A Light to Escape her Mourning (Preview)


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Chapter One

March 1886

Lawless Creek 


Bernice Donovan looked up at the darkening sky and sighed. It was late-afternoon, and it was almost as dark as dusk. The clouds seemed to boil in the sky, rolling in and over each other. The wind had picked up considerably, blowing Bernice’s honey blonde hair around her face. Catching the strands, she tucked them behind her ear and continued trying to rehang the sign on the porch.

“We’re in for it now,” Grace said, folding her arms across her ample chest. She was supposed to be holding the ladder that Bernice was precariously at the top of. “That storm looks like it might be God’s vengeance for all our sinful ways.”

Bernice eyed her friend with a frown. Grace took hold of the ladder again.

“Our sinful ways?” Bernice asked, turning her attention to the sign once more. The little metal loop simply didn’t want to hook through the other metal loop. It was infuriating.

“Of course,” Grace said, gesturing with a hand. “We work in a saloon. We sell drinks to men who should be home with their families.”

“I don’t know about that,” Lucy said, leaning against the doorframe. She was nineteen and had rosy cheeks under the freckles on her face. She grinned. “My daddy always said if it wasn’t for the saloon, he might not be the peaceful man he was.”

“But your folks had nine girls,” Grace said, cocking her dark head to one side. “I don’t think there’s a man alive who would want to live in a house with nine daughters and a wife to deal with. No man is a saint and that many women under one roof must have been hell on earth.”

Lucy shrugged. “Wasn’t that bad,” she said. “Being number three, my clothes were almost new.” She ran her hands over the coat she was wrapped up in against the wind’s chilly bite. “Of course, things are better now. Having my own room and my own dresses and shoes.” She sighed. “If I’d known working would be like this, I would have started waiting tables a long time ago.”

“Hush now,” Bernice said. She shifted her weight on the ladder. “All this nattering is making this job infinitely harder.” The ladder under her gave a concerning wobble. She let out a little squeak of worry.

“I’ve got you!” Lucy cried, diving for the ladder.

Grace shoved her away, and in the process, bumped it. Bernice screamed and clung to the ladder and a porch post, as between them, Grace and Lucy tried to steady her and the ladder.

“Okay, that’s it!” Bernice said, when the ladder was level once more. “I’m done. I don’t suppose it matters if anyone knows this is the Keg Saloon or not. We’re not doing any business tonight if that storm hits.”

“That is true,” Lucy said, with a sagely nod of her copper-colored head.

Bernice took another look at the sky. The clouds were so dark and seemed to go on for miles and miles. Spring storms were a common occurrence, either bringing rain or snow. What these clouds held on their bosom was anyone’s guess, but whatever it was, there was a lot of it, and it was coming straight for them.

Lawless Creek wasn’t a large town. It was in the middle of farmland, and most of the folks who came through it were just ordinary folks. Cowboys, ranch hands, and during harvest season, migrant harvesters would all make their way through Lawless Creek. Now in spring, there weren’t a lot of people passing through and the Keg wasn’t doing much new business, just a lot of old.

Even farmers needed somewhere to meet their friends, play cards and drink a couple of whiskeys or beers without a wife moaning at them. The Keg was the place for that.

“I’ll put this ladder in the shed. Why don’t you ladies go and check that all the windows are closed and the doors locked?” Bernice suggested.

“Of course,” Grace said with a nod. “Sorry about almost knocking you off the ladder.”

“It’s fine,” Bernice said with a shake of her head.

Lucy smiled and she and Grace went inside.

Bernice sighed. Each one of the women who lived at the Keg had come to Bernice in a time of great strife for them. They had all left homes that were no longer safe, or good places for them to live.

Even Lucy, who recalled her folks with such fondness, had darkness in her past. In desperation, her father had tried to marry her off to a much older man. He was a stable hand and didn’t make enough money to pay for so many mouths to feed. Lucy had left that house by the time she was sixteen.

And Grace had come from a highly religious home where she had been beaten for not reciting a Bible verse correctly one too many times. Bernice had taken them all in and given them jobs. How could she not when the same place had saved her years before?

She was only twenty-six, but she had been in trouble once too.

The shed was behind the saloon and near the outhouse. It rattled in the wind of the growing storm, its door fighting against the lock and hinges that held it in place. Opening the door, she put the ladder back where it belonged.

Her foot hit something hard and metallic. It clanged. Looking down, Bernice recognized what she had walked into. A tool box. It had the initials KAD on it in paint and her heart slid into her boots at the sight of it. Even now, two years later, the sight of Kevin’s tools could bring tears to her eyes.

Gosh, how she missed him! His smell, his touch, his strong arms around her when storms hit, and the thunder boomed. How she missed having someone who made her feel safe. Now she was the one giving comfort and solace to these women, and yet she also needed some herself. It was almost comical. Almost.

Bernice lovingly touched the toolbox with her fingertips, letting them run over its cold metal surface, thinking of all the times that Kevin had touched the same surface while working around the saloon. It had been his dream to own and run a saloon, and so they had called it The Keg.

Bernice had gone along with it because it made him so happy to stand behind the bar, handing out drinks and talking to people. Kevin loved to talk. He had stories and anecdotes and loved to share news with everyone. He was a real people person.

It was time to go. The wind was picking up and Bernice left the shed, closing the door behind her. The wind was howling now. Bernice closed her coat around her, hugging it to her. She ran for the backdoor to the saloon.

As she pulled it open, the wind blew the door from her grasp and slammed it against the wall. It made a terrible banging noise, and she cringed as she imagined the wood splintering.

Of course, that didn’t happen. The door was solid enough, and all it took was a hard tug to get it closed. Still Bernice was quite cold by that time. The kitchen was empty. Clara and Sarah were on duty in the barroom. Hopefully, Lucy and Grace were closing up.

Heading through the swing doors into the area behind the long wooden bar that ran along one of the saloon’s walls, Bernice found everyone there.

“You have to go home, Mr. Sweets,” Lucy said to one of their regular customers. “There’s a nasty storm blowing in and I don’t think you want to be caught out in the rain.”

“Are you sure? It might blow right over,” Mr. Sweets, a small man with thick rimmed spectacles said.

“And it might deposit a foot of snow on the roof. There is no knowing what the weather will do now, so it’s best you get home,” Bernice said kindly. “Before Mrs. Sweets starts to worry about you.”

“You’re right,” Mr. Sweets said and turned to his usual drinking companion. “Come on, Henry. They’re ringing the last round bell.”

“No, Mr. Sweets, we rang that a half hour ago,” Grace said. “You have to leave now.”

“Oh,” he said.

Henry, or Mr. Piper as the ladies called him, smiled and stood, pocketing the pack of cards he and Mr. Sweets had been playing with. “You ladies going to be all right here on your own?”

“Of course,” Bernice said, smiling sweetly. “We’re all good here. Now, you hurry home before things get worse out there.”

They ushered the men out and closed the door. Lucy let out a sigh, leaning against the door. “Well, that was harder than it should have been. Why don’t they want to go home?”

“Who can say?” Clara asked, walking to the bar with a tray of dirty glasses she had collected in the room. “It’s a pity about the storm. We were doing some good business today.”

“Yeah,” Sarah said with a sigh. She had a bucket and a cloth and was washing tables. They got so sticky from the spilled beer that they needed scrubbing every day.

Watching everyone working to clean and set the bar up for the morning, Bernice couldn’t help but smile.

Everyone had said she’d never be able to keep the saloon open on her own, and they had been right. But then those nay sayers hadn’t reckoned on her finding some of the best women in the world to help her.

They had come into her life in strange ways, but these four had stayed and Bernice had come to think of them as family. She would never have guessed this was the path that her life would take, but since it had, she was grateful.

When Kevin died of a heart attack in the general store two years ago, Bernice had thought she would never be able to laugh and thrive again. Yet, with the help of these amazing women, she had done just that and a lot more.

Together they had turned The Keg into a good business that made money, kept a roof over their heads, and supplied entertainment to the locals.

Some nights Clara would bring out her guitar and Sarah would sing, with Lucy backing her up. It was special, and Bernice was glad she’d opened her doors to them.

The sound of rain pattering down on the roof filled the air. One moment it wasn’t there and the next it was all they could hear. It drummed on the porch roof and on the saloon, streaking down the windows.

“Here we go,” Clara said, looking up as though she could see through the upper floor and the roof to the clouds above. “Think it will last long?”

“Hard to say,” Bernice said.

They all set to work cleaning up, washing tables, sweeping and mopping the floors, washing the glasses in the sink in the scullery. Then they made dinner, all working together in the kitchen.

“Gosh,” Lucy said as they sat down around the table to eat. “It’s still not letting up.”

“True,” Bernice said, looking out of the window. There was something odd about the drops on the window. They looked more solid than rain usually was.

“Oh, and now it’s sleeting,” Clara said with a huffy sigh. “Wonderful.”

“What’s wrong with sleet?” Lucy asked.

“It’s slushy rain,” Clara said. “It’s not rain and it’s not snow, it’s this strange thing in between. It just seems like snow that didn’t try hard enough or rain that was a little too ambitious. You know what I mean?”

“Sure,” Lucy said with a chuckle. “I don’t mind it, so long as I’m not in it.”

“Amen to that,” Grace said, cutting her chicken pie into pieces. “I’m glad we’re not outside in this.”

From there, the conversation turned to other things. Lawless Creek was going through some changes.

“Mr. Williams said he’s selling some of his land,” Clara said as she piled her fork with chicken pie and peas.

“Really?” Bernice asked. “Who to?”

“Some mining corporation,” Clara said. “He told me all about this afternoon while I was pouring drinks behind the bar. He said that they found copper in the rocks in one ridge on his property.”

“Did he say how much for?” Sarah asked. “I’ll bet it’s for a mint. Copper is a good investment at the moment.”

“He said he bought shares in the company with the money, so that means he’s got a good chance of making more money than anyone else around here,” Clara said with a shrug as she raised the fork to her mouth.

“If his farm has copper, then it stands to reason others will too,” Sarah pointed out.

“That’s what I said, but he decided to ignore me,” Clara said. “Think of it, though. Lawless Creek could become a proper town. We could get the railway here.”

The women considered this. The railway coming to Lawless Creek would certainly change the sleepy town into a bustling city in no time.

“Maybe we should take some of our savings and invest in this mining company,” Sarah said. “It might not be a bad thing to do. We could make enough to retire from the drinks serving and song singing business and we could be independent ladies of means.”

“Oooh, I want to be one of those,” Lucy said, her eyes full of stars. “I can see it now. I could buy more shoes.”

“And that’s why you’ll never be a wealthy lady,” Clara said with a chuckle. “You love clothes too much.”

“I do not!” Lucy protested, sticking out her tongue at Clara.

“Yes, you do,” Bernice said, kindly.

“Prove it,” Lucy said.

“Clara, how many dresses do you have?” Bernice asked.

Clara held up three fingers.

“Sarah?” Bernice asked, going around the table.

Sarah held up two fingers and Grace held up two as well.

“Come on, Lucy, what’s the count at now?” Grace asked.

Lucy held up four fingers.

“And that’s not even counting shoes,” Bernice said, who owned a pair of boots and a pair of slippers.

“Fine,” Lucy said. She sighed. “I’ll just have to marry a rich man so that he can buy me all the shoes and dresses I want.”

“Oh, I don’t care how much my husband will make one day,” Grace said. “I want to marry for love.” She clasped her hands together and battered her eyelashes.

Sarah swallowed, looking uncomfortable. She always did when the subject of marriage and husbands came up. She never wanted to talk about it, and Bernice had learned to respect her need to keep this secret to herself.

“I’ll get us some more tea,” Sarah said, rising from her place, her meal only half finished.

“How are we doing on supplies?” Bernice asked. “I haven’t been in the cellar lately.” She’d been down there that morning taking stock, but no one pointed that out. They all seemed to know she was changing the subject for Sarah’s sake, and to some extent, her own. Talking about future husbands always reminded Bernice of the one she’d lost.

“We will have to make a trip to the brewery in a couple of days,” Clara said. “We’re running low on beer.”

Bernice nodded. “Maybe we can go tomorrow and just get it done.”

“Sounds good,” Clara said.

Sarah came back with a fresh pot of tea, and they finished their meal with no more upset.

Bernice and Lucy washed up, it being their turn, and then the ladies retired to the saloon to sit in front of the large hearth that kept the whole place warm. They had kept the fire lit all afternoon, and the place was toasty warm.

Sarah brought out her knitting, Clara her guitar, and Grace buried her nose in a romance novel. Bernice took out her sketch book. She hadn’t drawn much since Kevin died, but as part of her quest to get her life back to some semblance of normal, she had started again.

Tonight, she was sketching Grace. She had such hearty features with her rounded cheeks, turned-up nose and heart-shaped mouth. She was quite pretty, her eyes flitting over the words on the pages of her book.

Bam! Bam!

The noise shook the women from their reveries, and several of them screamed. Bernice jumped to her feet, her sketchbook and pencil falling to the floor.


“It’s coming from the door,” Clara said.

“Who is it?” Lucy asked, looking afraid.

“Well, it’s someone with manners,” Sarah said with a cock of her head and a grin.

There was a groaning sound, and the wind, which had been howling anyway, seemed to put a little more effort into it. Bernice squared her shoulders and walked to the door.

“Clara, get the shotgun,” she said.

Clara got it from behind the bar and in a knot, the women went to the door. Bernice turned the key and opened it a crack. Placing her eye to the crack, she peered out. She couldn’t see anyone. She opened the door a little more and looked down.

The groaning was coming from the floor where a man lay on the porch.

“Good heavens!” Sarah exclaimed over her shoulder.

“What’s going on?” Lucy demanded from the back of the knot of women.

“There’s a man on the floor,” Bernice said. She dropped to her knees and, with some effort, managed to roll him over. His eyes were shut, and he was soaked through. “Let’s get him inside,” Bernice said. She grasped his arm and, with Sarah’s help, hauled him inside.

“Who is he?” Lucy asked.

Bernice could only shrug.

Chapter Two

March 1886

Lawless Creek 


Adam Carter had no idea where he was. From the moment his eyes opened, he tried to piece together the events of the recent past and kept finding massive holes in his memory. He could recall the card game at Joe’s Tavern. Fine. Good.

Then things got a little hazy. He recalled David was there with him and they were having a good time. For once, the cards were on their side and between them, he and David were cleaning up. They would have more than enough money to get them to San Francisco after this if their luck held.

And that was the dream, wasn’t it? To leave Montana and to go somewhere with prospects. Adam was a builder by trade and times were tough in this part of the country. With the ground frozen for half of the year, building was an on again, off again profession. He’d had to start doing handyman jobs around town to keep paying his rent.

But in San Francisco, things were different. It was the kind of place where dreams of starting a company and making it into something great could come true.

This probably wasn’t San Francisco. He would remember traveling that far, wouldn’t he?

Turning his head, he saw that the room was clean and neat. There was an armchair by the bed and sleeping in it was a woman. She had her head resting on her arm, her feet curled up under her. Honey blonde hair had escaped from its fastening and hung over her face, obscuring it.

Adam stirred, and that’s when the pain shot through his right arm. It was fiery hot, and his mind went blank for a moment, only to fill with memories.

He recalled; a gun, a shot, horror at David falling to the ground. There had been blood, but was it David’s? Turning, he ran for the door. Outside it was pouring with rain. He didn’t care about getting wet when the other option was getting shot. He recalled racing into the night and then the bang of a gunshot and the pain in his right arm.

The woman in the chair stirred. A long-fingered hand drew back the curtain of her hair and all Adam could do was stare at her. She blinked hazel eyes at him and smiled. It was as though an angel had fallen from heaven and now sat opposite him.

“Oh, so, you’re awake,” she said. “How are you feeling?”

Adam swallowed. His mouth was terribly dry. He cleared his throat and tried to speak and found his voice was cracked and coarse, but it still worked.

“I’m okay,” he said. “Where am I?”

“You’re in Lawless Creek, Montana,” the woman said. “I’m Mrs. Bernice Donovan and this is my saloon, The Keg.”

“Lawless Creek,” he said, looking around. This wasn’t far enough away. He would be found here. That was for certain. “Ah, that’s about…what…a couple of hours from Greenswitch?”

She shrugged with a single shoulder as she considered this. “Is that where you’re from?” she asked, smoothing down her shawl.

Adam nodded. “Yes, ma’am.”

“And you are?” she asked, this time cocking her head to one side.

“Adam Carter, ma’am,” he said. He tried to sit up and groaned, his head swimming. His arm was on fire again. He reached over with his left hand and grasped his bicep. There was a bandage on it.

“Mr. Carter,” Bernice said, studying him. “Can you tell me how you got shot in the arm?”

Shot? No, that wasn’t right. He hadn’t been shot. It was David who had…Adam stopped that line of thought before he could see the terrible sight of seeing his best friend in the whole world collapsing in a spray of bright red blood.

“Ah…I was shot?” he asked, deciding to go with memory loss. He couldn’t deal with all of this right now. He needed time to sort through the memories and work out just what had happened.

“Yes, sir, you most certainly were,” Bernice said. “Luckily, I’m pretty good with injuries. My father was in the army, and Clara is a wonder with a needle. She sewed you up. The bullet went right through your arm, missing everything vital. You had a lot of scrapes and bruises, a twisted ankle and what looks like a graze from a bullet on your left hip.” She stared at him with raised eyebrows.

Adam swallowed. This was a lot to take in.

“So, Mr. Carter, care to tell me who shot you and more importantly why?” she asked. “Because I will be happy to call the sheriff.”

“That’s fine,” Adam said. “Call the sheriff. I didn’t do anything wrong.”

“Then how come I found you on my doorstep, soaked through and bleeding all over?” she asked.

“I don’t know,” Adam said. “The last thing I know for sure, I was in Joe’s Tavern in Greenswitch. David and I were playing cards with some other fellows. We were doing well. Things were going our way when suddenly there’s a bang and…” he shook his head. “It’s all pieces from there.”

“So, you’re a card shark and you fleeced some folks out of their money?” she asked.

Adam shook his head, risking feeling woozy again. He lay back on the pillows. “Please, you have to believe me. David and I are builders. We only play cards as a hobby. We got lucky and won a few hands. It was nothing. At least I thought it was nothing.” He sighed. “I’m sorry I came to your door. I didn’t know where I was. I don’t even remember coming here.”

Tears choked the back of his throat as panic rose in his gut. This was terrible. He’d been shot and now he was in this nice lady’s saloon. Had he brought danger to her house? He hadn’t meant to.

“Listen, thank you for your help, but I’ll be on my way,” he said, trying once again to sit up.

The world swirled, and he gagged, trying not to throw up all over her.

A hand pushed him back, and he lay down.

“Relax,” Bernice said. “The rain washed the roads out. There won’t be anyone coming after you for at least a couple of days. Now get some rest.”

Someone knocked on the door and it opened. A woman with sleek copper hair and freckles on her cheeks peered in.

“Morning,” she said brightly. “We were wondering if we should bring up some breakfast. Is he awake?”

Bernice moved to the door and spoke to the woman. “He’s awake but woozy. Maybe he should have some weak tea to start with, and then we can see what he can tolerate.”

“As you say, Bernie,” the copper haired woman said with a naughty grin.

“Bernie?” Bernice asked and sighed as she closed the door on the copper haired woman.

She came back to Adam and sat on the chair, leaning close to him.

“Mr. Carter, I don’t know you from a bar of soap, and that worries me,” Bernice said, her hazel eyes holding his gaze. “The women who call this saloon home are my family, and I love them dearly. So, make no mistake, I will think nothing of adding more bullet holes to your body should you cause them to be in danger from you or whatever baggage you bring with you. Do I make myself clear?”

“Yes, ma’am,” he said, nodding. “I won’t cause trouble. I promise.”

She smiled and nodded. “Good. Now we will bring you some tea.”

And with that, she left the room.

Adam lay on the clean sheets and tried to take stock. He was definitely starting to feel all his injuries now.

The door opened and Bernice was back. She placed a steaming mug that smelled of something sweet beside the bed on the table. She regarded him with a soft look. “Just sip it. I’ll be back in a while to see how you are.”

“Thank you,” Adam said.

She nodded. “I just hope you feel better soon.”

Turning, she left the room and Adam lay there staring out of the window. The sky was clear and a beautiful blue. A few lost clouds floated by his window, and Adam slowly drifted off.

When he woke again, it was dark outside. A lantern had been lit and turned down low beside the bed. The mug of tea had been left and was ice cold. Adam drank the liquid anyway, in sips and then gulps. He had to fight down nausea before his stomach settled.

Bernice came into the room a little later with a bowl of soup. Adam found that he could manage the soup quite well now, and he had it all. Then he went back to sleep.

The next day he woke feeling a lot better. Apart from his arm, he felt pretty good. He got up and hobbled around the room, stretching his legs. The graze on his hip ached, but the arm still held the prize with its red-hot throbbing. Even the twisted ankle wasn’t that bad. He could manage that, but the hole in his arm? That was torture.

By the third day, the ankle would take his weight and the other hurts were much better. His arm was still agony, but he could manage walking around with it in a sling.

The saloon was a busy enterprise. It opened just before lunch, offering simple, hearty meals to folks who wanted them along with drinks of course and stayed open until late. He met the ladies who worked there and was careful to mind his manners. Bernice had made it clear what she would do if he put a toe out of line and he had no intention of testing her resolve.

On the fourth day, Adam felt he’d stayed as long as he dared. The weather had been fine since the storm, with only a couple of light showers in the evenings. The roads would be fine soon, and then he was certain someone would be looking for him. Not least because, and this was a shaky memory at best, but Adam was certain he had made off with his and David’s winnings in a leather bag.

Where that bag was now, he had no recollection, no matter how hard he tried to remember. It was all a blur, and he thought, quite possibly, his mind playing tricks on him. Maybe he had left the bag at Joe’s Tavern and now it was gone. It didn’t matter. He would work somewhere and get to San Francisco some other way.

That morning, he found Bernice in the cellar. She and Clara stood on the stairs talking.

“Sorry to interrupt,” Adam said, running a hand through his brown hair. “I wanted to thank you for your kindness and settle my bill.”

“Are you leaving?” Clara asked.

“Yes, Ma’am,” he said. “I should be on my way.”

Bernice regarded him. “You said you’re a builder,” she said.

“Yes,” he said.

She sighed. “Well, what do you make of this?”

Adam turned his attention to the cellar walls. They were made of stone and water was running down one of them and pooling on the floor between the barrels and boxes that had been stacked down there.

“Oh dear,” Adam said, taking it in. “Who built this place?”

“My late husband,” Bernice said, with a sigh. “Kevin was a wonderful barman, but I suspect he didn’t really know what he was doing when it came to building.”

Adam moved past the women to make a closer inspection of the walls. They were not good. The rocks looked as though they had been pushed into the earth and not built as such. How was this place still standing?

“It can be fixed,” Adam said. “I would have to just build proper walls in place of these other ones.”

“And what will that cost me?” Bernice asked, her hands on her hip.

“Nothing,” Adam said. Maybe lying low here wouldn’t be a bad idea.

“A Light to Escape her Mourning” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

At twenty-four, Mattie Carter has already known love and loss, grieving for a husband taken too soon in the line of duty. Facing the bitterness of her mother-in-law and the haunting emptiness of her home, she seeks a fresh start in a new town. But when her new beginning is marked by a robbery, it’s the town sheriff, Levi Callahan, who comes to her rescue.

Could she dare to love again, knowing the peril of loss?

Levi Callahan grew up believing in the righteousness of the law, a belief solidified by the loss of his father during a risky operation. Jaded and cautious, he’s reluctant to let anyone close—until he meets Mattie, a beautiful stranger whose courage strikes a chord in him. However, as they explore the spark between them, Levi can’t shake off his past, or the lingering suspicion that the danger to the town—and to Mattie—is far from over.

Will he be able to protect what he’s starting to hold dear?

Thrust together by fate and encroaching danger, Mattie and Levi find themselves ensnared in a rising tide of criminal activity orchestrated by a vengeful villain. The ties of friendship and romance weave together as they delve into the mysteries that threaten to consume them. With each revelation, their fledgling love is tested—will it be a cornerstone on which they can build a future, or the crux that unravels them both?

“A Light to Escape her Mourning” 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!


Grab my new series, "Brides of the Untamed Frontier", and get 2 FREE novels as a gift! Have a look here!

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