Love Amidst the Wild (Preview)

Chapter One

September 1850

Cedar Slopes,


Yvette Stone stepped up to the front door. The building had been a small farmhouse, but when the owner left Cedar Slopes and went in search of his fortune in the gold mines, Yvette had known it for the gift it was. There was hardly any land left for the owner to sell, having sold it off ages ago to meet his mounting debts. That left just enough for the house to stand on and for a field out back. It was perfect.

Fitting the key into the lock, Yvette turned it and unlocked the door.

Before her lay the schoolroom, just as she’d left it in June. What had been the entrance hall was still that, but now it contained square cubbyholes to hold lunches against one wall and pegs on the other to hold hats and coats. Through a door at the end of the short room was the classroom and beyond it was the kitchen and her office.

Dust lay on the floor and despite Yvette having closed the storm shutters against the thunderstorms that often stomped their way through the mountains, one window was broken. The storm shutter hung by one forlorn hinge.

Well, nothing was unfixable. She could get another pane of glass at the trader and another hinge from the look of things.

A noise behind her made her turn around.

“Ah, there you are,” her sister Mary said. Mary was shorter than Yvette, with hair like spun gold. Yvette had envied her adopted sister ever since she came into Yvette’s life. Hair like spun gold was the stuff of all the stories. Princesses all had hair like that. None had red hair, and there was no other way to describe Yvette’s hair. She generally wore a scarf tied over her head or a hat to avoid having to see it. She wore a scarf now, her fingers rising to tuck an errant strand of her hair away.

“Mary? I wasn’t expecting you,” she said.

Her sister smiled. “Big Jim said he noticed you had a broken window and a storm shutter,” her sister said. “He was at the traders when the new books came in. I asked him to give me a ride down here to bring them to you.”

Everything else was forgotten at the mention of new books.

Yvette followed Mary outside to where Big Jim, a large man of around the same age as Yvette, was carefully offloading the glass pane for the window. He set it down on the grass by the broken pane and came back to the cart.

“Hello Yvette,” he said in his deep voice. “I didn’t know you were here.”

“School starts next week,” Yvette said with a shrug. “I thought I had better clean the classroom.”

“I can help with that while Jim puts in the new pane,” Mary said.

“But where are the books?” Yvette asked.

Mary pointed to a large package on the back of the cart. “Jim will have to take it inside for us.”

Jim obliged, smiling at Mary as he did so. He placed the package down on the teacher’s desk at the front of the classroom. Yvette thanked him and instantly set to work opening it. She had ordered a whole lot of things from back east. It was so exciting to have the school supplies package arrive. The previous year had been the first time she had had to order, having brought the books herself when she returned from Boston.

The inside of the box smelled new. All those books inside it smelled new too and had no pencil markings in the margins or bent pages. The paste glue, the chalkboards and chalks, the readers, it was all so exciting. It made being a teacher feel like the best profession in the world.

Yvette was in heaven. She counted the textbooks she had asked for, and the slates and chalks and even bottles of ink for the inkwells laying them all out on the desks. From memory, she thought it was all there.

“Oh, I love the smell of new books,” Mary said, holding a book on mathematics up to her nose and giving it a good sniff. “They always smell so fresh and exciting.”

“Yes, that they do,” Yvette said, taking out the inventory of the order she had placed and making sure it was all there. Slide rules, rulers, pencils, and even some charts to help the younger children learn their letters.

“Okay, let’s get this all into the stationery cupboard,” Yvette said.

Mary nodded.

It was a large, solid cupboard that stood behind her desk against the wall. To the children in her class, it was a strange and magical place that always seemed to contain the exact thing they were looking for, so long as their current need was for thumbtacks and glue, or a new pencil or piece of chalk.

The children were not allowed in the cupboard except under Yvette’s watchful eye. The whole lot of them were little thieves if given free rein, and it wasn’t as though this stuff was easy to replace. There wasn’t a store nearby that sold any of this. It all had to come by the wagon train and took ages to get here. That was why she had placed her order in early June so that it would arrive by the time the new school year began.

“Where are my keys?” Yvette asked. She kept them all. The front door, her office and the stationery key were on one ring. Easier not to lose it, or so she had thought.

“Ah, you dropped it in the box,” Mary said with a chuckle, hauling them out.

Yvette took the keys and went to the solid cupboard.

There was something odd about it. She didn’t recall the lock looking scratched like that. Had some child tried to open it while she was doing something else at the end of term? It would be just like Billy Summers to do just that.

“What’s wrong?” Mary asked. “Is the key not on the loop?”

There was the sound of breaking glass. Both women turned their heads to the window. Jim was blocking the light from it, chipping out the jagged bits of the broken pane.

“Sorry, it’s only me,” he called, seeing them both looking at him.

“It’s all fine,” Mary said with a smile. Jim grinned back and something seemed to pass between them.

Anyone with eyes could see that they were sweet on each other, yet Jim still hadn’t asked Mary if she would like to step out with him. What was he waiting for?

“Yvette! Do you have the key?” Mary asked. She must have asked that already and Yvette hadn’t heard her, musing as she had been, over her sister’s love life or lack thereof.

“No, it’s here,” Yvette said, holding it up but still inspecting the lock. “It’s just the lock looks… odd.”

Mary came over and stood beside her. The women regarded the lock thoughtfully.

“I don’t understand,” Mary said.

“It’s Billy Summers,” Yvette said.

“The prankster? What about him?”

“I think he might have done something.”

Mary rolled her eyes. “Oh, come off it! Name one child you know who would come to school when they don’t have to. You can’t, can you?”

Yvette had to admit that no one in her classes came to mind as being overly enamored with the school.

“Well, then, you can bet your lucky stars that Billy hasn’t been in here since school closed,” Mary said. “You’re being paranoid. Just because he put that thumbtack on your chair that one time.”

“And the bucket of water over the doorway, and the dead fish in my lunch, the frog in my boot…” Yvette said. The list of things that Billy Summers thought were funny went on and on and on. He had dipped some of the girl’s hair into his inkwell and turned them green. He had also glued two boys’ hands to their desks, and it had taken Big Jim and a lot of patience to get them unstuck. He was a menace, and Yvette was starting to get something like a sixth sense when it came to him and his dreadful pranks.

No amount of scolding, writing outlines, smacks on the hand or backside with the ruler, or speaking to his parents made any difference. The boy didn’t care. He thought the jokes were hilarious, and his parents were inclined to think so too.

Yvette steeled herself. She had to open the stationery cupboard door at some point. It would be better now, with Mary and Jim with her, than during the first class of the year. She stepped up to the door again, fitted the key to the lock and drew in a deep breath.

“On the count of three,” she said. “One, tw—”

The sound of more glass shattering filled the air. Her hand automatically turned the key, and she jumped back. The door stayed shut and nothing happened.

Jim swore. “Oh, sorry,” he said. “I cracked the other pane. Don’t worry, I have a spare on the cart. I’ll just go and get it.”

“He is a lamb,” Mary said, with stars in her eyes.

“A large, clumsy lamb,” Yvette said. She turned back to the door and, without thinking, pulled it open.

The thing came winging out at her. It was about the size of her forearm, but it seemed a lot larger as it swung out and smacked into her face before she could bat it away.

Yvette screamed, jumped backwards, tripping over Mary, who had rushed forward, and both landed in a heap in front of the stationery cupboard.

With a roar, Big Jim, hammer in hand, came thundering into the room. “What’s wrong? What happened?”

He pulled up short, seeing both sisters on the ground. Yvette was livid. She rose to her feet and grabbed the offensive thing that had given her such a fright. Yanking it free from its fastening on the inside of the door, she jammed it into Jim’s open hand.

“It’s that Billy Summers!” she snapped.

“What is it?” Mary asked.

Jim handed it to her and then helped her up.

Mary looked the thing over and chuckled. “Is this supposed to be you?”

“Yes, I would have thought the red hair would give it away,” Yvette said.

“He gave you a witch’s hat,” Mary said, turning the straw and hessian doll over and over in her hands. “It shows great artistic skill, don’t you think?”

Yvette shook her head, still unable to get her heart rate down. She had had such a fright. It was horrible. Her hands were shaking, and tears pricked the back of her throat. She wanted to find Billy and slap some sense into him.

“You know,” Jim said, “Maybe you should play a trick on him.”

“Yes,” Mary said, laying a hand on Jim’s arm. “Jim is right. If you play a prank on him, Billy Summers will get his own medicine back. That should teach him a thing or two. He might stop playing pranks altogether.”

“That might be a bit much to hope for,” Yvette said. “But you know, I think I will play a prank on him. Let’s see what we can come up with.”

Yvette and Mary set to work packing all the stationery away in the cupboard while Big Jim went to work on the window and the shutter. After a while, he poked his head in through the window.

“I think we should get a move on,” he said. “There’s a bank of clouds heading our way. It looks black, like one of the bad thunderstorms. We should head home.”

“Why?” Mary asked. “We’ll be safe in here.”

“Yes, but my horses won’t be,” he said. “I want to get them home before the lightning starts. Also, this one looks bad. I think it’s going to be one of those.”

He said it ominously.

Yvette had long since learned not to fight with Big Jim when it came to the weather. The man was a natural. If it was going to snow, he knew it before anyone and if he said it would be a howler of a storm, then one best believe him or suffer for it. There was nothing to be done but to agree and make sure she was ready to go when he said it was time.

“It’s fine. We’ll go when you say,” Mary said.

Yvette nodded. She had planned to sweep the floor and clean the whole place out that day. However, it seemed to be a mammoth task and there wouldn’t be time now. There was just so much to do. And now her day was being cut short.

About thirty minutes later, once Jim was done fixing the window and the storm shutter, he said it was time to go. The wind had picked up and was blowing leaves into the schoolroom. Yvette wanted to take a couple of minutes to sweep them out, but then she looked up.

Above her head, the clouds were boiling as though in a cook pot. Lightning rippled through the air and the thunder was loud in their ears a moment later.

“Come on!” Big Jim said.

Yvette followed Mary out and locked the door behind her. How had Billy gotten into the school? Through the broken window? With the jagged pieces of glass that still jutted out of it, she wondered if he had tried that way. It would bother her, she knew it. However, now was not the time to worry about that. The storm was gaining speed and huge, fat drops were falling from the clouds.

Climbing into the back of the cart, Yvette was the last one. Once she was in, Jim flicked the reins and the horses started forwards. They went up the drive towards the main track. It was part of the California Trail and many oxen and wagons had worn the trail in the dirt.

The inhabitants of Cedar Slopes used it as a main road that led right into the town. It was a clear and mostly well marked road, but in a sudden downpour it was all too easy to miss it and go right over the edge of a cliff. That was always a concern up in the mountains where the weather was mercurial and could change in the blink of an eye.

Jim drove the cart up the road. “I think we’ll get home before the worst of it,” he said, angling himself so that both Mary, sitting beside him, and Yvette behind them, could hear.

Yvette was up on her knees in the back, wanting to thank him for helping her. If he hadn’t come to fix the window, she’d have to wait out the storm in the school and that could be hours.

As she did, she saw it. A wagon was coming down the track at speed. The oxen pulling it seemed to be in some sort of distress. She got the briefest glimpse of the drivers. They were two men and seemed to be fighting over something.

“Look out!” she screamed.

Big Jim, his eyes back on the track, pulled the reins, steering his horses away from the wagon. It was a near thing as the cart and wagon tried to share the same space between rocks on either side of the track. The cart bounced and rattled, but kept ongoing. The wagon passed by, and they were clear.

“What the—” Jim began but never finished. Lightning lit up the sky right above them. The wagon’s oxen lowed and suddenly they were heading in a direction Yvette knew not to be the right one. Where the track turned to the left, the wagon was heading to the right.

That way a ridge led down to the creek bed.

The sound of splintering wood, oxen in trouble, and men screaming filled the air. The wind brought the sounds right to them as though by special messenger.

Big Jim reined in his horses and turned the cart around. The wagon was on its side and boxes of goods littered the ground. Yvette wondered if anyone had survived.

“Well, at least it’s not raining hard yet,” she said.

A moment later, it poured.

Chapter Two

September 1850

Cedar Slopes,


Arthur Corrigan waited by the wagon. That had been his job since leaving New York City. Whenever his uncle Josiah went into a store on the wagon trail, he was to stay with the oxen. Why that was, he couldn’t say, and his uncle wouldn’t. It wasn’t as though the dumb beasts were going anywhere on their own, yet they apparently needed babysitting.

It had been about four months of this. They would reach a little town which only seemed to exist to supply the wagon train with goods. Josiah would go into a store, and something would go wrong. He would try to sell them something, or buy something at the lowest price imaginable, and Arthur would stay and watch the oxen. Anyone would think that Arthur had no skills, which wasn’t true. He was a good talker and people generally liked him. So why he was stuck on animal duty, he couldn’t quite grasp. To him, it seemed a total waste of talent. Surely, he wouldn’t be thrown out of establishments as often as Uncle Josiah was.

And here came his uncle now, a short, plump man with a balding head and a long drooping mustache. Beside him was a tall man, large and muscled. He had two holsters on his hips, each holding a gleaming pistol and an equally well polished badge pinned to his waistcoat for all to see.

“Now, Mr. Corrigan, surely, you can see the sense of what Mr. O’Farrell was saying,” the tall man said. “It’s pretty late in the year to be heading up into the passes. They’ll be snowed in before long and so will you if you continue on. You should listen to him. He is not just the owner of the trader, but was also an explorer not so long ago. He knows this part of the journey and all its dangers.”

“I understand Sheriff… ah… Corey, was it?” Josiah asked.

“That’s right, sir,” the sheriff said.

“But my nephew and I simply must reach California before winter sets in,” Josiah said, smiling in an unpleasant manner that he thought was charming but made Arthur’s skin crawl.

“Will your cargo spoil?” the sheriff asked.

“Um… no,” Josiah said, and there was that oily smile again. “It’s all tools and the like, you know, hammers, nails, saws and suchlike. It’s not the goods so much as the people I’m worried about.” He inclined his head at Arthur as though trying to say that he was the one eager to go on.

Arthur sighed but said nothing. He had promised to look after Josiah, and he meant to keep that promise, despite the older man making it really hard to do.

The sheriff didn’t look convinced. His eye lingered on Arthur for a moment before returning to Josiah where it stayed.

“All right,” Sheriff Corey said. “But at least spend the night. That thunderstorm is blowing in fast. You don’t want to get caught in one up here. They can be unpredictable and violent.”

“I think we can handle it,” Josiah said, hooking his thumbs in his suspenders. “We’re New Yorkers. We’re made of some stern stuff.”

The sheriff nodded. “Well, it’s your decision, but there are rooms at the hotel, and there is a barn your oxen can spend the night in. Think about it, or we’ll most likely be scraping you and the young man there, up off the bottom of a cliff.”

Arthur didn’t like the sound of that. Dead at twenty-six was not what he wanted. Dead at the bottom of a cliff was not something he wanted to happen, ever.

“Uncle,” he said when Josiah was back at the wagon. “Shouldn’t we stay? The folks around here know about the weather and such. Surely, it would make more sense to listen to them?” He cast an eye skyward and had to agree with the sheriff. The clouds didn’t look friendly at all.

“Oh, this town is rubbish!” Josiah said, waving his words away. “We’ll be better off camping under the trees. I’ll bet you that storm is just going to be wind and some lightning and then blow itself out.”

“This isn’t home, Josiah,” Arthur said, gritting his teeth. How he hated it when his uncle was stupidly stubborn. “We could be in a lot of trouble if you don’t listen to them.”

Josiah climbed up into the driver’s seat and picked up the reins. “Listen, if you’re so scared, you can stay here and pay through the nose for a room. These folks make their money off of folks like us coming through here. It’s the same as any of the other towns we’ve passed through on the way. They’re vultures waiting to pick a corpse clean. We aren’t going to give them the satisfaction. Now get up here or I will leave you here.”

Arthur looked around the town of Cedar Slopes. On the way out west, he had seen some real little no future towns clawing out a living on the trail. Most of those places were packed with inns, hotels, brothels, stores, wagon repair shops and so on, all catering to the traveler. This place looked different.

For one thing, there was one hotel he could see and a saloon. There were stores that sold leather goods, furs, fresh produce and the like, but it seemed more to be part of the town and geared for the locals than for travelers. Also, he had seen a group of men, axes and saws in hand, coming up the street from the direction they planned to go in. They looked like lumberjacks, and he wondered if perhaps that was how Cedar Slopes kept itself on the map.

“What’s it going to be, boy?” Josiah asked.

Arthur sighed. It wasn’t much of a choice. He climbed up on the seat and said a silent prayer that Josiah wasn’t driving them to their deaths.

“Okay, so what happened in the trader?” Arthur asked, regarding his uncle as he flicked the reins and got the oxen underway.

“Nothing, let’s just get out of here,” Josiah said. His expression told Arthur plenty. Once again, the great businessman Josiah Corrigan had gone into a place cocky and arrogant. He had no doubt insulted the owner or manager and then wondered why they wouldn’t do business with him.

It was times like this that Arthur missed his father dearly. Well, he wasn’t really his father and Josiah wasn’t his uncle.

Many years ago, when Arthur was around five years old, the man who would become his father came to the orphan asylum in New York City and picked him out of all the hundreds of boys there. Mr. Elias Corrigan adopted him, just like that, and Arthur went to live with him and his brother Josiah.

Elias was a kind, generous, wonderful man who had loved Arthur as though he was his own blood. It was from him that Arthur learned to talk to people, get on their good side, be friendly, and then make a sale. The two brothers had owned a hardware store and generally made good money. Elias would be out front making friends and talking to people, while Josiah would handle the books. For many years, things went well, and Arthur thought he would live his life in New York City, with Elias and Josiah, and be perfectly happy.

But fate wasn’t interested in the dreams of one young man and had dealt them all a hard blow, Elias, hardest of all.

“I thought we were going to spend a few days here,” Arthur said moodily. Thinking of the past, of his father, always brought out the sadness that lived deep within him.

“Well, tough,” Josiah said, massaging the hand holding the reins with his other one. He had arthritic joints, and that seemed to pain when weather was imminent.

Arthur watched him massaging the joints. Seeing where he was looking, his uncle asked and shook his head.

“Doesn’t mean anything,” Josiah said.

“Really? You always say it means bad weather is on the way,” Arthur said.

“Well, that’s in New York, okay. Who knows what it means out here,” Josiah said, and stopped rubbing his knuckles.

Groaning inwardly, Arthur let it go. Picking a fight with Josiah was like hitting one’s head against a big, hard rock. All it got him was a headache.

“Yes, the sooner this place is far behind us, the better. The gold fields and the desperate miners await, my boy!” Josiah said as he flicked the reins, and the oxen began to move faster. “We are going to be so very rich.”

When he’d first heard that line come out of his uncle’s mouth, Arthur had entertained the idea that it might be a good thing to do. His uncle might have come across a good piece of information that could possibly pan out. In his experience though, Josiah’s sure things were a little less sure than a maybe. They also tended to cost more money than they made. That was another reason for the wagon and the trek out west. Bad investments, worse friends and a whole bunch of unsavory folks lined up at their store’s door had led to them needing to get out of New York with a certain kind of speed.

Arthur, who tended to read a lot more than his uncle did, had thought it a little late to leave the city for the trek west. Folks recommended starting in May, or latest beginning of June. Leaving when the calendar was almost in July was insane. Then also dallying in some towns was not a wise thing to do, and yet it was exactly what they had done.

At one point, when Uncle Josiah seemed to have fallen in love with a singer in a brothel, Arthur had thought their trek west was at its end. However, as was Josiah’s way, he had somehow managed to anger the young lady so by the next morning, he was kicked out of the establishment in his birthday suit.

Arthur especially enjoyed the bit where one of Uncle Josiah’s boots had hit him in the head. The singer had a good aim and a strong arm. It had clouted him in the back of the head, causing him to stumble down the steps. That was a good day.

If Arthur had had a camera at that point, he would never have had to take orders from his uncle again. That picture would have been worth his weight in gold. But those things were heavy, complicated and took far too long to take a picture. Anyway, the image was burned into Arthur’s mind and made him chuckle whenever he thought of it. There was something pathetic and comic about a man in his forties, holding his clothes in his hands and trying to look as though he had a shred of pride left.

So far, their trek westward had been punctuated with such encounters. They had been thrown out of a saloon in Wyoming, because Uncle Josiah had cheated at cards. They had been locked up for a night when Uncle Josiah got uproariously drunk and smashed an expensive bottle of whiskey in the local saloon, and then refused to pay for it. Arthur suspected they had only been allowed to leave because the sheriff was sick of hearing Josiah singing in his cell.

“Not thinking of leaving me, are you boy?” Josiah asked. “You know that would go against Elias’ last wish. Didn’t he say you were to stick with me?”

“I was only nineteen at the time,” Arthur said, but didn’t press the issue. He didn’t like to think what would happen to Josiah if he wasn’t there to sweet talk everyone once his uncle had ruffled their feathers. He would have been shot in several towns, Arthur was certain of it.

Lightning flashed in the clouds overhead. It was bright and rippled through the roiling billows of clouds. The sky was black, and the clouds had a heavy, blue-black look to them that Arthur thought was definitely trouble looming.

“Josiah,” he said, trying one last time to talk some sense into the man. “It’s not too late.”

They weren’t too far from Cedar Slopes. They could turn around and still make it back to the hotel before whatever those clouds carried came down on them. At this point in their journey, Arthur wouldn’t have been surprised if it rained snakes and frogs.

“Oh, grow a spine,” Josiah said. “You whine like a little girl. We’ll be fine.”

Lightning flashed again, and large drops began to fall on them.

Arthur made a decision. He grabbed the reins and pulled on them.

“Hey!” Josiah bellowed. “Give those back, you traitor!”

“No! I want to live,” Arthur said. “We’re turning around and going back. I don’t want to end up dead in a ditch or at the bottom of a ravine.”

Josiah reached for the reins and tried to take them back. Arthur wasn’t letting go. Perhaps it was the mixed signals, but the oxen were speeding up. That was the last thing Arthur wanted to happen. He pulled on the reins again and his uncle slapped him in the face.

Shocked, Arthur let go of the reins and held his cheek. He hadn’t expected that. He stared at his uncle and then reached for the reins again. Josiah was a madman; he was going to get them killed.

A cart, going the other way seemed to come out of nowhere. Arthur watched them bounce to the side and right themselves as they sped towards town.

But the fight wasn’t over. Arthur grabbed the reins and pulled. Something went wrong. The oxen went one way and the wagon another. It hit a boulder and the last thing Arthur recalled was seeing the world tip dangerously to the right. Then there was a pain in his head and everything went black.

“Love Amidst the Wild” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

In the remote town nestled amidst the rugged peaks of the Sierra Nevada mountains, Yvette Stone has always cherished the simplicity of her life. One fateful day, she pulls a young man from the wreck of a wagon, and suddenly love becomes a possibility for her. Despite his haughty demeanor, Yvette is drawn to his captivating gaze like a moth to a flame…

Will her world be turned upside down forever?

For Arthur, the journey west has been an arduous and dangerous one, shadowed by his uncle’s rage. However, when the townsfolk rescue him and his uncle from the wreck, Arthur sees the glimmer of a new life. As he begins to explore the beauty of the town and the magic of its people and meets Yvette, he is torn between his duty to his uncle and his love for her.

He must defend his newfound bliss…

As the winter approaches with its unforgiving chill, Yvette and Arthur know that their time together is fleeting. Can they find a way to save the town from encroaching outsiders? In this heart-wrenching and evocative tale set against the backdrop of the rugged wilderness, Yvette and Arthur must find the courage to fight for their love and the survival of the town, no matter what it takes.

“Love Amidst the Wild” 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!

One thought on “Love Amidst the Wild (Preview)”

Leave a Reply

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