Promise Bridge - By Eileen Clymer Schwab


First and foremost, to Ray: my husband, best friend, and fellow daydream believer. Each and every day, you bless me with your encouragement and support and with your wacky sense of humor, which reminds me that laughter is good for the soul. Our journey has been extraordinary. Love and gratitude to my four amazing children, Connie, Ray, Brian, and Griffin, who encourage me to be both mom and author. I love you all.

Love and gratitude for the unwavering foundation provided by my parents, Clair and Joan Clymer, from whom all good things in my life were first made possible.

Heartfelt thanks to my wonderful agent, Kevan Lyon, for embracing my novel, believing in me, and “bridging” me into the world of publication. Your insight and expertise challenged me and raised me to new heights. I will be eternally grateful.

To Ellen Edwards, my incredible editor. I feel so blessed to have landed in your very proficient and talented hands. Your gentle guidance and editorial prowess strengthened this book from beginning to end. Thank you for embracing this story and these characters when we needed you most. You brought us across the finish line in grand style.

My sincere appreciation to Kara Welsh and her amazing team at NAL. Your support and effort on behalf of this book exceeded any hope or dream I harbored. I am deeply grateful. Thank you to Anthony Ramondo and his art department for the beautiful cover.

Thank you, Kara Cesare, whose belief and unending enthusiasm opened the door. Your contribution to and advocacy for this book will never be forgotten.

To the “Girl Cousins” who always cheered, encouraged, and believed.

The bond between friends enriches and blesses our lives in ways too numerous to count. I thank all those who have given me their gift of friendship.

And last but not least, I hold dear the “Big Snack,” a family tradition in which countless precious memories and my love for storytelling are rooted.

Often inspiration is born of stirred emotion. “Love Can Build a Bridge” written by John Barlow Jarvis, Naomi Judd, and Paul Overstreet, performed by The Judds, Wynonna and Naomi—your beautiful song stirred my heart.

Chapter 1

Life at its very core changed forever the day I asked “please” of a colored man. I intended no harm or outrage; my manners got the better of me is all. In fact, the cedar mounts cradling Echo Ridge all but quaked the moment the word floated from my careless lips as I eased a heavy bundle toward Winston’s outstretched arms. His playful eyes stoned into a stunned gaze, and though with two hasty blinks the ever-present smile recovered across his mahogany face, my heart sank into the pit of my stomach as his eyes hedged from mine and braced for the inevitable.

On the steps of the general store behind me, Twitchell Grayson stood with his worn snakeskin boot fixed heavily on a stool. Winston’s son, Elijah, knelt at Twitch’s crooked heel, wiping away dusty clumps of dried clay as best he could with a fistful of oil rag in his capable ten-year-old hand. Following Winston’s glance, I turned in time to see Twitch’s jaw clench fiercely around the stub of a cigar wedged beneath the coarse charcoal mustache thicketed like a horseshoe around a barely recognizable mouth.

“You forget your place, boy?” Twitch kicked the stool against a crested apple barrel wedged alongside the mercantile door. Poor Elijah tumbled backward onto his threadbare britches as an avalanche of ripe red apples plunked down around him.

“No, sah, I’s jes’ helpin’ Miz Hannah,” Winston said with a compliant nod in my direction.

“Seems to me if you did your work proper, your mistress wouldn’t have to ask you for nothin’, much less beg you please.”

Twitch had one dead eye, blinded long ago, when for perverse amusement he propped up a peach basket using a stick and a string, with the aim of trapping crows. I never heard such depraved whooping and hollering as when he held each captured bird by its feet, swinging it over his head while he stomped and danced around me until I dropped to my knees in tears. My frantic pleas made his wild eyes glimmer with savage excitement as he spat into the palm of his hands, then twisted off the wings of each disoriented crow before tossing them onto the dirt. I remember how he howled with laughter as they flopped helplessly on the ground at his feet. Seven young crows were tortured by Twitch that wretched day, until my cries brought my dear