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Deny everything

SPECIAL EDITION

TEATIME TATTLER

            Here at the Tattler, we pride ourselves on fair and truthful reporting. Our main competition, THE MIDNIGHT CRYER, is simply vile and reprehensible in their daily scandalous, not to mention, corrupt articles featuring Lord William, the second son of the Duke of Langham (whom we affectionally call, the Rogue Most Wanted), and his beautiful bride, Lady Theodora Worth, the Countess of Eanruig, a Scottish peeress in her own right.

            To find out the absolute truth, we went to the person who has the most intimate familiarity of the subject, Lady Stella Payne, Lord William’s great-aunt. She has first-hand knowledge of the trials and tribulations these two lovebirds had to scale in order to find true love.

            “Those two would have never been successful in their courtship if it hadn’t been for my dearest friend in the whole world, Lady Edith Manton, and me.”

Here at the Teatime Tattler, we believe her. Her modesty is legendary and so are here baubles. The grand dame’s hands sparkled since practically every inch was covered in priceless jewels. This lady is well-familiar with wedding rituals and courtships. Being married three times certainly gives one a wealth of knowledge about the subject… along with a jewelry box filled to the brim.

We asked Lady Payne how she had advised the handsome couple how to circumvent the malicious and constant rumors that seemed to swirl around them. She offered the following with simple honesty:

Darling, my advice is to deny everything.

Dear readers, is it any wonder that Lady Payne is one of the most successful matrons in London society? With her card skills and social maneuverings, this elegant lady is a genius on how to sidestep and crush the plotting and scheming of THE MIDNIGHT CRYER, the worst gossip rag in all of England.

We’d be remiss if we didn’t add that it stands to reason that Lord William and Lady Eanruig couldn’t help but fall for one another. Not when the grand dame set her peacock blues on making a match between these two.

Perhaps we should offer her an executive editorial position at our humble paper?

Wanted: an engagement of convenience. Found: A noble suitor. 

Raised on a remote Scottish estate by her adoring grandfather, Lady Theodora Worth has inherited an earldom as well as the land itself. But when an upstart duke challenges her claim to the title and the Ladykyrk estate, Thea is suddenly in need of a husband—in name, at least. An elderly neighbor with a thoroughly modern sensibility and a dashing great-nephew just might be the answer to Thea’s prayers. Except she has no intention of marrying the first man she meets. That would be utterly ridiculous.

It just can’t be him. . .

Lord William Cavensham is entirely too devoted to his family’s estate—ever since he was jilted as a lad–to wed, but he agrees to meet the woman his aunt has taken under her wing—and introduce her to possible suitors. But after just one meeting with beautiful, spirited Thea, Will is determined to help her reclaim her title. And even moreso, he can’t stop thinking that perhaps marriage to this bold, passionate woman may be the one thing he’s been missing all along? 


Praise for the Cavensham Heiresses series

“Full-bodied romance…with intelligence and heart.”—New York Times bestselling author Cathy Maxwell

“Sparkling…MacGregor brings England’s Regency era to life.” —Publishers Weekly

Buy links for Rogue Most Wanted: 

Amazon * Books a Million * Kobo * Barnes & Noble * Google Play * iTunes/Apple books

Meet Janna MacGregor

Janna MacGregor was born and raised in the bootheel of Missouri. She credits her darling mom for introducing her to the happily-ever-after world of romance novels. Janna writes the Cavensham Heiresses series where compelling and powerful heroines meet and fall in love with their equally matched heroes. She is the mother of triplets and lives in Kansas City with her very own dashing rogue, and a smug, but not surprisingly, perfect pug. She loves to hear from readers.

Visit her at www.JannaMacGregor.com

Twitter: @JannaMacGregor

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/JannaMacGregor/

Ladies of Langham Hall Facebook Group: https://bit.ly/2KNEifS

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Sign up for her newsletter at www.JannaMacGregor.com

Excerpt from Rogue Most Wanted

“Alright, then.” Thea stood straight and stared into Will’s eyes. “Will you…be my friend?”

The songbirds’ warbles, the rustle of the breeze through the leaves, and every other sound slipped to silence, and all sights faded the moment Thea asked him to be her friend. He couldn’t move as the air grew heavy and locked him in place. All his concentration centered on her. Finally, the spell she wove around him lessoned, and Will tilted his head and stared at the folly’s ceiling.

 Cupids and cherubs frolicked in glee as if laughing at him. For the life of him, as Thea hesitated in asking her question, he’d thought she would propose to him. In those mere moments, his emotions had run the gamut from trepidation, relief, happiness, and finally, to disappointment.

Why he experienced disappointment was a complete and utter conundrum that he couldn’t navigate. They’d both agreed that they didn’t want to marry the other. But something deep within him had sparked to life, like a flint against a piece of steel, igniting a hope she might want him. When Theodora had shared the tragic circumstances of her family’s demise, he’d become lost—in her and the extraordinary challenges she’d faced on her own in Northumberland. It was as if they were physically joined in some manner, and he’d never felt that tied to another woman.

The only explanation could be that he’d never met anyone like her before.

Theodora possessed a refreshing honesty and fierceness at times that belied her underlying vulnerability—much like his own. But the more time he spent with her, the more intrigued he found himself. When she’d approached Aunt Stella with her reason to marry, she’d been brutally honest, and he respected her for that.

Well, he was a Cavensham, and a Cavensham never shirked from duty or tough questions or even simple requests such as friendship. “Thea, I’d be honored to be your friend.” He slowly smiled.

Scandal in Virginia

Excerpt from The New Hope Enterprise

Dec. 29, 1863

It is a sad day indeed when we are forced to communicate such news as follows, but it is our duty to bring you even the most scandalous incidents…even if they involve one of the most highly regarded residents of our region—the venerated war hero, Colonel Johnathon P. Wescott.

Mrs. Charlotte Tisdale, a well-respected resident of New Hope reported the following, and we relay it now to you. It seems that an impromptu gala was thrown together at Lacewood by Colonel Wescott’s men, who were given leave by their beloved commander to take part in Christmas Eve festivities. It was late at night before Colonel Wescott left his post on the battlefield, but he finally appeared at Lacewood, looking as gallant and intrepid as ever such a highly esteemed man can look.

Of course, those in attendance at Lacewood included all of the eligible young ladies from the region who hoped to catch a glimpse—or perhaps even a dance—with the widowed father.

Scandal Virginia

Dear readers, here is the news of which I warned you. It has been reported to us by Mrs. Tisdale (and others) that the Colonel danced the night away—not with one of the highly regarded Southern belles in attendance—but with the Yankee caretaker of his young daughter!

Yes, friends, if you live in New Hope, you know the sad story. The poor child was left motherless by the passing of his wife almost a year ago, and now the sweet darling has been left in the hands of a stranger whose reputation and character are known to us only by the gossip that trickles in by attentive neighbors.

However, we know all we need to know. Mrs. Tisdale confirmed that this woman, this Yankee she-devil, hails from New York and has a brother in the Union army. Yes, you read that correctly. A brother…In the Union Army.

Wishing to verify these rumors—which are obviously too absurd and preposterous to be accepted on their face, we discovered that the news gets even worse. It seems Miss Annie Logan (the caretaker) placed herself beneath the mistletoe when Colonel Wescott was near, and, of course, being a Southern gentlemen of the highest order, he felt obligated to satisfy the tradition that has been handed down for centuries.

My own face reddens at the thought of this conniving kiss. Who knows what else has transpired between the walls of Lacewood? We can only hope that it will not stain the character of its occupants for generations to come…

About the Book

Two people trying to escape their pasts find a connection through an old house—and fulfill a destiny through the secrets it shares. Part love story, part ghost story, Lacewood is a timeless novel about trusting in fate, letting of the past, and believing in things that can’t be seen.

MOVING TO A SMALL TOWN in Virginia is a big change for New York socialite Katie McCain. But when she stumbles across an abandoned 200-year-old mansion, she’s enthralled by the enduring beauty of the neglected estate—and captivated by the haunting portrait of a woman in mourning.

Purchasing the property on a whim, Katie attempts to fit in with the colorful characters in the town of New Hope, while trying to unravel the mystery of the “widow of Lacewood.” As she pieces together the previous owner’s heartrending story, Katie uncovers secrets the house has held for centuries, and discovers the key to coming to terms with her own sense of loss.

Sometimes love is just too powerful for one lifetime…

The past and present converge when hometown hero Will Durham returns and begins his own healing process by helping the “city girl” restore the place that holds so many memories. As the mystic web of destiny is woven, a love story that might have been lost forever is exposed, and a destiny that has been waiting in the shadows for centuries is fulfilled.

Take advantage of the low launch-week price of only $3.99, and sign up for the author’s newsletter at https://www.jessicajamesbooks.com.

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An Excerpt

December 1863

“I think Jon has finally broken away from the ladies,” Luke said at last. “Here he comes.”

Annie turned and watched with an incredible degree of composure as Colonel Wescott strode toward her with calm detachment, pinioning her where she stood with his devouring stare. A strange sensation throbbed in her then—like the beating of a new heart—and she marveled at its power to fluster and confuse.

When he reached her he stopped, but his caressing gaze continued to play across her face. “You are aware of the tradition, I suppose.”

Colonel Wescott’s voice, Annie had learned, could be penetrating and commanding, or gentle and kind. He could easily silence an entire roomful of people without yelling or losing control—and could just as effortlessly melt her heart with the tender tones of a father.

The tenor tonight was both warm and imposing, throwing her off balance. Her eyes darted around, not understanding his meaning. “Tradition?”

He merely gestured to a place over her head, his smile widening as she took in the swag of mistletoe hanging above her.

Grasping Luke’s ruse that had placed her in this spot, Annie transferred her gaze to Luke just as he was exchanging a mischievous wink with his brother. Even Miss Benton was now brimming over with amusement.

“Do you need schooling in the ritual?” Colonel Wescott’s tone was businesslike, but the sentiment on his face was not. It reflected a playfulness, a cheerful joviality that was both infatuating and intimidating. He’d never crossed this line of familiarity with her before—and Annie was fairly sure he’d not done so with others, even those he considered close friends.

She wanted to pretend an affront, but when faced with his appealing smile her defenses melted away. Candlelight and music filled the air, exaggerating and intensifying the intoxication of her senses. Laughter and conversation blended and blurred until nothing existed but the man before her, whose smoldering eyes beckoned seductively.

About the Author

Jessica James is an award-winning author of romantic suspense, historical fiction, and Christian fiction, who combined all of her favorite things to create Lacewood.

Her new release is a multi-era, small town, clean, inspirational novel that melds together elements of mystery, history, and romance.

As someone who lives in a 200-year-old house, Jessica was intrigued when thinking about the generations of people who occupied the same home. Lacewood gives readers a behind-the-scenes glimpse of what took place in an old neglected Southern mansion before two people from the modern world stumble across it and into each other. It’s a love story that spans centuries, taking readers on a journey into the past as the house reveals secrets about a long-lost love affair.

You can find her here:

Website

Amazon Author Page

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Musings of a Motley Meddler: Complicated Stuff. Wink. Wink.

5 January 1815
Bath, England

Dear Interested Parties,

Today’s Topic: Classical Mechanics or the Magic of Numbers. Honestly, I’m not entirely sure which.

It is with great honor that I announce that none other than the reclusive Dr. John Edward Hartwell has agreed to give a lecture on Mathematics and Sir Isaac Newton’s Laws of Classical Mechanics as well as discuss his own theories, recently printed, with regards to chaotic tendencies in orderly systems, at my home near Bath on Monday the 9th of January.

Perhaps, after I attend his lecture, I will understand what, precisely, all that means.

In the meantime, my guests and I await with baited breath, the arrival of our mysterious genius. Never fear, dear readers, for you will be the first to hear all the delicious details regarding this elusive man. Here. In the Teatime Tattler.

My Umbrella is at the ready.

Signed,

Lady Harriett Ross
—Self-proclaimed Matchmaking Motley Meddler
—Mistress of Destiny
—Wielder of the Infamous Umbrella

Bloomfield Place
Bath, England

I’m just an old woman with opinions. On everything.

Editor’s Note:

  1. More Information to follow as Lady Harriett Ross and author Amy Quinton reveal more of what’s to come in the 3rd Installment of the Umbrella Chronicles: John and Emma’s story. Due in time for Valentine’s Day, February 2019.
  2. The image is an engraving of Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1727), English scientist and mathematician. It captures the story of Newton’s dog, Diamond, who once knocked over a candle while Newton was out of the room, causing the papers piled on Newton’s desk to catch fire. Those papers contained some pretty important information – they were filled with calculations which had taken him twenty years to make! Upon finding nothing but ashes remained of all his hard work, he cried, “Oh, Diamond! Diamond! Thou little knowest what mischief thou hast done!”

 

Orphan trains, mail-order brides, mortgages and more — Under a Mulberry Moon

Mr. Clemens, Editor
Tea Time Tattler
Fleet Street, London

Dear Sam,

My news is certain to astonish you, sir. There’s a great deal to tell, some of it I can hardly believe it myself. I composed my thoughts while under a mulberry moon but now take pen in hand to inform you.

Eliza Wells, the millright’s daughter, was whisked off by her uncle Joseph Wells to visit him and her cousins in California after her grandmother suffered a stroke. Eliza doesn’t understand why her grandmother hasn’t responded to any of her letters. Her grandmother, worried because she hasn’t heard from Eliza, is nobody’s fool. She arranged for former railroad detective Kit Halsey to investigate. And a good thing, too, for Joseph has ulterior motives and Eliza is trapped. Can you imagine her dilemma?

Ruby is running from her parents and large family to the unknown of Charlie Ransom. She answered his ad for a mail-order bride and agreed to meet him at Sundown Ranch just outside of Duston, Texas. Hope rose in her heart as she thought of being loved by him and having a house to herself. She wasn’t afraid of work, but she wants it to be for herself and a loving husband. Sick of war, Charlie left Ohio and bought a ranch in Texas. Now Ruby won’t marry him until he can tell her he loves her. Will he find her love worth the wait when four orphans and a tornado of trouble surround him?

Mr. Clemens, don’t you grow sad knowing there are so many orphans in the world? Former orphan train child, now grown, Mercedes “Merry” Murphy Bird, is the successful co-owner of a boardinghouse in Mockingbird Flats, Texas. She sure seems to find rescuing three quirky orphans from the orphan train irresistible even if it isn’t quite legal. Merry is determined to give the children a better life than she endured at the hands of the Nebraska couple who adopted her. I figure there’ll be a family for Merry. Boardinghouse resident and lawyer Blake Woolfe has come to town to take over the law practice of his late uncle. Blake is the eldest of ten children and spent far too much time caring for them and his mother to want anything to do with children now. I’m sure you can sympathize with him.

Children’s Aid Society authorities don’t exactly know that Polly Friday Bird and her sister are single and neither woman is going to volunteer the information. Polly hated the life she and Merry led after they were adopted by a surly Nebraska couple who really wanted free drudges. Polly believes the boardinghouse she and Merry purchased is an ideal place to raise a family for Polly with a large yard, numerous rooms, and a good school nearby. Still, when the authorities appear, she may need a husband in order to keep her children. She is trying to convince Manford “Ford” Daily to marry her and then leave. This is humorous, sir, because Polly’s problem is that Ford won’t go. I must confess I laughed in many spots when I heard her story.

But, I shall move on to a serious part of my news. Poor dear Ada Weathered has only two weeks to pay the mortgage on the land her father left her. In spite of her working two jobs, she simply won’t have the money to pay by the deadline. Donal “Mac” McTiernan chased deserters to Brady City, Texas, and hoped it would be his last duty for the Army. When Ada and the Texas cavalryman met Mac was so taken with that redhead with green eyes that he isn’t sure he can complete his mission and help her save her land.  I’m sure you join me in hoping so.

Prepare yourself because the next tidbit is frightening. Anya Fleming’s son Willie-boy found his father hanged in their barn six months ago. The boy hasn’t spoken a word since and is now gravely ill. Anya is convinced her late husband haunts her son. Anya knows the only person who can help her when in comes a specter, her former love, Yellow Smoke, now a powerful shaman. Yellow Smoke was devastated when Anya married Lewis Fleming but doesn’t know Anya was forced to do so. I hope Yellow Smoke will overcome his resentment and help Willie. I know you’ll join me in my good wishes.

A bit of fun news is that a widow buys a groom. Katherine Parnell needed a husband to help her operate Maggie’s Baked Goods and raise her four-year-old son. She had no intention of remarrying until Jim Sutton landed in the Meadow Creek jail for defending her. He inherited land and was hoping to make this community his home. Jim has demons of his own and doesn’t want to get close to anyone. Join me, Mr. Clemens, in hoping these two can find happiness together.

After delivering his sister to Freedom, Matthew is ready to find Matthew’s freedom. He’s been running from a guilty conscience. Mr. Clemens, you and I know that it’s not possible to outrun our conscience. Brenna is determined to provide for her son—even though he fights her at every step. Jobs are scarce but men are plentiful and marriage may be the only way Brenna can survive. If Brenna and Matthew unite to save her son, will her the boy tear them apart?

Another frightening situation occurred when Aurora Cavender went off to Utah in search of her twin brother, Jason, who was reported dead. She didn’t expect to encounter the cad who abandoned her at the altar years ago, Garret Mosely. He insisted he wasn’t Garret though and calls himself Nebraska Joe of the Hell’s-Gate Gang. Aurora knows her twin isn’t dead, but believes he’s injured. Well, I tell you! She was captured by a ruthless gang and had to rely on Garret to help her rescue Jason and escape Robber’s Roost.  The outcome of it all is that the lady lassos an outlaw.

I do so hope you’ve enjoyed my news. Until next time, I remain,

Your faithful correspondent,

Caroline

Only 99 cents for a limited time! Amazon buy link: http://a.co/99Odsch

Excerpt from A FAMILY FOR MERRY:

Tears burned the back of Merry’s eyelids when she surveyed the children. They lined up as if going to slaughter. Some wore hopeful expressions, some fearful, some so downtrodden their eyes were those of old people in young faces. Several in particular tugged at her heartstrings—the ragtags, the unadoptable. What would happen to them?

A scrawny little girl whose nametag said Abigail limped. Problem was, she sometimes changed legs. She hovered around a toddler labeled Tamara. Occasionally, Abigail brushed against Tamara and the baby would cry.

Merry suspected Abigail pinched the baby to make her appear disagreeable. Tamara was a pitiful sight. Mucous drained from her nose and red spots were on her exposed skin. On closer examination, Merry decided the spots were from a paint crayon.

Sorrow and mirth warred inside Merry. What an ingenious child Abigail was. The poor girl must be frantic thinking she’d be parted from Tamara.

A boy whose nametag read Calvin stood with feet braced, arms crossed, and a stubborn expression locked on his face. His age would be around nine. He glared as if he dared anyone to adopt him. No one did.

Merry got Abigail’s attention. “You must be tired from standing on your bad leg while taking care of Tamara. Why don’t you both sit here beside me?”

Abigail pulled at a lock of her disheveled hair. “Both of us? You mean Tammie can stay with me?”

“Yes, that’s what I mean.”

Abigail picked up Tammie and deposited her at Merry’s side then promptly sat beside her so that she and Tammie were mostly obscured by the skirt around the table.

Merry motioned to the boy. “Calvin, I can see you don’t need anyone to look after you, but would you help me by standing beside Abigail to make sure no one bothers her or Tammie?”

He didn’t move for a full minute before he inhaled and released a deep breath. “S’pose I can.” Slowly, he ambled to stand behind Abigail and Tammie, as if daring anyone to touch the girls.

Merry wrote the names of the three children on the list and her name as the person adopting. To mask the fact there was no husband, she wrote her first name and then sort of scribbled her middle and last name in what she hoped passed for a husband’s name. Murphy Bird could be a man’s name.

Beside Merry, Polly whispered, “What are you doing?”

“You know exactly. I am not deserting these children to chance.”

Polly’s eyes sparked fire. “Neither am I. You can put my name down for Evelyn and Noah. You know that no one will adopt a boy who’s mute, at least not for any decent purpose.”

Polly rose and stepped over to the two she’d chosen. “Evelyn, Noah, I’d like you to come live with me.”

Hope sprang into Evelyn’s eyes as she clasped Noah’s hand. “He don’t never talk but he’s good and real smart.”

“I’m sure he is. He won’t have to talk at our house unless he wants to.” She took Noah’s free hand and led the two to the table.

The two children sat on the floor beside Polly’s chair as Abigail and Tammie did at the table’s other end.

When Polly had reclaimed her place, she leaned near Merry. “Can we really get away with this?”

“Proceed as if everything is secure and above board. We can do this, Polly. We can’t let these children suffer as we did just because we don’t have husbands.”

“They’ll each have a wonderful home with us. We’ll love them as if we’d given birth to them.”

“Exactly. And we have the room and a good place for them to live and grow. Aren’t you excited?”

The anthology UNDER A MULBERRY MOON contents are:

  • A FAMILY FOR MERRY, Caroline Clemmons
  • A FAMILY FOR POLLY, Jacquie Rogers
  • ADA AND THE TEXAS CAVALRYMAN, Carra Copelin
  • COMES A SPECTER, Keta Diablo
  • MATTHEW’S FREEDOM, Cissie Patterson
  • MILLRIGHT’S DAUGHTER, Zina Abbott
  • THE LADY LASSOS AN OUTLAW, Charlene Raddon
  • THE WIDOW BUYS A GROOM, P. A. Estelle
  • WORTH THE WAIT, Patricia Pacjac Carroll

Check out the blog and Facebook page:

http://Facebook.com/UnderAMulberryMoon

http://underamulberrymoon.blogspot.com

Bio for Caroline Clemmons

Through a crazy twist of fate, Caroline Clemmons was not born on a Texas ranch. To make up for this tragic error, she writes about handsome cowboys, feisty ranch women, and scheming villains in a small office her family calls her pink cave. She and her Hero live in North Central Texas cowboy country where they ride herd on their rescued cats and dogs. The books she creates there have made her an Amazon bestselling author and won several awards. Find her on her blog, website, Facebook, Twitter, Goodreads, Google+, and Pinterest.

Click on her Amazon Author Page for a complete list of her books and follow her there.

Follow her on BookBub.

Subscribe to Caroline’s newsletter here to receive a FREE novella of HAPPY IS THE BRIDE, a humorous historical wedding disaster that ends happily—but you knew it would, didn’t you?

Pah-Ute War: in A Long Trail Rolling!

“Oh my goodness, Edith, will you look at this?” Mabel said, as she rushed through the garden gate.

“What is it?” Edith picked up another of her husband’s shirts from the basket and shook it out.

“Wasn’t your sister coming west from St. Joseph by stage?” Mabel’s voice rose as she spoke.

“Yes?” Edith paused, a clothespin in her mouth.

“Says here,” Mabel went on, “the Pah-Utes are on the warpath again.”

Edith swallowed hard and bit her lip. “Do you blame them, after those idiots in Williams took those poor Indian girls captive?”

“Yes, well, you’re one of the only ones feeling sorry for them. No stage’ll be coming this way for awhile—it says nearly every stage and Pony Express station has been attacked, station keepers killed, and stock run off or taken—for nearly a hundred miles!”

“Where?” Edith peered over her friend’s shoulder at the Deseret News. “Which stations are they talking about?”

“Says from Schell Creek nearly to Carson Sink.”

Edith let her breath out. “Oh, thank God for that. That’s west of us. No stage runs west out of Salt Lake.”

“Oh,” Mabel said, visibly deflating. “But it’s still bad news, nonetheless,” she said defensively.

“But bound to happen,” Edith said, her mouth a firm line.


A Long Trail Rolling

Long Trail Rolling

She didn’t expect to become a target…but she is one now.

In the Old West’s Utah Territory of 1860, Aleksandra is trained by her father in the Cossack arts. She finds herself alone, disguised as a Pony Express rider, running to keep her pa’s killer from finding their family’s secret. And that was before she galloped full speed into the middle of the Paiute Indian War.

Xavier isn’t about to let anyone get too close, especially a woman, while he bides his time as a Pony Express Station Manager in the middle of a desert, evading his heritage as the eldest son of an old Spanish Californio family. His history taught him women are not to be trusted. Letting this slip of a stroppy, yet alluring, girl get under his skin is not on the cards.

The villain is coming closer, with his sights set on Aleksandra. Thrown together in an ever-worsening situation, despite their own agendas, can Aleksandra and Xavier overcome their differences before the ever-increasing odds overtake them?

 


Excerpt from A Long Trail Rolling

In A Long Trail Rolling, due to circumstances best left unsaid until you read it, Aleksandra rides the Pony Express—as a boy. Things went from bad to worse and she rode through some of the worst part of the attacks of the Pah-Ute war. Here’s an excerpt from the story. Aleks is just about to leave a Pony station in to the west of Salt Lake City in Utah Territory.

Enjoy!


‘You take care out there through the canyon. Horses and riders don’t just disappear by themselves.’ Peter shook his head, his lips a firm line below his furrowed forehead.

‘I promise.’ Thanking him, she vaulted on and the mare laid back her ears and fairly flew on toward Overland Canyon.

The trail entered the canyon from the flat valley floor, meandering gradually upward in a wavelike fashion, sage-brush and early sprouts of grass growing along the creek next to the trail. Aleksandra was just wondering why everyone thought Overland Canyon was so dangerous when the trail became abruptly steeper and began to twist and turn tightly as the hills closed in. Sitting straighter, the blood beginning to pound in her ears, she picked up her reins and scanned the mountainsides flanking the track as they rose higher and higher, ensnaring the pathway within a narrow gorge of exposed strata and tumbled stone bluffs.

Bluffs just meant for ambuscade, with caves big enough to shield a man.

Aleksandra gulped. Giving the little mare her head, they raced on through the canyon.

She glanced left up the mouth of a small ravine as they surged past it.

Blood Canyon.

She shuddered, remembering its name from stories in the Indian village, glad she didn’t have to ride through that even narrower defile winding its way to the top of Blood Mountain.

The trail finally opened up into rolling sage-brush covered flats, Canyon Station dead ahead.

Feeling faint, Aleksandra gasped for a breath, wondering how long she’d held it through the last gauntlet. Laughing shakily, Aleksandra leaned forward, giving the puffing mare a heartfelt hug, then sat up and mumbled sweet nothings to her, scratching her withers as they trotted slowly into the station.

Aleksandra left there on a gray colt, keen and ready to run. The keeper, his jaw set and a frown deeply embedded in his lined face, hadn’t seen the Eastbound Express rider either.

The trail ran gradually uphill ahead of her along the little creek, then left it, rising up the center of a long, open valley. On her left, two prospectors looked up from working their rocker in the creek to wave at her. She reined in for a moment.

‘Good afternoon gentlemen!’

‘And to you! Safe through Overland, are ye?’ shouted a big bear of a man.

‘Yessir!’ she shouted. ‘You haven’t seen an Eastbound rider in the past few days, have you?’

‘No.’ He turned to the other, who shook his head. ‘No, we haven’t, sorry, lad!’

‘Okay, thanks. Having any luck?’ She smiled at the pair.

‘Luck’s all good, Boy! All good!’ the other one added in a shrill voice.

‘What are these workings, please?’ Aleksandra remembered to lower her voice this time.

‘This here’s Clifton Flat, best gold workin’s in the territory!’ He puffed up his chest. ‘Major Egan found gold here a few years ago and we’re in his employ, workin’ it for him!’

‘Excellent, thank you, enjoy your day!’ she replied with a wave and loosed the reins. The colt, needing little encouragement, shot off like an arrow from a bow.

‘Hold on to your hair!’ The burly prospector bellowed over the wind in her ears, as the horse bolted on up the valley, then over the top of the next ridge.

Hopping off at the top, Aleksandra looked out over the expanse spread out before her in awe. The track arced steeply down the mountainside for several miles, with good visibility in every direction, before coming to rest in a huge, fertile-looking wash that seemed to go on forever. Her papa had called the place by its Indian name, Ibapah.

‘Guess we’d better start down that hill,’ she said to the colt, and began running down the track beside the colt, who snorted and skittered beside her until he became accustomed to trotting alongside her.

The Deep Creek Station keeper had no word of the missing rider either. Feeding her well, he sent her out on a pinto Mustang, who loped across the flat valley floor, heading for Prairie Gate. Only four more stations until she was done for the day.

On a keen horse and free to enjoy the day.

She finally let her mind wander back to Xavier and her heart sank, the only shadow in her day. She wondered how he fared with his family and if he missed her as she missed him.

With a gulp, she realized was time to face it. Ahead was a good three hours of open and clear trail to ride. It was time to work through it.

She took a deep breath to try to dispel the anxiety that immobilized her when she thought too hard about their relationship. Every time they seemed close, it all slipped away. She feared nothing she could do would ever hold it together.

Her thoughts circled throughout the day as they traversed the dry sage-brush flats, passing Prairie Gate and Antelope Springs Stations. She repeatedly gripped the buckskin bag beneath her shirt, desperate for guidance.

In the distance ahead stood the Antelope Range. The pass they needed to traverse wasn’t particularly high, but the rocky divide lined by cedars and piñón pines was still challenging. The fresh scent of the evergreens tingled in her nostrils when she brushed them in passing, clearing her head.

At Spring Valley Station, the worried keeper handed her two thick sourdough muffins filled with salt pork.

‘Hope it don’t spoil yer supper over at Schell, but it’s a long slog over that mountain.’

‘Always enough room for more food,’ she said with a grin.

‘Anyways, I’m givin’ you the best little horse I’ve got, Aleks.’

‘Thanks, Patrick.’ She took a deep breath and looked at the little black Mustang. Her eyes shone with a quiet intelligence. She was evenly muscled and solid, her legs clean.

‘She’s the toughest horse I’ve ever known. She’ll take good care of ye over Shellbourne Pass and get ye to Schell Creek in no time!’ He puffed his chest out as he stroked the mare’s neck.

‘I’m thankful for all the good horses and the men of the stations. They’ve always got a smile for me and a pat for the horses when we ride out.’

His brows drew together and he tried for a smile. ‘You take care out there, won’t you? We don’t want another missing rider.’

‘I’ll see you on the way back. We’ll be fine.’ Aleksandra gripped his hand firmly, then vaulted onto the mare and set off for Schell.

Aleksandra wasn’t sure which of them she was trying to reassure.

Her heart sang as the nimble mare climbed up through the trees to the top of the 7000-foot high pass. As the sun neared the horizon, the air began to cool and she hopped off, jogging down the descent to warm up and get some feeling back into her feet.

As she prepared to mount again, a movement back down on the flats caught her eye. Spinning toward it, she saw only a herd of antelope, now motionless, eyes staring and ears perked to scrutinize her passing. She gave a shaky laugh and the antelope disappeared into the dusk.

Aleksandra swayed and jerked back upright, coming awake from drowsing.

Not a good idea.

A station showed, about a mile away.

Must be Schell Creek. Think about something to stay awake.

Her mind flicked back to Xavier and she cringed.

And stop avoiding the challenge with him. Think it through, focus. Try to resolve something, before we get to Schell.

She shook herself.

It finally clicked. In her impatience, she’d driven him away by asking for more closeness than he could give. The emptiness in the pit of her stomach overwhelmed her, and the thought she might never have a chance to see him again, much less get the opportunity to make, no, let this relationship work.

Life is indeed short in the West.

As they neared the station, her choices suddenly became clear as a mountain lake.

How did I miss them before?

It was as if they were written on a wall before her.

You can’t make someone love you,

you can’t fix anyone,

and there’s nothing you can do to change it.

Fervently she vowed to offer Xavier, and others in her life, the time they needed to learn to trust, fully knowing she might never get the chance to try again with Xavier. Her desolation ran deep and tears poured down her cheeks as she rode into Schell Creek Station.

It might have been the mare that did it, stopping dead in her tracks, nearly dropping Aleksandra over her shoulder, or maybe it was the flies that buzzed around the blood pooling beneath the butchered man in the Express station doorway. Whichever it was, it got her full attention.


I hope you enjoyed that!

Long Trail Rolling

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