent venture, and a profitable one.

Iowa was in his blood to stay and all that had filled his time for the last five years. He had a knack for acquiring productive land and acting fast so he would not lose a good deal. He was also known for his prized Black Angus cattle. Jonathan enjoyed the competition of the stock shows, where he often took first place with his fine and envied Black Angus he had selectively bred.

Jonathan was almost finished for the day. The last field was coming up as he rode his tractor down the dirt pathway to the end of the cornrows. Insects were the biggest problem at this time of the cycle, and you could lose an entire field of corn if you missed a critical sign. He stopped, took an ear to take a closer look, and yes it was perfect, just right for the coming harvest. Back on his tractor with a feeling of pride, he continued down the pathway, with dust rising behind him.

He rounded the corner of a field and noticed there was a large section of fence that was down and an area of corn had been crushed. He saw a red car, and thought it looked like a Mercedes, he couldn’t be sure. He drove slowly toward the wrecked car. Coming to a complete stop allowing the dust to settle, Jonathan jumped off his tractor ready to help the occupants of the entangled car.

He approached the wreckage with caution, looking for signs of life. Having been a medic in the Gulf War, Jonathan had experience in triage. He hurried to the car and could see a small figure inside. The windshield was out and glass was everywhere. There was a weak, barely audible moan. Jonathan could see a small woman trapped inside. There were no other passengers in the car, the woman was alone.

He began to free the petite lady who was ensnared in the metal trap. The air bags had inflated and Darla was having difficulty breathing. Jonathan shielded her face as he took a knife from his pocket to collapse the airbag so the young woman could breathe more easily. Next he pried the door open. After a brief examination, he felt the injuries were not as grave as he had expected. He reached in his pocket for his cell phone, it wasn’t there, he had left his cell phone on the kitchen counter and he could not call for help. He couldn’t leave the woman in the car and go for help, this particular cornfield was the furthest one from his house. It would take 45 minutes to an hour just to get back to the house. He had to make a decision to move the woman or go for help.

He managed to free Darla and lifted her up like a small child. He checked her vital signs, she had labored breathing, and a strong heartbeat. He decided to move her and take her back to the house. Jonathan cleaned the glass and debris off her, hurrying back to the tractor, carefully carrying his delicate burden. He looked at the blood on her head and it concerned him. He held her close and started the tractor for the rough ride home. He knew Morgan, his housekeeper, would still be there to help him with the young woman. Morgan always knew what to do.

The shaking and jolting of the tractor brought Darla to consciousness. She looked up with wide-eyed fear to see the kind and weathered face of a man she did not recognize. She was in shock and began shaking with quiet sobbing. Jonathan stopped the tractor and looked down at Darla with compassion, sensing her fear. He cradled her tenderly like a mother holding a child to her breast. Darla looked into Jonathan’s eyes and asked in a weak voice, “Who are you? Where am I?”

Jonathan answered in a soothing manner, “My name is Jonathan Sanders and you have been in a serious car accident. I am taking you for help. I was tending my fields when I found your wrecked car,” there was a silence, and he continued, “Do you remember the accident, are you in pain? When we arrive at the house Dr. Torrence will be called to examine you. You have nothing to fear.”

Darla was filled with anxiety as she tried to hold the tears back, “I don’t remember anything, all I know is my head hurts dreadfully.” Her sobbing was increasing with the pain filling her body. Her tears were streaming down her blood stained cheeks. She couldn’t remember anything, excruciating pain was piercing her head with a great throbbing. Her mind was a blank except for the thought she should be running, running to save her life.

Jonathan started the tractor toward the house. Driving over the bumpy dirt road he said to Darla, “Don’t worry, you're out of harm's way. There isn’t any reason to be afraid,” he tried to reassure her, “My housekeeper will be at the house to help take care of you.” He hoped she would not be fearful of him.

Somehow Darla knew she was safe and Jonathan would take care of her. He gave her a comfort she knew she had felt before, some place else, and right now she felt secure in this stranger’s arms. Whatever she was running from didn’t matter at this point in time. She felt she could take refuge with this unfamiliar man.

The tractor ride to the house seemed to take forever and the dust from the tractor kicked up behind them like smoke from a fire in the fields, with the plumes of dust rising skyward. Darla lay cradled in Jonathan’s arms trying to remember anything. Nothing came to her, not even her name, her mind was blank. She seemed to have a complete loss of memory. Touching her head she felt the warm moist blood trickling over her brow and the pain was severe. The jogging movements of the tractor didn’t help. Even though Jonathan tried to avoid the rough places, a tractor ride at best, is not smooth.

Jonathan spoke in a comforting voice “Please don’t’ll be well cared for.” He stroked her long and tangled brilliant red hair trying to calm and set her mind at rest. Darla peered into Jonathan’s liquid blue eyes that mesmerized and soothed her.

She felt the strong muscles in his arms while he tried to cushion the jolting of the tractor, giving her a sense of security that made her feel free from harm. She fixed her eyes on Jonathan, lying helplessly in his lap, she studied him even though the pain was becoming more intense. It took her mind off the ride, watching this man with sun bronzed skin and sandy blond hair blown by the wind as they rode along. She could tell he was quiet, strong, and forceful, a man in control. She knew he would take care of her and protect her. Darla had a feeling deep inside her telling her to seek shelter with this kind man.

The dust was clearing as they drove up to a stately two-story white frame farmhouse. The house was crisp and clean with rock trim, the yard was well cared for with trees, shrubs, and various flowers. Off to the left was a large red barn full of hay. There was a bunkhouse, painted to match the barn, for the hired help. She could see a fenced pasture with pure black cattle roaming indolently about. Even though Darla’s head hurt worse as time progressed, she still couldn’t help but notice this special farmhouse that had come in to view. There was a long front porch with a welcoming allure. As the house came closer into view, Darla felt incredible warmth reaching out to her. She felt she belonged, as though she was home again.