A Widow’s Heart Unveiled (Preview)

Chapter One

Independence, Missouri 1848

It was a fine day for the time of year, sunny and bright. Just another reminder that Abigail was letting time slip away and wouldn’t be able to get it back.

A few folks were there that day, dabbing their eyes with clean handkerchiefs, clutching wilting bunches of flowers in their fists.

It was a strange custom, bringing flowers for the dead. Or at least, Abigail had always thought so.

“When I die,” Daniel had said once, “I don’t want any nonsense. No flowers or ribbons on my coffin, thank you kindly.”

She laughed, of course, and said that, if he remembered, he’d agreed to let her die first. People had brought flowers, of course, and laid them on Daniel’s coffin, just like he said he hadn’t wanted.

She hadn’t had the strength to say anything. After all, they were only being kind, showing their respects as best they could. He would have understood.

Abigail moved away from the main part of the churchyard, toward a cluster of gravestones hidden under the shade of a big old tree. She’d picked the spot out for him. He’d find it peaceful, she had thought.

“Hey, buddy,” Abigail said, keeping her voice low. It was deemed proper for a widow to grieve, but not to talk aloud to the deceased at the graveside. There was a smooth rock sticking out of the earth, and she perched on it, looping her arms around her knees. “They all say they’re going to go anyway. I wish they wouldn’t. If we leave too much later in the year, it’ll be too close to winter and we won’t get through the mountain passes, and then we’ll be stuck.”

She could imagine Daniel, with his sandy-brown hair and green eyes—real forest green, which had been one of the first things she’d noticed about him when they met—leaning forward with that smile on his face.

Sounds like they need a guide, sweetheart. 

She shook her head. “What, me, by myself? I couldn’t do it.”

She could hear him laughing in her head.

Well, not with that attitude. You can read a map, can’t you? What else are you going to do—live with Clara for the rest of your life? I know you love her, but you two are not suited to live together.

Abigail winced at that. She hated to think ill of her sister-in-law. Clara was a kind woman, who’d let Abigail live in her house for months after the accident, and who’d stepped up when Abigail lay in bed for days, unable to arrange the funeral.

Yes, Clara and her husband had been there for Abigail when she needed them, and no mistake. But still, living there for much longer wasn’t going to work. The house was too small for three adults, and Clara was too persnickety and prissy, and it simply wasn’t fair to expect her and her husband to keep supporting Abigail. It wasn’t as if they were rich, and Abigail and Daniel’s last few cents had gone into food for the journey.

A journey which Daniel would now never be taking. A journey which occupied just about every minute of Abigail’s waking thoughts.

There’s nothing for you here now, sweetheart. You’re not happy. I know you aren’t. 

Abigail knew, of course, that the voice in her head wasn’t really her dead husband, but in fact her own thoughts echoing. It was something he would have said, though.

She squeezed her eyes closed, mentally reviewing every person who wanted to take the Trail and get to Oregon and start afresh. There was land there for the taking, an opportunity to start up somewhere new, to make a life for yourself.

Start new, like wiping a slate full of chalk marks.

Abigail thought about the people who’d come to her after the funeral and asked anxiously how they were going to get to Oregon now. She remembered a blotch-faced young woman with two children, widowed a month before Abigail, looking to start somewhere new. She remembered the Pearson kids, the oldest fourteen and the youngest only two, asking her if she could still take them along the Trail, where they could peel off and find their grandparents, who’d written to them and told them to come since their parents had both died in that wretched fire. The same fire that took Daniel.

She remembered steely-faced Thomasin Wrecker, left a widow in the same fire, telling Abigail that she should pick up where Daniel left off.

Abigail hadn’t listened, of course. She’d said that she couldn’t help them anymore, that Daniel was the one who could read the map and tell them where they were going.

That ain’t true, is it, sweetheart? How many times did you travel that trail with me? 

“Only twice,” she mumbled, “and I was sick with fever for half of one trip.”

Well, yeah, but that’s more than most people, don’t you think? 

She drew in a breath, rising to her feet and shaking out her skirts.

“I don’t know why I bothered coming,” she muttered. “I should have known you’d talk sense into me.”

That’s my girl. 

Abigail paused, bending back down to pull some moss off Daniel’s gravestone—Clara would have to look after it once she was gone—and turned, marching back across the churchyard.

She’d known, in the back of her mind, that it would come to this eventually. She and Daniel had never meant to settle in Independence. They’d only stayed as long as they did because Daniel’s only sister was here, and he wanted to see her. And, of course, there were always travelers ready to spend their last dime to pull up roots and follow the long, treacherous trail to new horizons.

That’s what one of the towns in California was called—New Horizons. It was a smallish place, but growing fast, and Daniel had had his eye on a patch of land that would set them up for life. No more ferrying people to and from, no more braving the dangers on the trails. They could settle, maybe think about children.

She shivered. It had all gone up in smoke, literally and figuratively, when some dumb fool put out his pipe too near a bunch of dry kindling in the general store and knocked over a shelf of whiskey in his panicked attempts to put it out. He’d died, along with at least ten other folks in the store.

Daniel was among them. There wasn’t much left of anyone to bury. Just about everyone who’d been planning to take the Trail lost somebody in that wretched fire, and that made them all the more eager to leave.

“Morning, Abby.”

Abigail flinched, having nearly marched right past Thomasin Wrecker herself.

“Morning, Thomasin.”

Thomasin was a tall woman, broad-shouldered, and hard-faced. She’d never been pretty and didn’t much care to be. Her husband was even larger than she was, but noticeably more soft-spoken and cheerful. Thomasin wasn’t much for smiling at the best of time, but she hadn’t smiled once since her husband’s charred corpse got dragged out from the wreckage of the general store.

Abigail knew it was the kind of thing that could knock all the smiles out of a person. She should know.

Thomasin’s son, Jacob, stood beside her, quiet. Jacob was around fourteen, born late in life, and he’d never spoken. Not once. He was good-natured enough, and he knew what you were saying to him, but that was all. Nobody picked on him, not unless they wanted to face the infamous Wreckers. He loved his Mama, and the only time Abigail had ever heard him make noise at all was when he wailed at his daddy’s funeral.

Jacob smiled up at Abigail now, holding out a sprig of wildflowers for her, small enough to slide through a buttonhole.

“Why, thank you, Jacob,” Abigail said, smiling. “You sure are kind.”

He dimpled and glanced up at his mother.

Thomasin was watching Abigail closely. “Looks like we’re both here to see our husbands,” she said neutrally. “You thought anymore about that Trail business?”

Abigail swallowed. “I… I mean, you can get there without me.”

Thomasin snorted. “I sure hope we can.”

Abigail flinched at her harsh tone.

“Listen,” Thomasin continued. “If you don’t lead us, then I reckon Jeremiah Whipple is going to try and take charge.”

“Him? He couldn’t navigate his way out of a paper bag.”

“I agree. But if you’re there and you’ve got the map, there’s not a great deal he can do. That man would lead us all into a ditch, or off the edge of a cliff, and still take our money.”

Abigail flinched again. That was a painful reminder. The money they would be paid for guiding these folks along the trail would buy their new home and land. Half now, half later, that was the deal.

Without it, she had nothing. A woman couldn’t organize a trip along the Oregon Trail by herself, nobody would follow her. It didn’t matter how good her map was, or how often she’d done it.

This is your last chance, sweetheart. 

She drew in a deep, grounding breath. “I’m coming.”

Thomasin brightened. “Really?”

“Yeah, really. I… I can’t stay here. Every time I turn a corner, I see something that reminds me of Daniel. And Clara, well, she loves me, but it’s difficult for them, having me there. She’s grieving too.” Abigail raked a hand through her auburn hair, escaping from its braid and in great need of a wash. She made a mental note to have a really good bath before leaving, as there wouldn’t be any great washing opportunities on the Trail.

Thomasin nodded approvingly and reached out to clap her on the shoulder.

“I’m glad. I didn’t want to push you too hard, but I think you’re making the right choice. With the money you’ll earn from getting us to California, you can start up fresh. The travelers left are mostly widows, orphans, and women traveling alone. I don’t need to tell you how difficult it will be for us to find places on other convoys.”

Abigail shuddered. She knew from experience what a dangerous place a caravan trail could be for a woman. There was no law enforcement, no rules, nothing beyond what the caravan leader said. Anything could happen, and it might be necessary to swallow it down and forget about it, if the culprit was somebody important.

People died out there, all the time, and not just because of disease and accidents.

“I’d better… better go break the news,” Abigail murmured, backing away. It all felt a little false, like a dream. Had she really just committed herself to leading them all the California?

Thomasin nodded encouragingly. “We’re leaving on the same day, yes? The one Daniel suggested to us?”

Abigail swallowed. That gave her less than three days to prepare.

“Yes,” she heard herself say. “That’s right.”




“Do you think it’s a bad idea?” Abigail asked, nervously.

She and Clara sat at the well-polished parlor table, with an ornate cuckoo clock ticking loudly in the corner. Abigail didn’t much care for tea, but Clara liked it, and so that was what they were drinking.

Clara looked nothing like Daniel, except for the eyes. She had pale skin, a little too pale, and thin, washed-out blonde hair. In the five years Daniel and Abigail had been married, she had barely seen Clara for more than two weeks total, and now she’d spent close to eight months with her.

“No,” Clara said at last, sipping her tea in a genteel manner that Abigail could not match. “I think it’s good. I’ll miss you, of course, but…” She swallowed delicately. “I know that us living together hasn’t been the best idea.”

Abigail flushed with shame. “Please don’t think I’m ungrateful. You and John have been so kind…”

“We’re sisters,” Clara said firmly. “We became family when you married Daniel, and family fights sometimes. I miss Daniel every day, and I know that you do, too. I don’t know what I’d do if I lost John. But you have skills, Abigail. You can survive out there.”

“I’ve never been out there without Daniel.” Abigail could hear it now, the uncertainty in her own voice. “I don’t know what I’ll do.”

“You’ll manage,” Clara said firmly. “Daniel talked about how clever you were, how good at map-reading and diplomacy you were. He used to write to me and tell me about the adventures the two of you had, and how you dealt with it. I remember thinking, wow! I could do never do that.”

“You could, if you had to.”

Clara smiled and shook her head. “Not everybody is a born leader, Abigail. Women don’t usually get a chance to try, but you do. Everybody knows these trips to the west aren’t worth it for women; we work harder, face more dangers, and at the end of it all, we just end up keeping house in another place, no better off. But you can change all that, for this trip. You can do it, Abby.”

At the sound of her old nickname—Daniel always called her Abby, never Abigail—Abigail had to smile.

“You know, Clara, you sound just like Daniel when you talk like that.”

Clara flushed, smiling. “Why, thank you. And you know you can stay here, or come back, if you need to.”

“I know,” Abigail said, but they both knew it was hollow. There wasn’t room for Abigail here. She didn’t fit into the town, and the town didn’t fit her.

Time to go, then, she thought, excitement and fear mingling in her gut. Off into the unknown I go. 

Chapter Two 

Luke shifted from foot to foot, trying to keep his breathing cool and calm. Got to think ahead. Got to focus on the future, not on what was left behind. If he thought about what had been left behind, or what was coming after him, he’d start panicking, and make stupid decisions, and then it would all be over.

It seemed like an age since he’d left home, but really, it had only been two weeks.

Two weeks of sore feet, not enough food, and constantly looking over my shoulder, he thought moodily. And no end in sight. 

He was meant to meet the man behind the old church, here in this rotten, falling-down old town whose name he’d forgotten.

It had only been a month earlier that it all started. When a strangely loosened piece of unusually sharp wood came cannoning down from the top of the barn and nearly skewered him.

It was just an accident, or so he thought. But then there were the burglaries, his house gone through on at least two separate occasions when he was out at church or seeing friends. His mattress and pillow had been shredded with what looked like a knife.

If that wasn’t horrifying enough… there was the fire.

It had started in the middle of the night in the kitchen, although he knew he’d put the stove out before he went to bed. Then a couple of men in masks set upon him when he walked along his usual route into town, nice and secluded. At that point, Luke started to guess that somebody was after him.

He’d contacted Matthew Gray, because everyone knew that Mattie was no good and would know who else was no good, and he got a harried note back from him, telling him to burn the note but to get out of the house, nowright now, and leave town. He left an address on the back, and that was all.

And that’s how he found himself waiting for his old friend, who owed him a favor to turn up and meet him, in the middle of the night, behind a seldom-used church.

It occurred to Luke that this was the perfect place for an ambush.

He shivered, pulling his jacket tighter around him and wishing for the thousandth time that he’d brought something a little warmer. All of his stuff was back at the ranch, which he’d probably need to sell once he got somewhere safe.

Hank’s ranch, as Luke called it, the one he’d bought with their California gold money. Misery settled deep in the pit of his stomach, feeling curiously like indigestion.

Perhaps that was just the stone-hard pies he’d had in the last hotel he passed. A man had to eat, after all.

A shadow moved in the undergrowth surrounding the church, and Luke didn’t quite manage to stifle a yelp.

It wasn’t very manly, coming from a man of his size and strength, but he was on edge, dang it.

Then he recognized lanky, balding Mattie Gray, and some of the nerves faded away.

“It’s you,” he mumbled. “Scared the life out of me.”

Mattie was breathing heavy, as if he’d been running. “Sorry I’m late.”

“I thought you weren’t coming.”

He shook his head. “Nah. I owe you a favor.”

The favor, which had been earned in the form of Luke sewing up some bullet wounds after one of Mattie’s endeavors, then lying to the sheriff about it, had happened so long ago that Luke had almost forgotten it.

Mattie hadn’t, though.

“Okay, tell me what’s going on,” Luke said. “Tell me what involved me leaving home in the middle of the night, why you sent me that letter—which scared the living daylights out of me, by the way.”

“So it should,” Mattie said. He wasn’t smiling. “Look, I asked around. One of the men you described chasing you sounded familiar to me. I know him, actually.”

“I’d like to get my hands on him,” Luke muttered. He hadn’t been quite so brave when it had happened, of course. Luke was a tall man, and strongly built—you couldn’t work farmland like he did without being strong—and he was fast, too. He reckoned he could have taken one of those men, but not all of them.

Mattie shook his head. “He’s a gun for hire.”

Luke felt cold. “Like, a mercenary?”

“Yeah, that’s it. An expensive one, too.”

Luke ran a hand through his jet-black hair, the color clashing with his blue-gray eyes he’d been told… eyes that were too light for a man of his coloring. His hair needed a wash. He needed a wash. He might need to utilize his charms soon, and it wasn’t going to work if he looked like he’d been sleeping under hedges.

He had been sleeping under hedges, but he couldn’t look like he had.

“So what does this mean?” he heard himself say. Blood pounded in his ears, painfully loud. He felt sick. That pie was sitting heavy in his stomach.

“It means that somebody is after you,” Mattie said quietly.

“What? Why? Who?”

“Okay, steady on, no need to panic.”

“No need to panic? Somebody wants me dead, Mattie! I have no idea why, or what’s going on…”

“You must have some idea of who wants you dead,” Mattie interrupted. His eyes were glittering in the dark. “Who have you upset lately?”

“Nobody! I live a quiet life in my little town, and that’s it, Mattie.”

“Think. Think real hard. It might help me help you.”

Luke paused, wracking his brains. He didn’t have enemies. He considered himself a likeable, good-natured young man, and most people seemed to agree.

“Nobody,” he said at last. “Truly, Mattie.”

Mattie pursed his lips, sighing. “Look. From what I heard, and there was nothing concrete, mind you, somebody wants you dead. Somebody serious. I didn’t get a name, and that’s always a bad sign.”

Luke ran his hands through his hair again, a nervous habit. This felt like a nightmare.

“I don’t know what’s going on, Mattie. What do I do?”

“My advice? Run. Get far away from here. Listen, where are you headed next?”

“I have no idea. I’ve got no horse, barely got any luggage… just the basics here, you know. And I have no idea where I should go. Should I take a train?”

“Trains are too easy to track, and there’s not many of them around here. My advice is to go west. It’s easier to get lost out there. I don’t get scared often, Luke, but somebody’s mad at you. You need to go, and you need to go now.”

“Now?” Luke repeated, feeling like a child given bad news.

Mattie sighed. “Well, in the morning. You need to disappear, bud. Once you’re settled, send me a note from whatever town you got to, and I’ll do my best to keep it safe. I’ll look into things for you, but I can’t promise anything. We’re square now, okay?”

Luke swallowed, forcing a smile. “I reckon you saved my life, Mattie. We sure are square.”

Mattie stuck out a grubby, bony hand, and Luke shook it.

“Be careful,” Mattie murmured, his voice barely above a whisper. “Something’s going on here.”

Then he was gone, melting away into the dark undergrowth as if he’d never been there at all.

Sighing, Luke hauled his bag onto his shoulder. It didn’t contain much. His money, his Pa’s dented silver pocket watch, Hank’s map, changes of clothes, that sort of thing. Not much food. He hadn’t thought to bring much except some jerky, and now his store of money was dwindling. He needed to eat.

More importantly, though, he needed somewhere to sleep.

“Better to kip under a pew than under a hedge,” he muttered, slinking round the side of the church until he came to the doorway, and slipped inside.

As he’d expected, nobody was inside. It was too late for worshipping, but most churches didn’t close their doors.

It was a dusty, dirty place, with cobwebs hanging in corners, but there were a few candles lit and plenty of pews to sleep on.

After a moment’s consideration, Luke crawled under the pew to sleep instead of lying across it. That way, somebody peering through the doorway wouldn’t see him, since the pews were basically big boxes with one long side cut out, facing front.

It wasn’t comfortable, but it wasn’t cold either. Not that Luke was going to sleep much, anyway. He was exhausted, obviously, but there was too much to think about.

Namely, who wanted him dead, and why? 

I haven’t done anything, Luke thought, feeling a childish rush of injustice.

And then the footsteps came, echoing along the stone floor, and he froze, not daring to breathe.

By the time he realized it was a woman, walking purposefully toward the pulpit, it was too late to declare himself. She probably didn’t mean him harm, but she might not assume the same of him. Women alone faced a lot of danger, and they could never tell which men were harmless and which men were dangerous.

Luke, of course, was the former. He doubted he’d even hurt a man, let alone a woman, but she couldn’t know that, and already a few minutes had gone by, and it would look strange if he crawled out from under a pew now.

So, he lay where he was, holding his breath. As far as he could tell, she’d sank down into a pew near the front, about three or four rows up from him, on the opposite side. If he angled his head just right, he could see her. She was in her mid-twenties, he guessed, pretty, with purplish-blue eyes and auburn hair pulled back into an untidy braid. She’d brought a smell of swirling dust and horsehair with her.

Travelers, he thought. The Oregon Trail runs by here. 

Then she spoke, making him jump so hard he nearly banged his head on the underside of the pew.

“Daniel always said that if you want something, you should ask for it aloud, so that’s what I’ll do.”

Her voice was a little tremulous, a little hushed—they were in a church, after all—but there was a determination in it, too. She cleared her throat and went on.

“First of all, I reckon I ought to thank you for taking care of me, Clara, and John, for all these months. With Daniel gone, it’s been… well. It’s been bad, but you know that. I’m sure Daniel’s up there with you right now, safe and sound. If any man was going to get into Heaven, it was him.”

With a jolt, Luke realized that she was praying. He shouldn’t listen, of course, she clearly thought she was alone, but what else could he do? Cough politely?

Nothing to see here, ma’am, just a man sleeping under a pew in a church in the middle of nowhere. No, I’m not a drifter, but somebody is trying to kill me, and I don’t know why. 

She continued, and Luke found himself straining to listen. Maybe he should have put his fingers in his ears, but it was too late now.

“I don’t ask for much,” she said, voice level and firmer now. “But please, please help us get to where we’re going. I got my map, I know the route—we’re following the Oregon Trail to Fort Hall, then onto California—and I’ve done it before. But never alone. Please, please help us. Help me make smart decisions. Help me to get everyone there in one piece. They’re counting on me, and there’s no going back now. I think I can do it if I just… if everything just goes smoothly. It’s all kids, all women, and with Johnnie and James not speaking… oh, you don’t care about that. Just… just help me. Please. I don’t care much about me. Heck, if I don’t make it in one piece, so much the better, just as long as they make it. Oops, sorry. Shouldn’t swear here, of all places. Ah, darn it, now He’ll never listen. Ugh, I did it again! You know, I’m going to stop here. Sorry for the language, but I have had a trying two weeks. Thank you, and, uh, Amen.”

Luke bit his lower lip so as not to laugh. It was probably the worst prayer he’d ever heard, and he’d heard some bad ones.

Still, it was heartfelt, and he couldn’t say that about most of the prayers he’d heard.

He heard her skirts rustle as she got to her feet, and she hurried out just as quickly as she’d come, heels clacking on the floor.

He stayed where he was, thinking. So, a bunch of caravans had come through, by the sounds of it, heading up to California.

I’ve been that way, he thought. I could sure be helpful. It would be tough to track a caravan, I reckon. 

An idea was forming in his head, and Luke grinned to himself.

Lady, I think I’m the answer to your prayer. 

Chapter Three

It was hard to believe they’d only been traveling for two weeks. The weather was dry, which was good for speedy travel, but it meant that clouds of dust rose up from the road and billowed around their heads, making them choke. The dust got everywhere.

Abigail found it in her own wagon, of course, and ended up sweeping out the wagon every evening before she could even think about settling down to eat and rest.

There were around fifteen caravans in total, which was down from the original twenty that were going to take the journey back when Daniel was alive. Twelve families in their covered wagons, including Abigail, plus two farm wagons, loaded up with extra bits of furniture and farm equipment, things some of the richer families thought they might need when they got to where they were going.

On the first trail Abigail and Daniel had traveled, less than a year after their marriage, they’d arrived with those farm wagons intact, everything in its place, albeit a little dusty. On the second trail, which wasn’t such a lucky journey and led to many people falling sick with fever, they abandoned the wagons along the way, dropping off furniture stick by stick when it became apparent that they couldn’t afford excess weight.

She hoped that wouldn’t happen this time. It was a difficult journey to make at the best of times, and leaving precious belongings behind was never easy.

It was dawn, the light creeping over the tops of the trees, and they’d already wasted enough time.

“The Pearson kids aren’t back yet,” Thomasin said brusquely, stepping around the corner of Abigail’s wagon. “The oldest boy went to take their horse to get shoed. Poor creature badly needed it.”

Abigail sighed. “Then I guess we’ll have to wait.”

The wagons were arranged in a circle when they stopped to camp, and otherwise traveled in single file, one after another, trundling along the dusty road. Some folks walked alongside their wagons, choosing between sore bottoms from the hard caravan seats and sore legs and feet from all the walking. The Pearson children had a much-patched cover on their wagon, and an elderly horse they treated like an old friend. They were doing well, considering they were orphans now, but the poor horse had been limping for two days at least, poor thing.

Abigail had carefully disguised how relieved she was to see the town. It was a little no-name town, but it had a blacksmith and supplies to be bought, as well as the pretense of safety, at least for one night.

Everyone else was pleased to see the town, too, but Abigail fought to keep her expression pleasant but neutral. She had to project confidence, otherwise everyone would start to panic, but they wouldn’t come across another town for weeks, and civilization would become sparser and sparser as they pressed on. She’d even visited a church last night, which she hadn’t since Daniel’s funeral, and sent up a quick prayer.

Her wagon led the way, and Thomasin came second. Widow Fogg and her impressive stash of guns and ammunition brought up the rear, with everybody else falling somewhere in between.

“A Widow’s Heart Unveiled” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

As Abigail Monroe stands at the edge of the vast and untamed Oregon Trail, the recent loss of her husband looms over her. Determined to honor his dream, she prepares to lead a group of hopeful settlers across dangerous lands in search of a fresh start. Amidst the daunting challenges of the trail, a mysterious stowaway is discovered: a man with a past as hidden as the path before them. With every mile, an unexpected connection sparks between them, stirring a question in her heart…

Could the warmth of newfound love light her way through the darkness of grief?

Luke Donovan, a man with a mysterious past and a heart heavy with loss, finds refuge among Abigail’s travelers. Escaping an unknown threat with nothing but his mentor’s legacy and a hidden cache of gold, Luke intends to keep a low profile. Yet, the resilient widow captivates him, stirring a yearning for something more than mere survival. As their fates entwine, Luke is forced to confront a nagging question…

Is it possible to outrun his demons?

Thrown together by fate, Abigail and Luke navigate the perilous journey, their bond deepening with each passing mile. But as the wilderness challenges them, and Luke’s enemies draw near, they must confront the ultimate question; In a land of uncharted dangers, can their burgeoning love survive?

“A Widow’s Heart Unveiled” 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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