A puff of steam from the train billowed out in front of Becky as she stepped onto the platform, and a fresh breeze fluttered against her heavy, dark green skirts. The journey from Boston to Casper, Wyoming had been exhausting, but at just nineteen, Becky had more energy than most. Besides, the end of the train ride signaled the beginning of her life in many ways, so even though her eyelids had been drooping with sleep but a half-hour earlier, she was now wide awake, furiously taking in every inch of her surroundings.
It was a small station, made up of no more than a single wooden platform, topped with a make-shift roof. Even so, it was bustling with activity. Becky dragged her small but heavy suitcase toward an empty bit of wall she could lean against. Sorting through the handbag that the mistress of the orphanage had given her before setting out on her journey, Becky fished out the newspaper advertisement that featured the only photograph she had of her husband-to-be.
“Becky? Is that you? Took you long enough.”
She looked up to see who the gruff voice belonged to, and her heart dropped.
“Yes, I’m Becky. And you are …?” she asked, hopeful that maybe the man in front of her wasn’t her fiancé after all? She clung to the possibility that maybe he’d sent some kind of manservant to pick her up in his stead.
Becky hadn’t been bothered by the knowledge that her husband-to-be was almost twice her age. She had no grand illusions of romance for her future. Instead, it had been William Culver’s location that had attracted her most to the idea of answering his advertisement in search of a wife. For years, Becky’s oldest friend, Emma, had sent her letters about the majestic wild mountains and clear blue skies of Wyoming. She’d spent many sleepless nights staring up at the hard bunk above her in the orphanage dorm room counting down the days until she would be old enough to leave, make her way in the world, and maybe even see the mountains of Wyoming with her own eyes.
“William Culver, at your service.” Right in front of her, he hacked a cough and spat out a great wad of chewing tobacco. Little bits of spittle hit her cheek. The William in the photograph she still clung to was a barrel-chested man with a well-kept mustache. She’d imagined and hoped that he would have a booming laugh and an easy smile. Alas, there was nothing warm about the man in front of her and nothing cheerful about his sneer. Presented with the real-life man, Becky couldn’t help but notice how unkempt and overgrown his mustache had become since whenever the photograph she held had been taken. She shuddered as she imagined standing at the altar in a few days’ time kissing that cracked mouth overgrown with prickly hair.
“N-nice to meet you,” she managed to say. Becky wasn’t normally the kind of girl who was easily put-off, but the sight of the greasy strands of hair swept across William’s swiftly balding head made her cringe. She forced a pleasant smile onto her face, not wanting to offend the man.
“Well, let’s get on then. You’d better carry your own bag. My gout has been acting up recently.”
“Oh. I’m sorry about that.”
William turned around and started walking away without waiting for her. Stumbling to catch up with her suitcase in tow, Becky tried to talk herself into a better mood. She’d always known that William wouldn’t be a great love of hers, but he ran a successful saloon and could offer her a good, comfortable life. The only alternatives that had existed for her consisted of cleaning rooms at one of Boston’s boarding houses, or punching holes in leather boots she could never afford for herself in some shoe factory. Traveling across the country to marry a complete stranger had seemed like a wonderful adventure by comparison. She was, however, beginning to regret the decision.
“Don’t get too close to the horse. She’s a mean one,” William said as Becky loaded her suitcase onto the back of the cart. She didn’t know much about horses, but the young woman thought the mare looked just as pleasant as any other horse. Almost before she was able to climb into the front, William cracked the reins with ten times the necessary force. The horse whinnied in pain and took off down the dirt road.
“What’s her name?”
“The horse’s name,” Becky clarified, trying to make pleasant conversation.
“I don’t know. What? ‘Horse’ isn’t good enough?” William laughed harshly until his forceful chuckle turned into a nasty cough.
Becky closed her eyes and wondered to herself how close they were to her friend Emma. She had no sense of Wyoming’s geography, and there’d been no time to write to Emma before leaving.
“Are we close to Kaycee? The town? I have a friend who lives there. I was hoping to see her, maybe.”
“Kaycee? Oh, no, no. Kaycee’s at least a day’s ride north. You don’t have any need to get up there. Besides, you won’t have time. I’ll be needing you to help out at the saloon, of course, and Aunt Mabel needs taking care of at home.”
Becky remembered with some relief that it wouldn’t just be William that she would be living with. He had an elderly aunt in his care, and Becky was hopeful that she would be, in many ways, the mother or grandmother she’d never had. She imagined that she would pass the time reading aloud to Mabel and listening to her stories about days gone by.
“Well, maybe Emma can come visit me. I’m sure your Aunt Mabel would appreciate some diversity of company! Not to say that she might be tired of you, William. Emma is a real cheerful girl and knows how to put a smile on just about anyone’s face. We grew up together in the orphanage, you see, but she moved out here a few years ago once her older brother came of age. His name is Jack, maybe you know him? The two of them started up a ranch …”
“I see you’re a talker,” William interrupted gruffly. “I don’t know any Jack or Emma. I don’t know if I want any friends of yours running around neither. Not unless they’re going to spend some money at the saloon, of course.”
Becky closed her mouth and tried not to get upset. There was more to life than a good husband, wasn’t there?
“I’m sure they’d want to see the saloon! Do you meet a lot of interesting people there?” she asked, clinging desperately to her positive attitude.
“I have a good group of lads who come in. They’re rowdy sometimes, but they’re loyal to the place and that’s what’s important. They’ll like the look of you, even if you are a skinny one. They didn’t see fit to feed you at the orphanage?” William eyed her up and down, and Becky sunk low under his leering stare.
“They did what they could.” She thought of her tearful goodbye with one of the teachers from the orphanage. Mrs. Cook had been a kindly woman even though she had few resources to work with.
“So what happened to your parents, anyway? Mother too poor to take care of you?”
The cruel bluntness of the question took Becky by surprise. In her experience, most people were overly gentle once they found out about her background.
“No. I mean, they weren’t rich, but …it was cholera. I was just a baby,” she answered simply, not wanting to go into the full story.
“From Ireland, I assume?”
She nodded her head, then changed the subject.
“I’m not that skinny, am I?” Becky looked down at her wrists. They were thin, yes, but she’d always prided herself on her full cheeks and lips that were the envy of her fellow orphans.
William ignored the question and took a swig from his flask. With horror, Becky realized that it was not a flask of water that her fiancé was pulling from. It was full of whiskey. The smell of the stuff turned her empty stomach, but she held her tongue.
“There’s the house. Aunt Mable will be wanting her lunch soon. I usually give her a bit of pickled cabbage. She can’t handle much more than that. If she whines to you about fresh air or something, tell her she can open a window. I don’t like her going outside. Starts to give her ideas, and I don’t have time to carry her around town like some kind of princess. Don’t go telling her you’ll fetch the doctor neither because I can’t afford another pointless visit. I’ll be at the saloon if you need anything, but you’re a smart lass. I’m sure you can figure it out for yourself.”
Becky stood alone in the dust by the side of the road, watching as William drove off in the cart, yelling at the horse for no reason at all. She took a deep breath in, grateful to be free of her fiancé for the time being. Turning toward the house, she looked at the sagging building. The whitewash on the exterior had long since faded to a sad grey, and she was nervous the porch would disintegrate under her feet if she stepped too heavily. It looked, for lack of a better word, haunted.
Still, Becky wasn’t ready to be disappointed by her great adventure yet. There was work to be done on the place, but still, it was hers. She’d overcome every other obstacle life had thrown at her, so she was prepared for a few more.
She stepped into the house and was met with the sickening stench of rotten eggs and cheese combined with a hint of dried ale as if the whole place was sticky with a layer of spilled beer. Immediately, she opened a window in an attempt to air the house out. It was small, but there seemed to be a pleasant enough parlor in the front, a decent kitchen in the back, and what she assumed were two rooms upstairs. Having grown up with so little, Becky could see the potential in the place.
“Hello?” she called out cautiously, not wanting to scare Aunt Mabel. She had a sneaking suspicion that William may not have told his aunt about her arrival.
Her greeting was met with silence. Becky shrugged to herself, put down her suitcase, and set out to explore the house. Carefully, she tiptoed up the stairs, not even sure herself anymore why she felt the need to be so quiet. At the top of the landing, there were two closed doors. Knocking on the first, she thought she heard a groan coming from inside.
“Aunt Mabel? Is that you?” No distinguishable noises answered her, so she turned the shabby door handle, and slowly peered into the room.
What she saw on the other side scared her so much she almost screamed, and she quickly shut the door again. Taking a breath to calm herself, Becky worked up her strength, and she opened the door once more.
There was a thick layer of dust on every stick of furniture in the room which included no more than a simple rocking chair, a small dresser, and a sagging bed. In the bed lay a woman, who Becky could only assume was William’s Aunt Mabel. If she hadn’t been wheezing loudly with every breath she took, Becky would have thought the woman was dead.
“Hello, Aunt Mabel. My name is Becky,” she said quietly, approaching the bedside. Aunt Mabel turned her head slowly, and her eyes glazed over with a cloudy mist. Becky had never seen anyone who looked as old as Mabel did. The closer she got to her, the more horrified Becky became. Her skin was dry and peeling, with some kind of mysterious crust encircling her entire mouth.
“Becky,” Mabel wheezed, holding out her shaking hand for Becky to hold. The young woman sat in the rocking chair beside the bed, and took Aunt Mabel’s cold hand, willing herself to not be scared.
“That’s right, I’m Becky! I’ve come all the way from Boston to marry your nephew, William. I think we’re going to be good friends, you and I.”
“Don’t …don’t marry …him.” Every word coming out of Mabel’s mouth seemed to take a lot of effort. Becky laughed, forcing a sense of cheer into the room.
“I know it seems like an odd match, but I think we’ll make the most of it. He seems harmless enough, if a little harsh. Now, what do you say we get you cleaned up? I’ll open the window, give the place a dust, and you’ll be feeling better in no time. When were these linens last changed? Things will be better from now on, Aunt Mabel, I promise. Are you hungry? Let’s see what I can rustle up in the kitchen. Maybe I can put together some kind of soup. Now, I know William said I shouldn’t call the doctor for you, but I think …”
The now-familiar wheezing from Aunt Mabel interrupted her.
“No doctor. I’m dying, dear. There’s no hope. Get out of here, go back. Go …back to Boston.”
“Well, I can’t very well do that, now can I? Took me more than three weeks just to get here! You’ll see, everything will be better now,” Becky repeated, fighting against the fear working its way up her throat.
Aunt Mabel shook her head. Using what little strength she had, the old woman rolled up her threadbare sleeves in an attempt to show Becky something. It took a moment before it sunk in for the young woman.
Aunt Mabel’s wrists were covered with angry bruises. Some were a fresh, dark purple. Others looked older, having turned into a faded yellow.
“He’s not …harmless. Promise me …you won’t marry …him. Run while you still can.”
“I propose a toast to our fearless leader, Jack Davis! Jack, you led us through wind, rain, that strange bout of sleet, and a lake’s worth of mud, but finally, we made it, and we didn’t lose a single steer. Joe and I put up with a good deal of your out-of-tune singing along the way, but it was worth it. Here’s to you, Jack!” Isaac, the cook, held up his half-finished mug of beer and grinned through the five teeth he had left.
“To Jack!” Joe repeated, clinking his glass against Isaac’s.
“To me, then.” The rancher humbly joined in the toast in his honor, smiling at the merry group in front of him. They had to yell to be heard above the din of the busy saloon, full of rowdy ranchers crooning along to the player piano’s tune.
“You know, we don’t just appreciate you because you’re paying for this meal, but it helps,” Isaac teased.
“Just like I appreciate more about you than just the fact that you made my grits for me every morning the past week,” Jack bantered back.
“Hey, it’s what you pay me for, after all. What I don’t know is what you pay this young fella over here for. Far as I can tell, all he does is pick his teeth and think about girls, isn’t that right Joe?” Isaac was certainly the joker of the group, but Joe took the teasing well. He was only seventeen and never been so far away from home before.
“I couldn’t have handled all the cattle on my own, could I? Don’t listen to Isaac, Joe, he’s only jealous that you have so many teeth left to pick.”
Joe and Isaac burst into happy laughter at Jack’s jibe. It had been a hard trek to the railhead at Cheyenne with more than a hundred steers to wrangle, but it had all been worth it. Prices were high that year at market and Jack had gotten a record return for his herd: forty-dollars a head. Ranchers in Texas drove their cattle for weeks to get such a good price. For Jack and his sister Emma, the small fortune he held in his pocket would mean they could relax for the winter, safe in the knowledge that they’d put a good amount of savings aside. Having grown up as orphans with no one else in the whole world to rely on, it meant a lot for both of them to have a sense of stability for once.
After such a successful season, Jack thought buying his cook and ranch hand a warm meal was the least he could do for them. He too was looking forward to sleeping in a real bed that night, though he was anxious to get back on the road. Every day he spent away from his sister added to his anxiety. She was a grown woman who could fend for herself, but they’d never lived apart their whole lives. Emma was the only family he could count on, and as such, he’d developed an admittedly over-protective attitude toward her. She was his younger sister, after all.
“What do you say to an early start tomorrow, boys? We all have warm beds waiting for us at home. I think if we take the north-western route we can shave a half-day off our trip,” Jack announced, pulling out the map to show his compatriots. Instead of the chorus of agreement Jack had been expecting, he caught Isaac and Joe sharing a guilty-looking glance.
“Oh, I see how it is. You want to stay an extra night to enjoy the sights and sounds of a real city, is that it?” Jack knew that arriving in Cheyenne was a highlight for both Isaac and Joe. He too enjoyed the bustle of the bigger city, but he didn’t buy into the sense of reckless, celebratory abandon that a lot of ranchers did. Whenever the fall market season hit, Cheyenne became overrun by cowboys turning the city inside out with their raucous reveling. Jack much preferred the quiet of Kaycee, but he understood that he was in the minority.
“Well, it’s not just that. Thing is, Jack, well …Joe and I have been offered an opportunity, and it might just be too good to pass up.” Isaac wasn’t usually the type to be so serious, and his tone caught Jack’s attention.
“Offered an opportunity? Sounds promising. What’s the job?” Jack asked.
Joe looked to Isaac, who nudged the young man’s elbow in encouragement.
“Dill Sanders said he’d pay double our wages if we rode with him to Chicago. He thinks he can get even more for his steers there, but he needs extra hands to make the trip. It would mean leaving the day after tomorrow, and we likely wouldn’t be back in Kaycee until the month after next. It’s a long time, I know, but my Ma could really use the extra money. Times have been tough since Pa died, and I know you pay us as much as you can, but things are usually quiet in the winter, aren’t they?” Joe asked sheepishly.
Jack leaned back against the wooden booth, the smell of tobacco going to his head. Rubbing his chin, he tried to think about how long he could go without the extra help on the ranch. He’d be fine without Isaac. He only ever cooked for him when it was time to go to market. Joe, on the other hand, helped out almost every day. It was true, however, that until the new year when the calving would begin, things would settle down on the ranch. Jack and Emma would hunker down for the snowy months, making do with the stores they’d set aside. He hated the idea that he would ever come between someone and extra income, especially someone as hardworking as Joe.
“Now Joe, you just have to promise me that you’ll come back to your Ma in one piece. Mrs. Nettles would never forgive me if I let you come to any harm. Take care of Isaac here, too, and make sure he doesn’t spend all his money on whiskey.” Jack spoke to the boy like he was his son, and Joe nodded quickly, clearly anxious to appear agreeable to any and all terms.
“Hey! I spend no more on whiskey than a working man ought to. Don’t worry about young Joe here, I’ll take good care of him. I’ll show you the ways of the world, Joe.” Isaac was already starting to slur his words, and Jack laughed. It was nice to see the older man relaxing after such a strenuous journey.
“Thank you, Jack. I promise I’ll work all the harder in the new year to make up for my absence. Please, tell my Ma that I’ll be just fine, and come back with enough money to buy two new carts, if that’s what she wants.”
Jack smiled at the young Joe. Something about the boy reminded him of himself, and he appreciated his dedication to hard work and family. Jack was only slightly worried that Isaac would get up to no good, but he was sure the work would be too exhausting to allow for too much trouble.
“Well then, it’s settled. I’ll pay you out here and now for the year’s work. Promise me you’ll keep it somewhere safe,” Jack said, taking out the bundle of bills carefully. Out of the corner of his eye, he thought he saw a light-haired man with piercing eyes and ripped leather collar staring at them, but by the time he looked up, the man was looking away.
“You’re too kind to us, Mr. Davis, too kind indeed.”
“Since when do you ever call me Mr. Davis, Isaac? Stick to Jack. Mr. Davis puts me on edge.”
“I call you Mr. Davis anytime you’re passing out dollar bills like this!” Isaac laughed, reaching his hand out for his pay eagerly. Jack chuckled and shook his head.
“I said it once, and I’ll say it again. Don’t spend it all in one place.”
“I make no promises I can’t keep. Now, you promise me that you’ll give that bonny sister of yours a kiss on the cheek for me! It’s a wild shame that she isn’t married yet, I’ll tell you that,” Isaac responded with a wink.
Jack thought about ignoring the comment. Throughout his life, he’d fielded plenty of odd remarks about his sister from male friends, and he’d done his best to protect her from them. Despite their difficult upbringing, Emma had a gentle innocence about her, and Jack hoped to preserve that. He wanted her to find love just as much as he wanted to find love for himself, but he was wary of many of the men who had shown her attention in the past. Ever since his father had abandoned them after their mother died in childbirth, leaving him and the newborn Emma on their own, Jack had developed a healthy sense of distrust.
“Well, if you find a worthy man, please let me know.”
Once he’d bid his men a fond farewell, Jack wandered out of the saloon, back toward the inn where he was meant to be spending the night. Dark had fallen over the streets, but the celebrations had only gotten rowdier. Instead of rushing back to his room, Jack decided to take a turn around the main roads while he smoked his pipe. Even if he wasn’t the dancing-type himself, he still enjoyed seeing the sights and sounds of a vibrant city. Women in colorful skirts danced jigs as men cheered them on, and Jack stopped for a moment to watch as an organ-grinder played with the monkey on his shoulder. He shook his head in wonder, making a note to tell Emma about everything he’d seen as soon as he got home.
After growing up in the bustling streets of Boston, it had taken him and Emma some time to get used to the quiet of Kaycee, Wyoming. Even falling asleep had been difficult at first, without the relentless knock of horses’ hooves on cobblestones that they were accustomed to. Now that they’d been living on the ranch for close to six years, he far preferred the nodding off to the sound of owls hooting.
Eventually, his yawns started to multiply, and Jack headed back to the inn. The celebrations had taken a turn, and once he heard the crash of glass bottles against the ground, Jack started dreaming of home once more. As he stepped up toward the facade of the inn, he felt a hand on his shoulder, and he looked up to see the same man from the saloon staring at him with those piercing eyes.
“Howdy there,” the man said, his grip on Jack’s shoulder still just a bit too tight.
“Hello. Can I help you?”
“Just saying hello. Saw you got a pretty good haul at the railhead this year, didn’t you?”
Jack wondered if he was supposed to know the man, but decided that if they had crossed paths before, they’d certainly never been formally introduced. He shivered a little, noticing that the man’s eyes were two different colors: one was green, and the other a cat-like yellow.
“Yeah, it was a good year. For you too?” Jack asked, more out of politeness than curiosity. He knew it was best to stay friendly as long as possible, even when faced with unsavory folks.
“Sure, yeah. Good year. You come from far away?”
“A few days’ ride up north. Not bad. You sound like you’re not from these parts yourself.”
The man shrugged, cracking an arrogant smile. “I’m from here and there. I like it here in Wyoming though. Thinkin’ about staying for a while. You gonna be in Cheyenne for a while?”
“Leaving in the morning. Early.” Jack tried to edge himself further away from the man, but every time he inched to the left, the man seemed to follow.
“By yourself? Or do you got a crew?”
Jack hesitated, before deciding to tell the truth. He’d never been good at lying, even when it was for his own good.
“By myself. My men are going on to Chicago. I should be getting a good night’s sleep. If you don’t mind, I ought to be…” Jack tried again to move away, but the man blocked his path. For the first time, Jack noticed that he had an impressive scar crisscrossing his left cheek.
“Hey, now, I’m just being polite! Just making courteous conversation. No need to get uppity with me now. What do you say we head on over to the saloon? I know a good one down that street, there. Not so crowded. What do you say?” he repeated. He talked like he’d had half a bottle of whiskey already, but Jack had a sneaking suspicion that the man was stone-cold sober, almost as if the slurring of his voice was fake.
“No, I’m good. I should really be getting some shut-eye. Thank you for the invitation, though. Always nice to meet a fellow traveler. I’m Jack, by the way, Jack Davis.” He extended his hand to the man, in a show of faux-goodwill.
“They call me Tanner.” The man’s grip was strong and cold, and for a second, Jack was worried that he wasn’t going to let go. After a finger-crushing moment, he finally did.
“Well, then, Tanner, pleasure to make your acquaintance. You have a good night now.” Jack forcefully side-stepped the man, asserting his dominance as he made his way to the inn’s front entrance. The confident move seemed to work, and Tanner backed off.
“You too. Watch out for wolves on your way home,” Tanner hissed forebodingly. Jack almost stopped to ask him what he meant, but he held his tongue.
By the time he got to his room, Jack had almost forgotten about the incident. He closed the window to preserve the warmth coming from the fireplace before climbing into the thin bed. There were plenty of strange people wandering about, and if Jack worried about every single one of them he’d get no sleep at all. Instead, he imagined that he was safe and sound in his own bed at home, with the sound of Emma’s gentle snoring wafting from the other room.
Two days after Becky’s arrival in Casper, Aunt Mabel died. Becky couldn’t stop herself from crying an ocean of tears. She felt like her one ally in the whole world had just disappeared, and she didn’t know what to make of herself. During their short time together, Becky had grown quite close to the woman. She had tried to laugh every time Aunt Mabel would grab her hand to warn her, yet again, not to marry her nephew. Once the older woman’s spirit had finally left her body, however, Becky couldn’t pretend that she wasn’t terrified any longer.
“Stop your crying, girl. You can have all the old woman’s jewelry if you want. If there’s any left. I sold what I could a while ago now. Listen, I spoke to the pastor. He’ll marry us tomorrow if we’re there before noon. I know how you women think, so don’t worry, I already sorted you out a dress. It’s on the bed now.” William gestured coldly toward the upstairs room while he took a gulp from his flask.
“You got me a wedding dress? We’re getting married tomorrow?” Becky asked, feeling new tears start to flood her eyes.
“Yes! Weren’t you listening at all? They didn’t teach you much about listening at that orphanage, obviously. Oh, come here. Stop your bawling. She was my aunt, not yours.”
In a display of uncharacteristic warmth, William pulled Becky in close to him, wrapping his large arms around her small body. She knew the gesture was meant to be reassuring, but it only made her more upset and left her feeling smothered. Aunt Mabel was gone, and Becky was staring down the barrel of a lifetime of misery.
After preparing William his supper, Becky said she was tired and excused herself to go to bed early.
“You best not be coming down with something. We’re expected at the chapel tomorrow right at nine o’clock, and I don’t want to be late because of you fussing with your hair or nothing.” William let out a loud belch that normally would have elicited at least a small giggle out of Becky, but she was only disgusted.
“Nine o’clock. I’ll be ready,” she said, before promptly scurrying up the stairs to the safety of Aunt Mabel’s old room. Sure enough, lying there on the bed was a yellowing lace wedding dress that seemed to be emitting a strong smell of must. Hating the sight of the thing, she bundled up the starched, scratchy fabric and shoved it into one of the empty drawers of her small dresser.
Burying her face into her pillow, Becky tried to muffle her sobs. Never in her life had she ever felt so alone. Even growing up as an orphan, she’d been surrounded by other children that she’d really and truly considered her siblings. Now, however, she had no one to look up to and no one to seek guidance from beside the Lord himself.
Once she’d cried all the tears she had in her to cry, Becky sat up, noticing the sun was still sitting just above the horizon. Wiping her cheeks, she moved to the window. In the last few days, Becky had done her best to clean the place up, (mostly for Aunt Mabel’s sake) and after dusting and cleaning the window, she’d found that the room actually had quite a nice view of the mountains in the distance. Staring at the swiftly disappearing sun as it dipped below the mountains, a plan started to form in her mind.
Right below her window was where William’s horse was tied up, patiently waiting for some kindly passerby to feed her an apple. To the left was the road leading straight west through the mountains, toward where the truly wild country started. She remembered the first time that she’d ridden up to the house, only days before, when she’d asked William how close the town of Kaycee was.
“A day’s ride straight north,” was what he’d said. Quickly, Becky darted her eyes toward where north had to be, where her dear friend Emma was likely eating her supper that very minute. If Becky were somehow able to get out of the house without William noticing her absence and ride off on his horse, then she could be on Emma’s front doorstep by morning. Her thoughts started turning over more quickly as she ran through everything she’d need to do to pull off her escape.
It was important that she waited until the dead of night, to be sure that William would be in a deep, drunken stupor. There was already a moon in the sky, and just a few clouds dotted the sunset, so it would be a bright enough night to still see the road beneath the horses’ hooves. There would be countless dangers she might face along the way, including but not limited to bears and wolves. As a single woman traveling by herself in the middle of the night, there would be numerous perils to face, and she would be armed with nothing besides her bravery and a fast horse.
Still, it was worth the risk. Anything would be better than a lifetime spent in the company of William Culver.
Quietly, while there was still some light coming in through the window, Becky packed what little she had and dressed herself for the difficult journey ahead. Once she had prepared what she could, she stationed herself by the door, waiting to hear William’s footsteps followed by the inevitable drunken snores as he drifted off to sleep. Hours ticked by, and eventually, she started to wonder if he was even in the house at all. The clock in the downstairs hallway struck two in the morning, and there was still no sign of William.
Becky tried to think where he could be. There was a chance he’d just fallen asleep by the fire downstairs and a yet greater chance that he’d gone to the saloon to let loose with his friends, it being the night before his wedding and all. In the few days that Becky had been in the house, William had never discussed his comings and goings with her, so she had no idea what to expect.
Taking a deep breath, Becky decided it was time to make her attempt. Tiptoeing down the stairs, Becky kept her ears trained for any hint of William’s stumbling, breathing, or snoring. The hallway was pitch black, and she had to keep one hand against the wall to stop herself from bumping into anything.
As soon as she reached the front of the house, Becky looked back toward the kitchen. As far as she could tell, William wasn’t there. She thought about darting back to grab the end of a bread loaf, but she decided that it wasn’t worth the risk. Quiet as a cat, she tightened the knot on the bundled sheet around her waist that held her belongings and left through the front door.
It was much easier to see once she was out of the dark hallway, and Becky didn’t pause before taking off to the makeshift stable by the side of the house. William’s horse perked up as soon as she came near, and Becky regretted that she had nothing to feed her.
“What do you say we go on an adventure, huh? Let’s go see my friend Emma. She’ll have a nice, new home for us, and I promise, I’ll feed you as many apples and oats as your heart desires. Does that sound nice?” she asked, feeling the horse’s nose nuzzle into her hand affectionately.
Looking around, Becky grabbed the closest saddle and tried to fiddle with the bindings in the dark. Having been raised in a city, she’d never saddled up a horse before, but she figured it out fairly quickly with minimal trouble from the horse.
“Good girl, good girl. I don’t know what your real name is, but I’m going to call you Mabel, after …after a good friend of mine. Alright, let’s get out of here.”
Just as Becky was about to reach her foot up into the stirrup and hoist herself onto Mabel’s back, she felt an icy cold hand on her shoulder.
She screamed, and the hand moved over her mouth.
“Just where do you think you’re off to?” a voice hissed in her ear.
Becky smelled William before she saw him.
“His Heart’s Guardian Angel” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
When nineteen-year-old Becky Adams boards a train, leaving behind everything she’s ever known to marry a stranger, she’s aware of the risk involved. The moment she discovers that her fiancé is not the well-respected business owner she’d been expecting, she decides to get away from him. She has to escape, before saying the two words that will sentence her to a life of fear and regret. Running away from the church on the nearest available horse, Becky gallops away for her safety. Hoping to track down an old friend, Emma, who lives in a nearby town, Becky unexpectedly runs into a wounded man. Exhausted but eager to help, she rushes him to the nearest doctor. It isn’t until the light of day that she realizes that the person she just saved is none other than Emma’s brother, the man she’d always dreamt of marrying. Could love be an option for her after all, or will she have to accept her miserable fate without complaint?
Jack and his sister have always longed to start their own cattle ranch in the West. However, their dreams fall apart when he is attacked by wandering outlaws, who abandon him penniless and severely injured. As he falls in and out of consciousness, a guardian angel comes to his aid. Jack will be stunned to learn the true identity of his savior, who is none other than Becky. He never thought he’d see her again, and he certainly isn’t prepared to face the beauty she’s become. The rancher finds himself tongue-tied in her presence, feeling lost in his strong emotions. Regardless, love will have to wait as he has a ranch to run, and a lost fortune to rebuild. How can he possibly repay her after she saved his life?
Becky and Jack become closer as they work side by side and their affection for one another grows, as they are learning to live on the unforgiving land. When Becky’s ex-fiancé tracks her down, looking for revenge, Jack knows this is his chance to repay the debt. Fate meant for Becky and Jack to reunite, making the idea of continuing on without each other unbearable. Will it be too late for Jack to win over Becky or will his devotion to her prevail?
“His Heart’s Guardian Angel” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.