“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
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.
‘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.
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!
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