An Outlaw’s Tender Promise (Preview)

Chapter One


“That will be $2.34, Miss Hale,” Margaret announced formally as she finished working out Essie’s grocery bill.

“Thank you, Mrs. Ramsey,” Essie replied, in the same polite tone, all the while trying not to let her amusement show. 

Esther and Margaret had been friends since they were children, and as little girls, they had played at ‘shop,’ taking it in turns to be the shopkeeper. 

Since Margaret married Drew Ramsey almost a year ago, after working as his shop assistant in the fast-growing South River Bend in South-West Texas, she’d got to live out their childhood fantasy every day. 

Essie looked over her shoulder to make sure there were no other customers nearby. 

“Can I charge it to our account, Maggie, please?” she whispered, hating to as but knowing there was no other way.

Maggie smiled kindly as she took a step away from the counter, pushed aside the fabric covering the shelves underneath, and bent, with some effort, to retrieve the account book. Her baby was due in a matter of weeks, and her belly was as big as it could be. 

She turned to a page with the letter H written in ink at the top and ran her finger down a list of name until she reached Hale. Essie was embarrassed to note all the names above hers were crossed out, meaning their bills had been settled. There were a number of entries under her surname, with not a line in sight. 

“Drew would have a conniption if he knew I was doing this, Essie. You’re lucky he’s out making deliveries at the moment.” Maggie wrote the amount very carefully, with the day’s date, and pushed the book toward Essie for her to sign. 

“And I am truly grateful, Maggie. I’ll do my very best to pay the debt as soon as I can,” Essie whispered as she lifted her blue eyes to meet Maggie’s kindly green gaze. 

Maggie squeezed Essie’s hand and returned the book under the counter. 

“Patrick,” Maggie called over her shoulder to her husband’s shop assistant, who was stacking shelves at the back of the store. “Please could you pack up Miss Hale’s groceries and load them in her cart?”

“Yes, ma’am.” Patrick appeared instantly, wiping his hands in the canvas apron tied around his waist, a pleasant smile on his face. “Miss Hale.” 

Essie returned the smile but looked away immediately, careful not to encourage him. 

“Tilly, Nicholas, here’s a lollipop each. Can you entertain yourselves out back, while I visit with your sister?” Maggie gave Essie’s brother and sister the candy, and they nodded eagerly, running to the back of the store, and out into the small yard beyond. 

Essie accompanied her friend up the steps at the back of the store, to the apartment above, where Maggie and Drew lived. 

“Patrick is still sweet on you, Essie,” Maggie puffed out as they reached the top. “If you let him court you, it might put Archie off.”

Essie rolled her eyes, it’s a conversation they had every time she came to town for groceries. 

“Sit, rest,” Essie instructed Maggie, noticing the pink flush on her pale cheeks. “I’ll fetch water.”

With each of the three siblings that her mother had, Jonas being the first, when Essie was just ten, she became more and more familiar with the different stages of pregnancy and recognized Maggie was getting tired. 

“Patrick is a good man, but I don’t care for him in that way, as you know, Maggie.” Essie poured a glass of water for them both. “Besides, you know Archie considers himself without peer. If Patrick declared any affection for me, Archie would make him feel like he was worthless. I have no intentions of marrying anyone, Patrick, or Archie.”

“Whatever happened to Archie Oldham? He was such a sweet boy when we were growing up,” Maggie pondered.

“That baby in your belly is making you remember things with rose-colored spectacles,” Essie scoffed. “Archie was a spoiled brat and still is.”

The Oldham Ranch was next to the Hale farm, and Essie and Archie grew up together. They were inseparable until he was 12 and sent away to boarding school when his kind English mother passed away. There had been a joke between the two families that Essie and Archie would marry and have beautiful babies, delicate dark-haired blue-eyed girls, and big strong blond-haired hazel-eyed boys. But the joke became more serious when Archie’s father took ill, and a gentleman’s agreement, no more than a whisper and a handshake, between Essie’s father and Mr. Oldham that if the Hales were to pass away, that Essie and Archie would wed, merging the two farms together.

When Archie came home at 18, he was an entitled, arrogant brute, who expected, no, demanded of those around him, including his aging father. Learning of the agreement, Archie took great joy in teasing Essie, for years, that he would wait for her, even though he had a reputation as a cad, and Essie had no intention of marrying him.

Just eight months ago, Essie’s parents, visiting the nearby town of Big Bend, were killed when a bank robbery went wrong, leaving Essie and her three siblings orphans. Archie drunkenly proposed to Essie at the wake and couldn’t seem to understand why she turned him down on the spot. 

He pursued her at every available opportunity, insensitive and uncaring as to Essie’s loss. After two months of haranguing, when Archie arrived at the farm, almost forcing himself upon her, Jonas, then fourteen, had aimed their father’s shotgun firmly at Archie’s head and told him to leave his sister alone. 

Archie gave a bitter laugh and batted the young man clear across the room, causing Essie to make a promise she’d regretted ever since. 

“Archie, it would be disrespectful to their memories— “Essie had paused, as a sneer crossed Archie’s face. “And to your own sweet mother and father, to plan such a joyous event, when we are all so deep in mourning their loss. Especially the children.”

He’d looked at her for a long moment, considering her words, glanced at a humiliated Jonas, and told her that the moment she had finished mourning, he would take her as his wife. 

Finishing her glass of water, and smoothing her black mourning dress as she stood, Essie heard a commotion outside. Maggie joined her and they saw Archie staggering out of the saloon opposite with a glass of ale in his hand. 

“Time to go,” Essie said, and hugged her friend goodbye. “I’ll visit again soon, Maggie. And thank you again for—”

Pride prickled at the back of her eyes. 

“What are friends for?”

Essie rounded up Tilly and Nicholas from the yard, and they walked to the laden cart. Archie stood in the middle of the street, goading anyone who walked past him, and as Essie drew level in the cart, he roared for everyone to hear. 

“There goes my future wife, Essie Hale. I see you, hiding behind those widow’s weeds. You’ll be mine soon enough, girl, and I can’t wait to see what’s under— “

“Cover your ears, children,” Essie ordered, and flipped the reins gently against the horse’s neck to gee him up. 

Don’t hold your breath, Archie Oldham. I’ll wear black for the rest of my life if it keeps you at bay.


“Essie, Nicholas keeps pushing me,” Tilly whined from the cart bed behind Essie. 

Essie, deep in her own thoughts, didn’t turn her head as she spoke. 

“Nicholas, leave your sister be, please.”

There was silence for a moment, but then Tilly burst into noisy tears, and Essie collected the reins in one hand, and twisted in her seat to glare at her siblings. The afternoon sun beat down on them, making the children fractious.

“We’re nearly home.” She crossed the fingers of her free hand because she knew it was going to be at least another 30 minutes before they reached the top of the hill, which would lead them down into the dip where they lived. “Please be nice to each other.”

The cart listed to one side, suddenly unseating Tilly and throwing her into her brother’s lap. Essie slid across the bench seat to look at the track under the cart and saw a big rock in a divot in the sunbaked dirt. The ancient wooden wheel was twisted, and she could see at least three broken spokes. 

“Is it broken?” Nicholas hung off the side of the cart, causing it to wobble. 

Essie got down, undid the horse’s harness, and looked at the damage. The whole cart was held together with hope and a prayer before her parents passed away, and this looked like the end of the road. She could sew, darn, knit and fix, but this was too far gone. 

She nodded, and both children climbed down. 

“We’ll carry what we can.” Essie tried to sound unfazed, but with sacks of potatoes, flour, and oats, as well as preserved goods, there was only so much she could expect with two small children an a tired old horse. 


With Tilly’s arms wrapped around her neck, one arm holding her on her back, dragging the sack of potatoes with her free hand, the horse’s reins wrapped around her wrist, Essie was just about ready to drop. The crest of the steep hill was almost in sight, and then it was just a straight run down the other side to the farm. 

Essie glanced up at Nicholas balanced on the horse’s back, with a sack of flour and a sack of oats in front and behind, and she knew he was as hot and tired as she was. The farm came into sight, the house, and the barn the only features for miles. There was a slight breeze, and the air had the smell of pipe tobacco, reminding Essie of her father. He loved nothing more than sitting on the porch of an evening, puffing on his pipe, surveying his land. The memory was bittersweet, but just that. An animal had probably brushed past a tobacco plant, that was what she could smell. 

Eventually they came within a few hundred meters of the barn, crossing the recently mown hay pasture, their arrival muted by the grass. She could see Jonas, sitting at the edge of the hayloft, his feet swinging free, sucking on a pipe, no doubt liberated from where Essie had hidden her father’s smoking paraphernalia, smoke billowing from the bowl. He was facing the track that the cart would have been arriving from if the wheel hadn’t snapped.

When Jonas happened to glance to his left, from which Essie and the children were approaching silently, unexpectedly as he was no doubt relying on hearing the crunch of the cart, he swiftly dropped the whole pipe, directly onto the pile of dry hay, underneath him, which they’d cut just a few days before and stacked to fully dry out. The same hay Jonas was supposed to be forking into the barn while she was in town. 

Essie let go of the potatoes, the reins, and slid Tilly from her back, and ran as fast as she could to where the tinder dry grass started to smoke.


“Jonas,” Essie yelled, her heart hammering in her chest. “Jonas.”

Flames glowed orange at the edges of the pile, where the driest grass was. More and more smoke billowed upward. There was no real wind that day, but it would only take a slight breeze to lift the feather-lite grass and blow it toward the barn or fan the flame to the center of the stack.  

“Essie,” Jonas called back from within the barn, as he climbed down from the hayloft. “Essie, I’m sorry.”

He reached the open barn door, and stopped short, his eyes wide in horror at what he’d done. 

“Water, we need water.” His voice shook slightly as he turned one way and then the other, looking behind him. 

“Not yet,” Essie told him. “The fire is just on the outside the pile. If we can pull it apart, we might be able to save most of the grass. Grab another pitchfork.”

She picked up the fork Jonas left on the floor and started to drag the burning layer of the hay away. 

“Essie, water will put it out.” Jonas was glued to the spot and looked at his sister in confusion. 

“Water will ruin it all, Jonas. We’ve had it drying for days, even in this heat,” Essie said. “And the water pump is on the other side of the barn. All we’ve got to hand is the horses’ water trough if you remembered to fill it?”

The look on his face told her that was another chore he had yet to do, but now wasn’t the time to take him to task. 

“Pull the stack apart, now,” she ordered, and Jonas sprang into action. “Move the burning part to the right.”

They frantically raked the hay, moving the burning grass toward a flat stony piece of ground. The flames started to travel to the center of the stack, the heat from the fire building. 

“Essie.” She heard Tilly’s plaintive cry from behind, her sister’s voice full of tears. 

“Nicholas, help Tilly to fetch some water. Bring it back carefully.” Essie looked over her shoulder and caught her youngest brother’s eye, nodding to him, hoping to reassure him. 

He looked as scared as Tilly. 

“Go with Nicholas, Tilly. Go now.” Essie tried to keep the urgency from her voice, but even to her own ears it sounded tight and higher than usual. 

With the younger two out of the way for the moment, Essie turned her attention back to the fire, and saw Jonas jump back as a clump of burning hay fell at his feet. He stomped on it with his booted foot, but she could see more falling on every side. 

Essie guessed they had very little time before the fire got to the center, and the remaining grass went up in smoke. She plunged her pitchfork as deep as she could into the densely packed grass, until it hit the ground. With all her might she dragged the fork along the floor, pulling the heart of the pile out toward the left and away from the barn. It was heavy, which told her there was still some moisture not yet dried out.

“Keep going, Jonas,” Essie panted, encouraging her brother. 

Sweat dripped from his brow, as he raked and stamped, raked, and stamped, and Essie turned as she heard a sharp cracking sound. Jonas looked guilty as sin as he lifted his foot, and they both saw Pa’s favorite briar-wood pipe broken into several pieces. 

“I’m so—,” Jonas started, but she shook her head, unable to be civil just now. 

‘If you have nothing kind to say, best say nothing.’

Her mother’s words echoed in her head, and tears of frustration stung her eyes.

Nicholas and Tilly came around the corner of the barn, carrying a pail of water between them, and as they reached Jonas, the three of them stood and looked at her for instruction. 

Suddenly the weight of responsibility bore down on her shoulders, not for the first time since her parents’ death, but certainly the first time with such intense clarity. 

This is my life, forever. 

Or at least for a very long time. Essie knew it was what her parents would have expected of her, after all, she was the eldest. If only Essie had someone to tell her what to do next, how to solve each problem she was faced with. 

She took a deep breath and gave her three siblings a reassuring smile. 

“Carefully pour the water on the bits that are still burning, my loves.” Her voice was calm. “Jonas, help me spread out what’s left, so it can dry fully before we put it away.”

I am their world. I’ll do whatever it takes to make things better. 

But Essie was not sure if that included marrying Archie. 


Essie woke with a start, just as the sun started to rise. The bed sheets, twisted around her shoulders, were loosened from the corners of the mattress and she lifted her hand to the back of her neck, where her hair was damp with perspiration. In her dream, she was dressed all in white, her hair piled high, holding a bouquet of flowers, walking down a never-ending aisle toward her husband to be, Archie. 

She shivered, and pushed the idea of becoming Mrs. Archibald Oldham away, extricating herself from the binding of the sheets. Glancing over to the bed just a few feet from hers, Tilly was fast asleep, her arms thrown above her head in blissful abandon, and Essie wished she could be eight years old again, without a care in the world, sleeping peacefully, safe from the monsters that lived under the bed. 

For Essie, the monster lived on the ranch next door, and she was secretly terrified that if she didn’t find a way to make the farm work more efficiently, the nightmare that had woken her might just come true. 

Slipping softly across the room so as not to wake her sister, Essie lifted the latch on the door and crept down the stairs to the silent kitchen. The fire had almost dwindled to nothing, the dishes from last night’s meal, although clean, still stacked on the counter. This was when she missed her mother the most, early morning when Pa had already left to tend to the animals, and Ma had the kettle already boiling over the fire, and the creamy oatmeal kept warm in its thick iron pot. 

Although she was trying, she couldn’t do what Ma and Pa did, not run the farm, keep the house, raise, and school her younger brother and sister. Jonas wanted to be the man of the house, but yesterday just showed that he was not ready. The one thing she’d asked him to do when she left for town was to get the hay inside. There had been a storm in the air, the thunder and lightning that came without rain in the hot dry summer, and she hadn’t wanted to lose their winter feed. 

Jonas wasn’t mature enough to be what he wanted to be, not yet, not when he thought he knew better. As Essie coaxed the fire back to life, she knew she needed help, but with no savings and no profit from the farm, she couldn’t pay anyone. Perhaps there was a way to hire someone who would work in return for room and board. 

Essie reached for the week-old newspaper from the store and flicked through the employment section while she waited for the water to heat. There were adverts for wranglers, cowboys, farmhands, all sorts, but they all mentioned money. With a sigh, she turned the page and saw a page full of advertisements for men seeking brides. 

At least these men had a genuine need and were honest about it — mother/wife needed for widower and orphans, hard-working Christian woman needed for God-fearing man, lonely bachelor seeking the woman of his dreams. At least the woman who responded to such an ad would make it by choice. Archie didn’t want to marry her for love, but for the ranch, for the additional power and status it would bring him. 

Why wasn’t there a column for women seeking a husband? Essie ran her finger down the page, and there was one, but it was empty, like it was waiting for someone to put in a request. The kettle boiled, and Essie took it off the heat, before sitting back at the table with a pen and a blank piece of paper. 

‘Wanted – honest, dutiful, hardworking loyal man who will protect and honor his future wife and family. In return, you can expect respect, partnership and cooperation, and bountiful ranch with a secure future.’

That was what she wanted from a husband, someone who would work with her to create a future for the farm and the family. Someone who would teach and support, so that they could grow together. Maybe someone would answer the call. Anyone who is not Archie Oldham. 

“An Outlaw’s Tender Promise” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

In the harsh landscapes of the American frontier, Essie Hale wrestles with the daunting tasks of tending to her family and keeping the farm afloat after the tragic demise of her parents. She’s ensnared in a neighbor’s expectation of matrimony, a fate she views with desperation. In a daring move, Essie places an ad for a mail-order husband, hoping to find a companion who can aid her in navigating these rough terrains.

Can she trust a stranger with the protection of her family and their livelihood?

Emerging from the dark shadows of his checkered past, Amos Nash, alias Sam Abbott, finds himself at a crossroads. This strapping, rugged man carries a charm that hides his deceptive tendencies and the need to escape his history. When an unexpected tragedy provides him with an opportunity to assume a new identity, he sees a chance to start fresh. However, his past is not far behind…

With no one to trust, will Amos succumb to his old ways, or will he rise above?

As their lives intertwine, Essie and Amos grapple with a spark of unexpected attraction amidst a web of deception. Can their newfound bond withstand the weight of their pasts and the truths lurking in the shadows? In a world rife with danger, they must question if a love built on secrets can truly prevail…

“An Outlaw’s Tender Promise” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 60,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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