The Trail To His Heart (Preview)

Chapter One

Pond Hollow, Oregon – 1889

“Class is dismissed.”

Surrounded by a cacophony of whoops of laughter and excitement, twenty-five-year-old teacher Erin Stokes watched her students grab their books from their desktops and scramble to the back of the room. They grabbed hats and bonnets from hooks on the wall and from the long wooden bench against the wall by the now open double doors of the schoolhouse amid squeals, chatter, and laughter. She watched them go, smiling as the small, stuffy schoolroom slowly emptied.

Moments later the sounds faded. The children, aging and range from five years of age to fourteen, dashed home to take care of their home or farm chores before they could enjoy what little remained of the day for their own pursuits, be it fishing or sitting up in a barn loft reading a book or exploring.

She stood, smoothing down the skirt of her simple cotton dress, feeling the heat a bit more today than she had yesterday. Last year by this time, she’d dealt with a seemingly constant drizzle, typical of this part of Oregon in late June. No drizzle today, nor yesterday, nor the day before that. She had read in her Farmer’s Almanac that the sun would be hot and fierce this summer.

The month of June was just about over with the hottest summer months to follow. Erin lifted her hand to her hair and smoothed a few wisps away from her face as she left her desk and walked between the aisles of wooden desks toward the open door. She stood in the threshold, a gentle breeze soothing her warm cheeks. She gazed over the small mountain valley, founded just after the War Between the States by Malcolm Radisson as a way station along the last section of the Oregon Trail before it reached its endpoint at Oregon City to the west.

That tiny waystation, not much more than a rudimentary log structure, had been the first one built in this sprawling valley, surrounded by forested peaks of the Cascade mountain range. A nearby spring-fed lake offered water for thirsty livestock and travelers as they completed their grueling six-month long journey across dangerous plains and the rugged Rocky Mountains.

Erin had been but a three-year-old baby at the founding of the town, the first child born here of one of many families who decided that the valley was not only beautiful but provided rich soil for farming, timber for building, and a vast resource for food. They had put down roots here rather than continue on toward the coast or head south toward California.

Two decades after its founding, Pond Hollow was her own little slice of heaven, now home to nearly two hundred souls. The former way station now served as a post office run by her father, Orson Stokes. The small simple log trading post had grown, and the town around it, now owned and managed by Daniel Radisson, Malcom’s son.

In Erin’s opinion, her town was blessed. Her personal opinion had been buttressed just a month or so ago when the majority of those living in Clackamas County had been graced with the site of a brilliant meteor that had shot across the eastern sky from north to south. Though barely dusk at the time, she had watched the fiery meteor shoot through the sky, her mouth open and eyes wide as suddenly it exploded, casting thousands of brilliant sizzling fragments to the earth near the banks of the Clackamas River to the southwest. She should’ve been terrified, yet from her throat erupted a burst of joyous laughter as she watched the fireball descend from the heavens and fall to earth as if it carried a message just for her.

This is your home. This is where you belong.

Nestled among the rolling hills, gorges, and peaks of Mount Hood in the forested wilderness between the Sandy River to the north and the Clackamas River to the south, Pond Hollow was still relatively isolated, the wagon trains venturing along the Oregon Trail long abandoned for quicker journeys by train. Surrounded by mountains and forests, she spied French’s Dome to the north and Devil’s Peak Lookout to the southwest, toward Oregon City and Portland. The pioneers had come into the area after following the meanderings of the Sandy River, a mere twenty miles away from where Erin now stood.

From that point on the Sandy, travelers could turn south and hit the Clackamas and follow that southwest into Oregon City. If they followed the Sandy northward, they’d arrive at the Columbia River, and from there to destinations west to Portland or the Pacific Ocean, or north to Vancouver or even into Canada or the wilds of Alaska Territory if they wished.

Between Pond Hollow and Oregon City, the closest and largest city to the west stood roughly sixty-five miles of rugged terrain and massive forests of Douglas fir, Western Red Cedar, Noble fir, and Ponderosa pine. The forests weren’t the only difficulties travelers faced. Along the way were found wetlands and meadows and even prairies that pushed pioneers to their limits. The forest was also home to numerous species of wildlife, from wolves and cougars to massive elk. Spotted owls, hawks and eagles flew over the landscape, their cries never failing to send a thrill through Erin.

She eyed the dirt path that would take her through town, a myriad of budding wildflowers buzzing with bees. The white-tipped Hooded Ladies Tresses and tiny, round and white-petal Fleabane were among her favorites, as were bunches of white Pearly Everlastings. This was indeed God’s country, and she couldn’t imagine living anywhere else.

She turned her gaze toward the peak of Mt. Hood, named after British Admiral Lord Samuel Hood. Erin, always interested in history, had found a book that first described the peak in 1792 by William Broughton, a member of an expedition under the command of Captain George Vancouver.

The valley, interspersed with copses of trees and meadows, lay on the eastern bank of the pond, or a small lake actually, the very same one that had initially been a watering hole and place to graze for the thousands of horses and mules and oxen that had pulled heavy wagons bearing families and hopeful settlers in their massive caravans. After the wagon trains had come the gold miners and the trading post had grown into a well-supplied mercantile, growing along with the small village over the past two decades as many travelers chose to stay and put down their own roots here in the valley.

The Radisson family still owned most of the valley land and held large sway and control over the town. Erin had grown up with and gone to school with Daniel Radisson, Malcolm’s firstborn, now a strapping and handsome twenty-nine-year-old standing four inches over six feet, almost half a foot taller than Erin herself. The two had been best friends their entire lives. She was also good friends with Daniel’s younger twin sisters, twenty-year-olds Ivy and Elsie.

She smiled, glancing toward the opposite end of Main Street to peer at the trading post turned mercantile, hoping to catch a glimpse of Daniel. Her heart leapt in anticipation as she turned to snatch her brand-new postilion hat with a high crown and narrow brim off the hook by the door. The delightful hat, with one side of the brim turned up and pinned in place had grown immensely popular the previous fall. She’d spent a pretty penny ordering it from a catalog. She wanted to show it to Daniel today, feeling quite fashionable, although she had noticed that no other ladies in Pond Hollow had been seen in one. Yet.

The dark blue fabric of the bonnet matched her long, box-pleated skirt, which hung straight from her waist down to her ankles. Her light blue linen blouse was carefully tucked into the waistline of the skirt. She’d completed the ensemble with a dark blue velveteen vest. Erin had to admit that while she did try to keep up with fashions, she absolutely refused to wear a bustle, which had unfortunately come back into fashion about five years ago, but had thankfully flattened again, allowing her skirt to hang straight from her hips.

Once it grew cooler, she would once more don her high-necked jersey, a woolen sweater that was worn over the skirt and reached to the hips, with its tight sleeves and short wrists, but today’s weather didn’t require the added warmth.

As she stepped from the school house, closing the door softly behind her, she snickered softly. She began to wonder if she were engaging in nothing but a flight of fancy. Was she being foolish? Would Daniel ever come to his senses? Would Daniel, one of these days, see the real her, not just his childhood friend?

She took the steps leading down from the school house into the grassy yard, patches of it worn through down to the dirt from the children’s playing. The schoolhouse was situated on the south end of town, the majority of its buildings situated nearer to the lake. A river ran along the eastern edge of the town, then became a narrow creek that fed into the lake. The trading post stood on the opposite end of town, closer to a stand of statuesque Noble fir, massive hemlocks and Douglas fir that grew close to the northern and eastern edges of the town. She inhaled deeply as she walked, relishing the scent of pine, bark, and wildflowers. The air, while warm, carried a hint of elusive moisture.

She glanced once more to the east toward the towering peak of Mount Hood. As she had every day for the past week, she’d been watching the sky. It was thunderstorm weather now, and they had had little rain over the past couple of weeks. Even spring had been drier than usual. If they didn’t get some rain soon, it would be very dry, increasing the ever-present danger of wildfires, especially if thunderstorms came without much rain.

She had taken special trouble to look her best today because she had something that she wanted to talk about with Daniel. She still wasn’t sure how she would broach the topic, but first things first. As she headed for the trading post, she waved to people she had known her entire life. The Reverend Elijah Mayhew was headed for the church tucked into a copse of trees to her right. She was too far to speak but they shared a wave and a smile. The reverend was a pillar in the community, a beacon of morality and spiritual heart.

Further along, she caught a glimpse of Sheriff Nelson Radisson. Daniel’s uncle emerged from the jailhouse and quickly disappear down an alley, where his horse and the horse of his deputy, Jasper Bacon, were stabled behind the jail. Daniel was fairly close to his Uncle Nelson, as he was with his twin sisters, although the same couldn’t be said of his relationship with his father, the longtime mayor and original founder of the town.

Mayor Malcolm Radisson was also a pillar of the community, although despite all his influence and his money, he left, in Erin’s opinion, much to be desired as a husband and father. She pushed the thought from her mind, not wanting anything negative hovering in her mind as she quickly approached the trading post, anxious to see Daniel.

The trading post had been very rudimentary at first, mainly carrying supplies of flour, sugar, bacon, coffee, and salt for pioneers and travelers heading from east to west. While staples were always necessary, the trading post had always carried rifles and ammunition. As the years passed, and though such items were still available at the trading post, the place also carried a huge supply of shovels, picks, farming tools and equipment, seeds, and a plethora of canned goods shipped in from the east. As such, the trading post, more commonly known as the mercantile by townspeople, was still an immensely valuable resource not only for travelers, but for the growing populace of Pond Hollow.

Daniel, though the eldest son of the most powerful family in town, had managed the trading post since he left school at the age of sixteen. Since then, Daniel had looked after his often sick mother and his sisters. Though not quite thirty years of age, he was a fatherly, protective sort and had grown up feeling a sense of responsibility not only for his family, but the townspeople and their welfare. While his father had been trying to groom him to take over the position of power in town, primarily as its next mayor, Daniel hesitated, perfectly content with his job at his mercantile and trading post.

She stepped onto the short boardwalk the Daniel had built just the past summer and stepped into this cool interior, immediately assailed with a myriad of scents and aromas. She caught a hint of leather tack, of grain, pungent loose tobacco, and oddly enough, licorice. Her shoes tapped lightly on the wooden plank floor as she moved between the aisles toward the back of the store. There, behind the counter bearing a brand-new and quite heavy – Daniel had told her it weighed ninety pounds – bronze contraption that he called a cash register, she found him.

She glanced around and realized they were alone. She smiled, relieved. She didn’t get to spend too much time with him alone anymore, as he always seemed so busy at the store. Growing up, they’d spent hours together, exploring the forest around Pond Hollow, sitting on its banks fishing, or simply sitting under the shade of a tree, reading. However, after his mother had passed away, Daniel’s idle time spent with her dwindled.

Time flew, Erin now busy as the town schoolteacher, Daniel busy with his store and other responsibilities. Even so, and over the past couple of years, it had become more obvious to her that she felt more than a simple friendship with Daniel. She not only admired and relied on him as her best friend, but she had, somewhere along the way, fallen in love with him. It wasn’t a silly school girl attraction, but, in her opinion, the real thing. True love. The only problem was, she didn’t think he thought of her as anything more than a friend.

She wished she could court a man like men courted women, but such was impossible. Not only that, but she needed to test the waters a bit before telling him how she truly felt, afraid of scaring him off if she abruptly announced her attraction to him after all these years. Still, for her, there had never been anyone else. Daniel was not only someone she shared her trust and interests with, but a man whom she greatly admired, one that she felt would be an ideal life partner for her. In fact, Daniel was the only man that she’d ever met with whom she felt attracted enough to cause her heart to skip a beat or two every time she saw him.

In her opinion, the other eligible men of her age in town couldn’t hold a candle to Daniel Radisson. It wasn’t his financial status or his position as the son of the town founder that formed Erin’s opinion. No one could match Daniel’s intellect, compassion, and sense of responsibility. Though he didn’t have much time for fun anymore, he had a wonderful sense of humor and wasn’t one to get puffed up with himself. Other men in town were boring by comparison. Nevertheless, as they were best friends, as much as a man and a woman could be in this day and age, she had to satisfy herself with visits like this one. For now.

“Hello, Daniel.”

He looked up from his ledger, his frown of concentration morphing into a smile, causing her heart to pitter-patter once more. His light brown hair with a tiny hint of red was cut short, a little longer on top. Clean-shaven today, she eyed the long scar that ran low along the left side of his jaw, caused by the kick of a horse when he was eighteen. He was big, muscular, and handsome. She often felt that his deep blue eyes could pierce her soul and see her most protected secrets. A day’s growth of whiskers shadowed his cheek and jaws, framing a mouth whose lips she had imagined herself kissing a time or two.

“Good afternoon, Erin. School out already?”

“Yes,” she replied. “But with the weather growing warmer I’m not sure how many students I’ll have left before the school year officially ends next week.”

He nodded and gestured toward the small round table situated in a corner behind the back counter. They always sat there, as did customers sometimes, or friends of Daniel’s who appeared once in a while throughout the day, a checkerboard and pieces ever ready. Erin sat down while Daniel lowered himself into the other chair with a sigh.

“It’s been a long day,” he commented. “What about you?”

Erin offered a small shrug, her head cocked slightly to the side as she eyed the weariness she saw on Daniel’s face. The shadows beneath his eyes told her that he hadn’t gotten much sleep the night before and his whiskers were little bit longer than usual. He looked like a man with the weight of the world on his shoulders. “What’s wrong, Daniel?”

He stiffened slightly and glanced at her, frowning with dismay. “Do I look that bad?”

She chuckled softly. “Daniel, I’ve known you since you and I sat in those desk chairs in the schoolhouse. I know when you’re tired or happy, when you’re being pensive, and of course, when you get angry.”

Again he sighed. “Oh, I don’t know, Erin, I mean yes, I’m tired. I didn’t get much sleep last night. I’ve got a lot on my mind.”

She glanced around the trading post, which had grown over the years. Shelves filled with dry goods and hardware, boots and shoes, dresses and dungarees. His mercantile carried feed grains and books, bolts of fabric and sewing notions. The walls were covered with items that hung from pegs ranging from cast-iron cooking pots and skillets to snowshoes and the latest rifle models.

This area was harsh and rugged, the weather unforgiving, and despite the fact that they were soon approaching a new century, in many ways, the landscape around Mount Hood hadn’t changed a bit over centuries. Oh, a few more homesteads, a few more towns and villages like Pond Hollow, maybe even some small ranch and farmland further down the slopes, especially to the south. He had worked hard to grow his business and she knew he had plans to build more, but he pushed himself too hard.

Daniel shouldered so much and not just this store. He often worried over his sisters, who still lived in the family home with their father. Daniel often stayed in the loft of the mercantile, working late into the night on inventory and his ledgers, often forgetting to even eat. “What’s bothering you?”

He glanced away from the table, where his thumbnail scratched at the wood. “What makes you think something’s bothering me?”

She made a face and he chuckled deep in his throat, though his amusement didn’t reach his eyes. “My father’s been dropping hints that I should be a married man by now, perhaps even a father.”

“You’re still young, Daniel, plenty of time for that.” Her heart thudded again as she swallowed. Unless of course, you want to marry me.

“I’ll be thirty years old this coming fall.”

She leaned back in her chair and crossed her arms over her chest. “Do you want to get married, Daniel?”

“Well sure, who doesn’t want to get married?”

Erin knew that Daniel’s father, Malcolm, was often a force to be reckoned with. While she adored Daniel and his siblings, she had never much cared for Malcolm. Sometimes, that man could look straight through you, as if you didn’t exist. At least that’s how she felt when he looked at her. Malcolm Radisson was well aware that she and Daniel had been close friends ever since they had gone to school together as youngsters. Now that they were adults, he seemed to dislike the fact. She couldn’t understand why.

“Actually, I’m starting to think that he may be right.”

The comment jolted Erin from her thoughts. She straightened in her chair, trying to hide the uncertainty in her voice. “You’re thinking of getting married?” she choked out. Had he met someone she didn’t know about? Had he been courting someone in secret? A sense of dread settled in the pit of her stomach. Her mouth grew drier. “To whom?”

She wasn’t sure she wanted to know the answer, unless of course, it was to her. She had loved Daniel for years, keeping her feelings secret from everyone, but sometime around her twenty-third birthday, she had grown slightly afraid that she might become an old maid. It wasn’t that there weren’t any unmarried men near her age in Pond Hollow or its outlying ranches and farms. It wasn’t like a young man or two hadn’t hinted an interest in courting her. She had discouraged their efforts, because no one compared to Daniel. It was then that she realized the truth.

Somewhere along the line, she had fallen in love with Daniel Radisson. She wanted to tell him, yearned to tell him actually, but she lacked the courage. He treated her like a friend, nothing more. He had never spoken of such feelings for her. He had never tried to kiss her, never tried to talk about courtship or a possible future together.

She realized that for her, there would never be anyone else, because Daniel was not only someone she felt supremely close to, but one she could confide in, one in whom she shared interests, trust, and beliefs. As far as she was concerned, Daniel would be the perfect partner for her. Unfortunately, it appeared that he had never thought the same. Perhaps she wasn’t the type of woman he wanted for a wife.

“To be honest, I’m not sure I want to get married, at least not simply because my father is pressuring me. I don’t want to just marry any woman, Erin. I want to marry a woman who I love and cherish, one that…”

He glanced at Erin and she met his gaze. For a second, and a second only, she thought maybe he was talking about her, but then realized that he was talking to her like he always did, as his best friend, his own confidant. She hesitated.

“And have you come across anyone like that in Pond Hollow that you might be interested in courting?”

Her heart thudded with dread. The thought of Daniel marrying another woman filled her with a sense of sadness and despair. Yet the worst thing she could do now would be to proclaim her love for him and risk pushing him away forever.

He shifted uncomfortably in his chair. “I haven’t really given it much thought just yet.”

Well then. That was that. He didn’t consider her marriage material either. With a sense of disappointment that he couldn’t see the truth when it was sitting right in front of him, she sighed, rose from the small table, and gently placed her hand on his shoulder. It took everything she had to maintain a calm expression, to not allow him to see the tears that threatened nor the sound of her heart pounding with an ache she couldn’t even begin to describe.

“Go home and get some rest, Daniel.”

“Can’t,” he said. “There’s a group of wagons coming over the trail. They should be here within the hour.”

She glanced around with a frown. “You need help? I can stay if you need me to.”

“No, that’s all right, thanks.” He stood and gave her hand a squeeze. “Thanks for stopping by.”

With a nod, Erin turned and left, a myriad of thoughts racing through her mind. Daniel was going to be looking for a wife. A wife that wasn’t her. He didn’t see her, did he? He couldn’t feel her love, could he? And yet, she couldn’t just tell him. For one, she was afraid of ruining their friendship, of making him feel awkward or embarrassed. For two, it just wasn’t done. Decent women didn’t go throwing themselves at men. For three, the thought of being rejected by Daniel was a horrifying thought in itself, one that kept Erin’s lips closed as far as telling him the truth of her heart. No, this was a secret that she kept buried deep in her heart.

She walked home, once more eyeing the sky. Change was coming to Pond Hollow. The air was hot, hotter than usual for this early in the summer, but the weather was the furthest thought from her mind at the moment. Her stomach turned an uncertain somersault at the thought of Daniel marrying.

“Lord, give me strength,” she murmured as she walked toward her home on the eastern outskirts of town. “Open his eyes, Lord, and make him see what’s right in front of him.”

Chapter Two

Daniel watched Erin leave the trading post, distracted as two middle-aged matrons entered, seeking baking supplies. He took care of them quickly and efficiently, anxious to end an already long day. Moments later, the small group of wagons appeared along the trail that ran between the back of his building and the forest beyond.

The wagon train party had consisted of a wagon master riding a horse along with a packhorse, and three wagons consisting of one large family; parents, children, aunts, uncles, and grandparents. The wagons had come from Idaho, following the Snake River and before that from Missouri. They’d turned south just before they reached the Columbia River Gorge and headed toward Mount Hood, traveling near the foothills of the eastern slopes and then cutting west.

It was a rough trail, and the family, from the youngest to the oldest, looked pale and exhausted. He was able to replenish most of their supplies except for some silk fabric that one of the young women requested for a wedding dress. She had hoped to start on it during the last leg of their journey. He learned that they planned to head due south, skirting the eastern foothills of the Cascades, heading for Salem and then southward to Eugene. At least it was good traveling weather now.

Two hours later, the travelers left his trading post, and he watched them go until the wagons were out of sight and the creak of their iron-bound wagon wheels faded. A sudden surge of emotion took him by surprise. Sometimes, he too yearned to escape the confines of Pond Hollow, no matter how much he loved the area, its rugged wilderness and jagged mountain peaks.

Not wanderlust exactly, because he had no desire to leave his home. While he certainly didn’t want to follow in his father’s footsteps, he did love the trading post. It’d been rudimentary when Daniel had been tasked with its oversight, but over the years, he had grown it into one of the best known and well supplied outfitting posts from Walla Walla, two-hundred-fifty miles to the northeast and the coastline to the west, nearly two hundred miles distant in the other direction.

He put his ledger away, then left the trading post, closing the chain and padlock behind him and sliding the key into his pocket of his well-worn dungarees manufactured by Levi Strauss and Company. His long-sleeved cotton shirt rolled up nearly to his elbows, he enjoyed the fresh air as he left the trading post behind him and headed for his small cottage nestled at the edge of a small meadow on the northern outskirts of town, half-hidden in a copse of trees.

Of course his father still expected him to live in the big house that he’d built not long after Malcolm and his wife arrived in the summer of 1868, eight-year-old Daniel in tow. His twin sisters were born the year after they arrived. His father had taken advantage of the prime location, the wealth of timber, and built a way station stocked with supplies, tools, and hardware that pioneers needed for the final leg of their journey toward the coast. His venture had eventually made him a very rich man.

Daniel had grown up in that wealth, but to him, wealth encompassed more than money and material things. His father had provided monetarily for the family, but that’s as far as his idea of duty went. His wife was there to take care of him, his children to carry on the family name. Malcolm had never spent much time with any of his children, especially the twins. They were girls, no chance of them contributing to the family name or wealth unless they married up.

His father had been dropping more frequent and blatant comments about Daniel getting married. Of course, Daniel wouldn’t marry just because his father told him to. He often thought about it. He wasn’t getting any younger, and many of the men his age in town already had families. It’s just that he was so busy. If and when he got married, he wanted to be able to give them his attention. He refused to be like his father.

Which brought his thoughts to Erin. He’d been happy to see her at the trading post. He adored Erin and always had. He hadn’t seen her in the past few days, but he knew she was busy finishing up the school year as the town’s only teacher. Not only that, but he was busy as well, buried under mountains of paperwork, inventory, and ordering for supplies. And plans for the future. He liked Erin. A lot. But he was also hesitant to give her any indication that he wanted to be more than friends. After all, their relationship was important to him. If he frightened her off with talk of a more serious relationship, if he said or did something to cross those bounds of friendship, he would lose something very important in his life.

Erin had always been someone he could rely on for support, especially with his often troubled relationship with his father. With this father always busy with his business travels, his position as first leader, then the mayor of Pond Hollow, it had been left to Daniel to take care of his family, and his mother especially. After a frightening fall down the stairs of their home, his mother had suffered a back injury. Ever since that accident, she’d suffered from chronic pain, leaving Daniel to act as pretty much the responsible “adult” at home since he had turned sixteen years of age.

Unfortunately, his mother had passed away six years ago from influenza, her body and overall health weakened from her back injury, limited mobility, and the opiates that she had depended on to manage her pain. While one could honestly say that Malcolm Radisson was the financial backbone and support for the family, his mother had been the family’s heart, even after her tragic injury. She had always been a guiding influence not only for Daniel, but for his Uncle Nelson and his twin sisters, Ivy and Elsie.

His father had never been particularly family-oriented, considering it his primary duty to provide financially and not necessarily emotionally for the family. He had been encouraging and grooming Daniel to take over running the town someday, but Daniel resisted. He wanted to earn his way and not have it handed to him on a silver platter. When he had been chosen to take over the family’s trading post, he had done so, and so successfully that he was able to expand it to handle the growing demand over the years, building not only the family’s fortunes, but his own, especially over the past five years or so.

Once he felt comfortable in his financial status and his ability to provide support, he would find a wife and start a family of his own. He knew his father would be disappointed, as he had long hoped that Daniel was spend his spare time building a political position in the growing town, maybe within county leadership, perhaps even beyond in Salem, Oregon’s capital city.

Daniel wasn’t interested in politics nor the prestige that came with it, especially when he thought of someday starting a family. How could he forget the fact that his father had never been around during his childhood because of his own aspirations? He didn’t want to make the same mistake that his father had.

Of course, a wife and children were a long way off. He had never courted a woman, even at his age, as he always subconsciously compared them to Erin. Erin, her slender frame, her bookish and slightly shy manner could be deceptive if you didn’t know her. She was incredibly smart, intuitive, and had a wonderful sense of humor. If not beautiful by modern standards, she was startlingly pretty with long, dark brown hair that was naturally yet gently curly, large brown eyes framed by delicate eyebrows, and a smattering of freckles across her nose and cheekbones. Her pretty lips could gently frown in disapproval or curve into a heartwarming smile.

His parents, well, at least his mother, had always been friendly and courteous to Erin’s father after he and his young daughter had moved to Pond Hollow when Erin was five years old. They had come from San Francisco after her mother passed away, a situation that left Erin without the guidance of much structure nor a female influence in her life. From the day they had met in school when Daniel was twelve years old and Erin was eight, he had taken her under his wing, acting as her protector and her friend.

Daniel had vaguely hinted a time or two that he wouldn’t mind finding a woman like Erin to eventually marry, but his father had stated his disapproval over such an idea.
“Why marry down, son, when you can have your pick of society socialites? Go to San Francisco to find yourself a bride.”

The comment had left Daniel feeling disappointed in his father and his comment about “marrying down” within their small yet budding community. In fact, Daniel knew that ‘marrying down’ might even be considered scandalous among the town’s council members, all of whom were wealthy from timber and mineral rights. While Daniel’s relationship with his father was already strained and he constantly resented and pushed against his father’s controlling manners, he hesitated to cause more drama.

Nevertheless, though he had never told anyone of his true feelings for Erin, he wished that he could take the risk and ask for her father’s permission to court her. Then again, he should probably ask Erin first, as she often shook her head and decried some of the more old-fashioned ideas regarding courtship and marriage as they headed toward the dawn of the twentieth century, a mere decade away.

He had begun to develop deeper feelings for Erin around his twenty-fifth birthday, seeing in her standards and character that he wanted in any future wife: compassion, intelligence, independence, and firm in her beliefs about God and her faith.

While Erin was certainly not a woman prone to causing dissension and was friendly with everyone even if they didn’t deserve it, she was a strong, quiet woman. He assumed that many people in town underestimated her gentle demeanor and her kindness, thinking her subdued and perhaps even hesitant to speak her mind. He knew Erin better than that. She had a strong backbone and her understanding and depth of historical knowledge stood her in good stead as she often debated with Daniel on cultures around the world as well as societal expectations in her own country, and those of Pond Hollow in particular.

More than once she had decried the unfairness of women not being allowed to vote, the inability of a woman to file for divorce no matter how often her husband beat her. In fact, some states even had different rules about how many times a man could physically abuse his wife before she could even think about asking for a divorce. In many states, divorce wasn’t even possible, regardless of the reason.

She often bemoaned the fact that she couldn’t wear pants like men could, which she felt certain were much cooler and more comfortable than the layers of clothing she was required to wear, even on the hottest of days. She often found it terribly unfair that a married woman couldn’t own property. Anything a woman owned, regardless of how they came to own it, immediately and legally belonged to their husband after the vows were said.

He grinned. While it wasn’t so strict out here in the West, he knew that there were places back east where women had to be chaperoned in public all the times, even when they went shopping. She was encouraged by the growth of department stores back east, which she claimed were places where women could not only shop unattended, but provided a place for them to socialize without a man constantly in tow. She found it terribly unfair that she couldn’t serve on a jury, not that there was much crime in Pond Hollow, but it was the point of the matter, she’d say.

Daniel didn’t much care about those things, but he knew the strictures placed upon women like his mother, who had little recourse during her marriage to his father. By his early twenties, Daniel had vowed to himself that any woman he married would share equally with what he had. He looked forward to someday marrying a woman who would work alongside him at the trading post and help the business grow. Personally, he didn’t care if a woman wore trousers or not. And as far as voting, why, he knew that Erin was just a smart and perhaps even more up-to-date on politics in the state of Oregon than many of the men in town.

Still, fantasizing about asking a woman like Erin to marry him was pointless. She had never expressed any romantic interest in him whatsoever, so he focused his ideas of marriage into finding someone who could come close to her in personality and character. While he sometimes longed to take the chance and simply ask her about courtship or even marriage, he often pushed such thoughts to the back of his mind, not wanting to alienate her and damage their friendship.

As he stepped outside, he frowned at the unusual heat as dusk settled over the landscape. He glanced over his shoulder toward Mount Hood and the massive peaks of the Cascade Range, his eyes skimming the miles and miles of rich forest filled with multiple varieties of pine, cedar, and thick growths of ferns, bear grass, and lichen. Occasionally, even close to the town, he spied black tailed deer, massive elk, and he’d even seen a black bear walk down the middle of Main Street early one morning just a few weeks ago.

He heard the scree of an Osprey in the distance and looked into the sky, not a cloud to be seen. This area of Oregon was home to bald eagles, northern spotted owls, and more woodpeckers than he cared to count, but he loved this land, from the woodpeckers to the obnoxiously loud scrub jays.

As he turned toward home, his thoughts once more returned to Erin. How easy would it be to marry someone that you had known for most of your life? Someone that you shared a warm relationship with? Someone who made it a point to stop by the trading post almost every day after she finished at the school simply to ask him about his day and keep him company for a few minutes?

Erin was the only person in this town that he felt he could confide in, but it wasn’t easy to share with her his thoughts of settling down. He wasn’t even sure he wanted to settle down and get married, start a family, but it was the natural order of things, wasn’t it? He didn’t want to be alone for the rest of his life. Look how his father turned out. Then again, Malcolm Radisson didn’t seem to love anyone but himself.

Daniel snorted. He knew what his father wanted from him. If he were to be completely honest with himself, he would confront his father about it. His father wanted him to follow in his footsteps and had been insisting of late that Daniel joined the town council. But to be truly respected and admired in this town, or so said his father, one had to be married and show some sense of stability and responsibility. And that’s what it was all about. It wasn’t that Malcolm Radisson wanted his son to marry for love or to be happy, but primarily for show and prestige.

He heaved a sigh. While he thought that maybe it was time to settle down and start a family, it wouldn’t be for his father’s reasons. In fact, tomorrow, he would tell his father that he had no intentions of joining the town council, now or ever, and that he wasn’t interested in politics of any sort. And that if he started looking for wife, for a woman to fill his life and give him children, it would be because he, Daniel, wanted it, and not simply to satisfy his father.

“The Trail To His Heart” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

A local school teacher in Pond Hollow, Erin Stokes, cherishes the children of her class, but dreams of starting a loving family of her own. She has been secretly in love with her best friend, Daniel Radisson, for years, and her longing to marry him has never wavered. To her dismay, he has never even suggested that he feels the same way. Can she open her heart to him at the risk of losing her best friend?

To what lengths is she willing to go in pursuit of her heart’s most burning desire?

Daniel Radisson belongs to one of Oregon’s most powerful families, yet it’s not power that he yearns for. In search of a caring companion, he places a mail-order bride ad and soon starts corresponding with a fascinating woman. She sounds perfect in almost every way, but one problem persists. Despite his best efforts, his heart aches for Erin.

Will Daniel claim the only woman he’s ever loved or will he marry a complete stranger?

Can Daniel and Erin’s love transcend any hurdle standing between them? Will the past come back to haunt them in ways they could never even fathom?

“The Trail To His Heart” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

5 thoughts on “The Trail To His Heart (Preview)”

  1. This is a great story so fr and cannot wait until it is available to read. I cannot wait to read to see how Erin and Daniel get together and how many adventures they go through to get there

  2. I already feel the hurt that Erin is going to have to endure and want to get going on finding out what and how they will make it work

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *