A Promise to the Outlaw’s Heart (Preview)

Chapter One

“All our prayers are with you and the girls. If you ever need help with anything, you know where we are,” Mr. Sherman whispered so quietly Lucy almost couldn’t hear him.

“Thank you. I might very well take you up on that,” she replied with a gentle smile, not wanting to let on how much help she truly needed.

There, to her left, was the freshly dug grave where her father had just been laid to rest. Beside him was the spot where her mother had been buried eight years earlier, with another generation of Hales behind them. That plot was where she was, along with her younger sisters, destined to find peace when their time came.

Just then, however, there was very little peace to be found for Lucy. Never in her wildest nightmares had she ever imagined inheriting her family’s ranch at the tender age of twenty-two, without a single living relative to rely on and two little sisters to support.

Her father’s death had been unexpected, to say the least. One day, he’d been galloping around Stone River, the sizeable cattle ranch her grandfather had built from the ground up, and the next, Mr. Hale was confined to bed, barely able to breathe without coughing up blood. The doctors couldn’t explain it, and Lucy didn’t want to. She didn’t want to believe it was real.

All the funeral arrangements and caring for her younger sisters over the past three days since the death had forced Lucy to keep her panic at bay. She’d needed to show the girls that everything was going to be all right and ensure them that good days would come again. Now that the burial was completed and all the mourners were headed home, real life was supposed to resume.

“Miss Lucinda, I can’t tell you how sorry I am for your loss. Your father was a good man. One of the best, if you ask me,” Calvin Tennyson announced loudly, putting an unwanted hand on Lucy’s shoulder.

“Thank you,” she responded. She’d said the same words so many times throughout the day, the syllables were starting to sound like nonsense.

Calvin took a step closer. The grief-stricken look on his face was over the top, telling Lucy what she already knew about the man. The handsome son of a wealthy rancher thought the world belonged to him. He could get away with just about anything, thanks to his bank account and rugged good looks. But Lucy saw through it to the smarmy snake that hid just under the surface.

“You’re looking very pretty, if you don’t mind me saying. Tragedy suits you. Listen, I think we both know what your father wanted. I’m set to inherit my father’s ranch, and you’re going to be in over your head pretty soon with everything at Stone River. I see no need to delay our destiny if you don’t. We’re going to run this territory once everything’s settled.”

Lucy bristled. “I’m in mourning, Mr. Tennyson. It’s unseemly to be having such conversations only moments after I buried my father.”

Calvin nodded smugly, unwilling to acknowledge her rejection of his thinly veiled advances.

“I hear you loud and clear, and you’re right. We should be subtle about this, for the sake of your father’s memory. Don’t forget, though, it’s what he wanted. Oh! What’s this in my pocket?” Calvin asked, turning abruptly to the girls standing next to Lucy. With the same flashiness Lucy detested about him, Calvin whipped out two hard candies and presented them to her younger sisters, who offered weak smiles in response.

“Say thank you, girls,” Lucy urged, though she secretly wished they’d disobey her.

“Thank you, Mr. Tennyson,” Sally and Mary replied in tepid unison.

“You’re very welcome. I’ll come by tomorrow morning with more if you behave yourselves. Keep your chins up and make sure you help Miss Lucinda.”

Lucy could have sworn Calvin winked at her as he took his leave, which made her stomach turn. She’d known for ages that her father wanted their two families to be joined in matrimony, but that didn’t make Lucy any more attracted to the idea of marrying the man.

“I’m tired,” Sally whined, tugging on Lucy’s sleeve.

At just eight years old, Sally was the baby of the family. She’d taken the tragedy about as well as could be expected. The cheery girl’s usual shine was dulled, and Lucy had only gotten her to eat one meal a day since the loss.

“Just a little while longer, then we can go home,” Lucy promised, squeezing Sally’s hand.

She swallowed back her tears as she greeted more friends of the family, trying not to think about the massive responsibility that now rested on her shoulders. Stone River Ranch was one of the largest operations in Montana, and Lucy was not equipped to take over the management of it. No one was.

Eventually, the last of the grieving neighbors headed home, and the Hale girls were left standing at the feet of their ancestors. The plot had been selected generations ago for its view of the mountains guarding the ranch. Dandelions dotted the hill like little pops of sunshine, standing in stark opposition to the mood of the day. Lucy almost wished it were raining. The blazing sun and distinct lack of cloud cover that day felt like a cruel joke.

Her grandparents had first come to Montana territory when they were no older than Lucy was now. They’d toiled for years in the wilderness through wretched winters and summer droughts to build Stone River into all that it was. By the time Lucy was born, the ranch was practically churning out gold, the envy of all cowboys who’d heard of the place. It was a legacy Lucy felt the weight of all too well.

“What do we do now?” the sullen Mary asked, too exhausted to pretend to be nice anymore. While Lucy hoped to preserve what remained of Sally’s childhood, she was afraid Mary’s was already over. Though she was just thirteen, Lucy was going to have to give her responsibilities no girl her age ought to bear. Given their circumstances, there was little choice.

“We go back to the house and have dinner,” Lucy replied simply.

“I know that. I’m not stupid,” Mary shot back. “I mean how are we going to carry on?”

Lucy gritted her teeth and turned on her heel, leading the way back to the house and trying to ignore her sister’s rudeness. Mary was just lashing out, and Lucy couldn’t blame her for that. She only wished there was someone she could take it out on in the same way.

“That will be a great adventure we’ll have to figure out together,” Lucy said, forcing a weak smile. “I’ll meet with Hal in the morning. He’s been here for years, and I’m sure he won’t mind—”

“Hal is just a ranch hand, Lucy. He might know how to take care of the cattle, but he doesn’t have relationships with sellers or know how to balance the books,” Mary pointed out. Sometimes, Lucy wished the girl wasn’t quite so smart for her age.

“Well, taking care of the cattle is the biggest immediate task, and Hal and the boys have that under control. In terms of the books and managing the business… I’ll have to go through what’s in the office and figure it out.”

“And the bank. You’ll have to talk to the bank. Then there’s sorting out everyone’s pay. Did you know there are thirty-three people who work at Stone River? They’re all going to need their money at the end of the week. Do you know how to sort that out? If we don’t pay them, they’re going to leave, and then—”

“Yes, thank you, Mary. I’m aware that the hands will need to be paid,” Lucy interrupted, her patience waning.

“Sometimes Father got loans to tide the business over during the winter months. No one’s going to give you a loan,” Mary pointed out.

The interrogation was getting under Lucy’s skin, and she was afraid that if Mary had much more to say, she wouldn’t be able to keep her tears under control any longer. Once the floodgates opened, Lucy wasn’t sure anyone or anything could stop them.

“I don’t have all the answers right now, Mary. What I do know is that we don’t have a choice except to do our best and carry on. We’ll take it one day at a time. Our grandparents built this place from the ground up—the least we can do is keep it on its feet. I know Father was hoping for sons, but we were born on this land with this name, and we will make sure Stone River Ranch thrives for generations to come.”

“I want to help!” Sally chirped, more invigorated by Lucy’s speech than she herself was. Mary, on the other hand, was immune to Lucy’s feigned enthusiasm.

“I’m going to have to stop going to school, aren’t I?” she asked flatly.

Lucy’s spirit crushed down another five or so inches. Asking Mary to stop attending school was the last thing she wanted to do, but the thought had crossed her mind.

“No. Not yet, anyway,” Lucy told her honestly. “Give me a chance to keep things running. There will be extra responsibilities for us all, but I don’t want you to give up your education.”

Mary didn’t say anything, but Lucy could feel her skepticism. If even her own sister didn’t think she could handle taking care of the ranch, then it was no wonder Lucy hardly believed in herself. If she’d been born a boy, she would have been trained and prepared for this moment from the time she first oiled a saddle. As it was, Lucy had been schooled in very different subjects. Churning butter came easier to her than mucking out a stable.

The huge house felt empty with just the three of them. The warm wooden beams running through the vaulted ceiling echoed with ghostly desolation, and even the fireplace was cold. The ranch hands had eaten earlier in the day, leaving Lucy and her sisters to enjoy the leftover stew the cook had made.

None of them were particularly hungry, and Lucy didn’t feel like forcing her sisters into eating anything she couldn’t bring herself to consume either. It had only been three days, but she was already tired of being a continuous good example. Mary pushed her spoon around in her bowl while Sally played with the warm wax expelled by the candle on the table, completely ignoring her food.

“What do you say we sleep together tonight? I can read the next chapter of Alice in Wonderland. I think we’re at the part where Alice—”

“You know you’re going to have to get married,” Mary announced, boldly interrupting Lucy’s bid at normalcy. She let her spoon clatter against the bowl. Lucy could sit through any and all of Mary’s incessant questions and criticisms, but marriage was one topic she was not prepared to talk about.

“I can’t think about love right now. I’m in mourning.”

“I’m not talking about love. I’m talking about marriage,” Mary clarified. “We’re not going to get very far without a man in the household, and before you bring him up, Hal doesn’t count. Mr. Tennyson, on the other hand…”

Lucy shuddered at the thought of Calvin. The man was a brute. A handsome one, yes, but his chiseled jaw couldn’t make up for his beastly personality. His smile was rat-like, and Lucy had never had one conversation with him that hadn’t made her feel like he was trying to suck something out of her soul.

“I’m serious, Mary. I’m not going to talk to you about marriage, and I’m certainly never going to consider marrying Calvin.”

“But that’s what Father wanted. Everyone knows that. He wanted you to marry Calvin and merge our ranch with his.”

It took every ounce of strength Lucy had to not storm away from the table right then and there.

Mary was right. In fact, the very last thing Mr. Hale had told his eldest daughter, on his deathbed, was that he wished for her to marry Calvin. He’d had no words of wisdom with regard to carrying on his legacy. Instead, he’d simply told her to marry a man who would take care of it all for her.

“If Father was still alive, I’d tell him exactly what I’m telling you now, Mary. I will never marry Calvin Tennyson. He’s arrogant and dismissive, and I hate the way he calls me ‘Lucinda.’ Trust me, when you get to be a marriageable age, you’ll understand. I used to think I’d be happy to marry whoever my parents decided on, but I see how naïve that is now.”

“But that’s so selfish! If you married Calvin, then he’d know exactly what to do with this place. I wouldn’t have to leave school to help out with the books, and we could all just carry on as normal!”

“Nothing’s normal anymore, Mary. Nothing. We’re going to have to make new traditions and forge a new life together. I’m sorry I’m not willing to sacrifice myself for your happiness, but I promise, you’d make the same demands if you were in my shoes. I promise I’ll figure it out, and I’m going to do my best to keep you in school until you’re sick of it,” Lucy retorted.

“Stop yelling!” Sally cried out, bursting into tears she’d clearly been fending off for hours. Fed up, Mary grabbed the untouched bowls on the table and took them into the kitchen. Even in her anger, she still managed to do the cleaning up.

“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to shout like that. Come here,” Lucy said, waving for Sally to come sit on her lap.

A few minutes later, a sheepish Mary reappeared from the kitchen, anger now dissipated.

“Can I sit on your lap too?” she asked in a whisper. Lucy nodded, even though there almost certainly wasn’t room. Sally shifted her weight on Lucy’s thigh, and Mary squeezed on.

Together, the three of them formed a very uncomfortable but heartwarming lump. Squished between her only remaining family, Lucy finally let the tears come. The world was doing its best to tear the sisters apart, but even if the ranch went sideways, she would do whatever it might take to keep them close.

The three sisters did sleep in the same bed that night, taking what comfort they could from each other’s warmth. Sally fell asleep the fastest, followed by Mary, but sleep eluded Lucy. Even in the dark, she found herself staring up at the ceiling, picking apart the shadows of beams above her while trying to forget the words Mary had said to her earlier.

“No one will give you a loan. You need to get married. You need a husband. We need a man to help,” Mary taunted in Lucy’s imagination.

She hated how true the words were. Hal, the head ranch hand, could take care of plenty around the place, but all the business management would be over his head. Mr. Hale had never taken the time to teach Lucy about how it all worked, because he’d assumed her future husband would take over those affairs. If only she’d been born a man, none of this would be a problem.

There was no use crying over what couldn’t be changed. The reality was that she was a capable woman with two younger sisters to care for, so she’d have to figure things out one way or another.

Maybe there was someone else in town she could marry. Campbellville was a small place, but there were many more men who lived there than women. Surely, she’d have her pick of the litter. Running through all the eligible bachelors she could think of, however, no one came to mind.

Dylan, the son of the general store owner, was too young, though he was sweet and possessed the financial skills necessary. She had a good rapport with Dr. Finnigan, but his job already took up enough of his time. None of the ranch hands were sophisticated enough to be trusted with Stone River.

For a moment, Lucy considered the possibility of simply marrying someone whose name she could use to secure bank loans and business deals. The girl in her was saddened by the idea, however. There was no one in Campbellville who she could picture herself falling in love with. Perhaps love was a luxury, but it was a dream Lucy wasn’t ready to give up on just yet.

Unable to sleep, she carefully climbed over her sisters and stepped out of bed, feeling the cold smoothness of the floorboards her grandfather had sanded down and oiled with his own two hands. After lighting a candle, she went downstairs into the big open receiving room with the cavernous stone fireplace in the center.

She sat down on the ground in front of the mantle, staring out into the endless dark. The house was lonely, too big for just the three of them. It had been built to hold multiple generations, and Lucy had always imagined her parents playing with her children right where she was sitting.

As she tried to distract herself from the sadness of it all, her eye caught a glimpse of a pile of old newspapers, now set aside to help start fires with. She pulled out an old edition of the Montana Times, flipping through to the personal advertisements.

Holding the candle close, Lucy read through the vulnerable postings. Childless widowers in search of a new young wife to start over with. New farmers, living in areas without a single unmarried woman to choose from, looking for a partner. Lucy’s heart went out to the men who were doing whatever they could to start a family for themselves.

Their collective loneliness reached out to her, and Lucy considered herself a kindred spirit to many of them. There were even one or two that she might have answered, had she been willing to move to Texas or Oregon. Stone River was her legacy, however, and she would only ever leave if she was ripped away from the place.

Still, her imagination got the better of her. She dreamed of a different, more independent life, one where she might be able to board a train and head to the other side of the county in the hopes of finding love with a stranger. Lucy pictured stepping off the steam engine, the flood of smoke parting to reveal a handsome, unassuming farmer with a glint in his eye meant only for her.

After a while, she got so wrapped up in her fantasy that she let the candle veer a bit too close to the paper, and it went up in flames.

“No! Out, out,” she whispered to herself, slapping the enflamed paper down on the stone ground. By the time the flames were finally extinguished, her candle had also gone out, leaving Lucy sitting in darkness. A sliver of moonlight streamed in through the windows, hitting nothing but the floor.

Lucy laughed at herself slightly as she fumbled around for another match to relight her candle. Once she had light again, she picked up the newspaper to throw it into the fireplace when a particular posting caught her eye.


Twenty-four-year-old single woman in search of husband to help manage hotel in Vermont. Most men in town recently killed in mining accident. Charming, with good cooking, sewing, and knitting skills. Seeking God-loving man who appreciates companionship.


Her lips parted slightly in surprise as she read the message. In all her years of reading personal advertisements, she’d never come across a note from a woman looking for a husband. The brazen honesty of the posting impressed Lucy, and she deeply felt the loneliness being communicated through the sparse words.

“Most men in town recently killed in mining accident.” The tragedy of it struck Lucy, who was already deeply in tune with life’s struggles. The devastation that the town must be experiencing made Lucy’s personal troubles pale in comparison.

Then, an idea struck her. It had never occurred to her before that a woman might place such an advertisement, but now that she’d seen it… it was impossible not to imagine what her own might look like. Though it defied logic, Lucy started to write an advertisement in her head.


Twenty-two-year-old eligible woman with two young sisters seeking husband to move to Montana territory. Must possess ranching experience and have good knowledge of sales and financial records. Come join a happy home and help relight the fires of a third-generation ranch.


She toyed with the wording of it, wondering what she could accurately say about herself without appearing shameless. Lucy had never had much reason to gaze at herself in a mirror, but she’d always been told she was pretty. Her dark hair was long and sleek, and the pure green of her eyes sometimes took folks aback. She was tall for a woman, but she’d heard some men preferred a tall woman, if only because it often promised to help produce broad-shouldered sons.

By the wee hours of the morning, Lucy had pulled out some loose paper, a pen, and ink. She wrote and rewrote her advertisement all the while convincing herself that she would never send it in. It was simply an experiment. An experiment she needed to get just right.

In the end, she decided it was best not to brag about her looks at all. She was prouder of her other capabilities anyway, including her unrelenting common sense and exquisite pie-baking skills. She wanted to include something that spoke to her personality, in the hopes that she might attract a like-minded man.

Not that she’d be bringing these midnight musings to the post office in the morning. No, no, that would be a silly idea. Even if she did, what would happen? In all likelihood, she’d find herself waiting at the train station to receive a dumpy man who’d lied about his looks and abilities in the hopes of marrying into a wealthy family.

On the other hand… was it so unlikely that she might find a capable, stable, and kind man? There were thousands of men all over the country searching in vain for a suitable woman, and how would they know she was out there if she didn’t let them know? Maybe her dream would come true after all. Maybe the handsome, down-on-his-luck farmer would appear to her in the end. Maybe she wasn’t as brimming with common sense as she’d previously thought.

If she married someone from Campbellville, she’d know exactly what she was getting.

The idea made her shoulders fall with disappointment. At least by seeking out a stranger, her hope would live another day.

In the end, Lucy decided she was likely deluded by grief and exhaustion. If she’d eaten properly, then none of these fanciful ideas would be coming to her. But she couldn’t quite bring herself to tear up what she’d written, even if it represented the desperation she’d been forced into. Instead, she tucked the drafts in between the old newspapers destined to be firestarters.

It was fun to imagine, but she couldn’t marry a stranger.


Chapter Two

“All right, let’s get a start,” Tom grumbled to the horses. His stomach growled with hunger as the stagecoach lurched forward. It was yet another day on the trail headed west, though he felt no closer to their destination than he had three days earlier.

He tried to remind himself that this honest work was the right thing to do. It might not have secured him the quick money he’d gotten used to while traveling with the Outback Kids, but at least he wasn’t terrorizing other people to get it. Now, he was helping folks get to wherever they were going for half the money and twice the comfort to his soul. It was worth a bit of hunger.

“I hope you don’t mind me sitting up here with you today. It’s just been getting… very stuffed in the coach. I need some fresh air,” said the passenger sitting beside Tom at the front of the elaborate wagon.

Tom considered asking the man to keep his thoughts to himself because he wasn’t sure he could handle an inane conversation for the next eight hours. After a few minutes of silence, however, the boredom got to him, and a bit of chit-chat seemed pleasant after all.

“Your name is Ben, isn’t that right?” Tom asked, looking over at the man. He probably should have known his passengers a bit better after so many days on the road together, but in all honesty, he had very little interest in their lives.

“That’s right. Ben Davis. Named after my uncle,” he replied.

“Is that right?” Tom said, feigning interest. “And where are you headed?”

“Campbellville, Montana. I’m, uh, I’m… going to get married.”

Tom gave an interested grunt, suddenly more invested in Ben’s story. “Going to get married! Well, that’s exciting. Is it preemptive to say congratulations? May you and your future wife enjoy many wonderful years together. Who’s the lucky woman?”

“Her name is Lucinda Hale. Do you want to see a picture?”

“Why not?” Tom looked around at the blank landscape around them. Anything would be better than the never-ending fields, trees, and rocks they’d been riding through. He’d almost found himself wishing for more adventure—he’d been told there was a good deal of danger associated with being a stagecoach driver. So far, it seemed as bland as could be.

Ben fished around in his pocket for a while before pulling out a small portrait. He handed it to Tom, who was taken aback by the stunning beauty of the woman pictured. Her features were sharp but delicate, with piercing eyes gazing back at him from the photograph. Tom wasn’t sure he’d ever seen such a beautiful woman in real life.

“She looks like quite the catch,” Tom said, handing the photo back and taking a better look at Ben. He was a very normal man in every sense of the word. There was nothing exceptional or offensive about him. His mousy brown hair was plain but plentiful, and his rounded nose and dull eyes probably got more handsome if he wore the right thing. Someone with the grace of the woman in the photograph probably expected to marry a better-looking husband, but Tom was in no position to judge.

“She is.”

“How did you meet her if she lives all the way in Montana?” Tom asked.

“I haven’t met her. She posted an advertisement in the papers looking for a husband. I wrote to her immediately, and we’ve been writing back and forth ever since. I never thought I’d fall in love with someone I’ve never seen with my own two eyes, but here we are!”

The man was giddy and Tom couldn’t blame him, though he was pretty sure he knew exactly why Ben had fallen in love. This Lucinda woman was not only stunning, but if they’d only communicated via letters, then Ben had probably been able to easily forge an imaginative version of her based on his own fantasies of what he wanted her to be. Tom himself was half in love with the picture already, though he knew it was impossible to truly love an image without knowing the soul.

“And have you… sent her a photo in exchange?” he asked carefully.

“No. There’s no photographer where I’m from. No photographer, judge, hotel, or… women. I hope she’ll like my appearance. I’ve described myself accurately, and she didn’t express any disappointment.”

“I’m sure she’ll be very pleased when she sees you. Can I ask… why did she post an advertisement looking for a husband? I’ve heard of lonely men in far-off frontier towns sending away for wives, but…” He trailed off, not wanting to say out loud that he frankly thought Lucinda was too good-looking to have to resort to such desperate means to find a husband.

“I asked that very question myself. It seems there’s simply no one in her town that she wants to marry. Also, there’s a man her late father expected her to wed, whom Lucinda finds obnoxious. Telling him that she was already engaged to someone else was the only way to get him to relent with his courtship attempts.”

“Hmm,” Tom replied, thinking to himself that this Lucinda character seemed too picky for her own good.

“She needs someone to help her run the ranch she’s just inherited from her father, and I have extensive experience in the area. My father doesn’t own anything, however, and I don’t have enough money to start my own ranch. I’ve said as much to Lucy, and she told me none of that matters to her.”

“That’s generous,” Tom noted. If her ranch was really so successful, then she’d be expected to marry into a wealthy family. If it wasn’t money she was interested in, maybe she wasn’t quite as difficult as he’d first assumed.

“And she has two younger sisters to care for,” Ben continued, unswayed by Tom’s lackluster responses. “I’ve always wanted children, of course, so it will be a good practice for fatherhood.”

Ben continued rambling about how often his parents were going to visit, and how he hoped they’d eventually move to the area, but Tom was too distracted to listen to the details. He’d never considered marriage before as a money-making scheme, but maybe it was time for him to give it more thought. He was twice as handsome as Ben. Surely, there would be plenty of wealthy widows looking to catch themselves a young gent to enjoy their final days with. Anything would be better than toiling away as a stagecoach driver for much longer.

“A Promise to the Outlaw’s Heart” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

In the sprawling expanse of the American frontier, Lucy Hale, a headstrong and resolute young woman, faces the daunting task of safeguarding her family’s ranch. With her striking determination and unwavering spirit, Lucy defies the dangers of the wild West. Her life takes an unexpected turn when she places a mail-order husband ad, a desperate bid to fend off a menacing suitor threatening her beloved homestead. But can she trust the stranger who answers her call?

Is her bold move a leap towards love or a plunge into peril?

Thomas Blackwood, a man with a shadowed past, steps into Lucy’s world under the guise of her mail-order husband. Once an outlaw, Tom’s rugged demeanor masks a troubled soul seeking redemption. Drawn to Lucy’s fierce independence, he finds himself torn between his deceptive intentions and a growing affection. As he confronts his past, Tom wonders…

Can he protect Lucy without revealing the secrets that haunt him?

As Lucy and Tom’s paths intertwine, they navigate a maze of deception. Their burgeoning relationship is tested by the harsh realities of the frontier and the shadows of Tom’s past. Will their fragile bond survive the trials of the untamed West, blossoming into a love as enduring as the rugged landscape they call home?

“A Promise to the Outlaw’s Heart” 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!

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