Coming September 2, 2016.....
(Wilderness Brides, Book 2)
here is a preview...the entire Chapter One
Harley’s Hole (near the Teton Valley), May 1853
The door screeched on its hinges as Patrick Hudson stormed into the cabin. Several pheasants, tied by their legs on a strip of rawhide, were slung over his shoulder. The boy dropped them on the table in the center of the room with a thud. He glanced around, clearly looking to see if someone had heard his loud announcement.
Anna Porter straightened and swiped the back of her hand across her damp forehead. She faced the boy. Her eyes narrowed, glaring at Patrick. When his gaze met hers, he stopped in his tracks. The smile on his face turned into an open-mouthed gape. He looked from her to the dirty rag in her hand, his eyes filling with growing trepidation. Water dripped from the rag onto the wooden floor.
Patrick gulped visibly. He shot a quick glance over his shoulder at the floorboards, then offered a tentative smile. His youthful eyes turned apologetic at the same time that they showed fear of reprimand.
Anna dropped the rag into the bucket at her feet. The brown water sloshed over the sides, leaving small puddles on the already-wet floor. She expelled air from her lungs through her mouth and her shoulders slumped, glancing from Patrick to the floor to the muddy footprints the boy had left behind.
“I’m so sorry,” Patrick stammered. “I didn’t know you were washing floors. I thought Caroline was here. I wanted to tell her Trevor just returned, and he brought news of visitors that’ll be arriving soon.” He spoke fast, his words slurring together in his haste to expel his apology.
Anna held one hand to her hip while pushing the kerchief that covered her hair further back on her head. She stretched her sore back.
“Visitors?” Her forehead scrunched. “Lucas Walker left a few days ago, and now there will be more visitors?”
“Yes’m.” Patrick nodded enthusiastically. Like almost everyone else, spring fever had clearly gripped the boy.
The unexpected visit from one of the closest neighbors to Harley’s Hole had been a sure sign that spring was here to stay in these remote mountains. Snow still covered the tall peaks of the Teton Mountains to the east, but the meadows in the valley were already green and starting to burst with a multitude of colors as wildflowers emerged among the grasses. Although it was already May, spring came later in these mountains than Anna was accustomed to in Ohio.
“Sometimes we get snow well into June,” Harley Buchanan, the old trapper for whom this small valley had been christened, had told her one morning several weeks ago when she’d let slip that she was longing for some warmer weather after the long winter months.
Anna sighed. She shot another glance at the mud on her clean floor.
“Caroline is down by the creek with Cora, doing laundry.” Her lips softened in a faint smile. She couldn’t be mad at the boy for tracking dirt into the cabin, even though now she had to start all over with scrubbing the affected floorboards.
She shrugged. What good was it to try and maintain cleanliness inside this cabin? Her efforts to keep some semblance of order and neatness in this wilderness seemed futile. The men who lived here had no appreciation for a tidy home and were as wild as their surroundings. Old Harley was the only man who respected her attempts. He’d scold the three brothers he considered his sons whenever they walked in with muddy boots, which had been quite frequently lately with the spring thaw and rains.
At least she didn’t have to live in the same dwelling as the men. The cabin she shared with Caroline and Josie Hudson was kept neat and clean to her liking, and the men weren’t allowed to set foot through the door. In order to keep her hands and mind busy over the long months of winter and spring, keeping the men’s cabin orderly had become her personal crusade. Not that any of them who occupied it showed even the slightest amount of gratitude, aside from Harley.
“I can clean up, Anna.”
Anna raised her eyes to Patrick’s contrite voice. She shook her head. How could she be angry with the boy, who showed more remorse than three grown men would have done?
“It’s all right, Patrick. I know the ground is muddy outside after the rains. Next time, remember not to barge in, and at least take your boots off first.”
“Yes’m.” The boy hung his head, then raised his chin to look at her with a smile. “I can fetch more water.”
“That would be nice. There’s another bucket just outside the door. I could use some clean rinse water.” She eyed the pail at her feet. The water was so brown and dirty, the cloth she’d used for scrubbing the floor had all but disappeared from view.
Patrick nodded, then headed for the door. Anna stared after him. She gave a quick laugh with a shake of her head, then reached into the bucket to fish out the rag. She wrung the excess water from it, then dropped it to the ground and used her old broom handle to push the rag around the floor.
“I might as well wait for Patrick to return from the creek.” Anna brushed some hair that had come loose from her braid out of her face, tucking it under the kerchief. She glanced around the simple cabin.
The main room served as both the dining area and the kitchen. The stone hearth and fireplace used up much of the wall opposite the door, and Harley’s bunk, piled high with various animal furs, stood against the wall to the right. Anna’s lips twitched in a slight smile. The old trapper preferred beaver pelts and buffalo hides to wool blankets.
The rest of the beds in the cabin weren’t any different. Two small rooms had been added on six months ago before winter had settled into the valley, in order to accommodate the three other men who inhabited this cabin.
The twins, Travis and Trevor Wilder, were only eighteen years old. They might be fully-grown men in stature, but they certainly acted no better than adolescent boys most of the time. They were certainly nothing like their older brother, Ethan. Anna’s eyes drifted to the other room, partitioned off by a curtain she and Caroline had sewn months ago using old pieces of cloth to give the area some privacy.
While she kept the main part of the cabin clean, and even Travis’ and Trevor’s sleeping area, Anna dared not move past that curtain that led to Ethan’s personal space. She’d made the mistake of crossing past that curtain only once with the intent to air out the bunk and perhaps collect some laundry. Ethan had walked into the cabin at that moment, glared at her with a dark scowl his brothers always teased him about, and had told her in no uncertain terms to mind her own business and to stay away from his belongings.
As wild as the Wilder men could be, none of them were as intimidating as the oldest of the four brothers. Nathaniel, the second-oldest and husband to her best friend, had been likable from the moment she’d met him. Even the twins could be forgiven for their uncivilized antics, but Ethan Wilder was simply callous and rude.
Anna had stammered a quick apology that day and left the cabin in a hurry, Ethan’s stare following her all the way to the smaller cabin she shared with Caroline and Josie. Anger had overtaken the embarrassment she’d felt at the time. Ethan Wilder was an oaf, reacting with anger or a sullen demeanor rather than holding a civil conversation.
Anna had avoided him even more since that unpleasant encounter. During the long winter months, she’d tried to make the best of her situation. She didn’t want to be here in this remote valley, so far removed from civilized society, and as soon as the weather turned warm enough, she’d finally bring up the subject of leaving.
As painful as it was to think about leaving her friend, Cora Hudson Wilder, and the other girls she’d considered her sisters, there was nothing for her in the wilderness. This was not a life she wanted, and more often than not over the last six months, she’d felt more like an outsider than part of a family. The other Hudson sisters had adapted well to living in the valley and got along with the Wilder men, but something was amiss as far as Anna was concerned. Even quiet and shy Josie had taken well to life in the woods, dressing in britches and going off hunting with Harley. Why had it been so difficult to make a home here?
Last spring, Anna had been full of hope at a new life in Oregon. It seemed like a lifetime ago. When Cora had told her she was planning to sell her farm in Ohio and move her three sisters and little brother to Oregon, Anna had gladly joined them.
The idea of traveling cross-country by wagon into the unknown had seemed worrisome at the time, but it hadn’t been as terrifying as staying in Ohio with no family. She’d gladly left her painful memories and shattered dreams behind. Making a brand new start in Oregon had seemed like the right thing to do.
Things hadn’t quite worked out the way they’d all planned, and the journey along the Oregon Trail had proven far from easy. When Cora had met Nathaniel Wilder, she’d had no choice but to put her trust in him to get them out of danger. There had been no other recourse for Anna but to go along, with the understanding that they would continue on their journey to Oregon come spring.
When Cora and Nathaniel had announced that they had gotten married, Anna couldn’t have been happier for her friend. Cora had suffered enough loss and hardship of her own, and deserved a good man. Nathaniel adored her. That had been obvious even from their tumultuous first encounter.
Now that spring had fully arrived, it might be time to approach Cora and Nathaniel about taking her to Fort Hall, just as Nathaniel had promised to do when he’d brought them to Harley’s Hole. He’d said he’d take her all the way to Oregon, but perhaps he could find her passage with someone on a wagon train heading west. All she needed was for him to get her to the trading outpost.
“Best to bring it up later today,” she muttered. There was no reason to delay her decision any longer. If Nathaniel was agreeable to take her, she’d make preparations to leave, and they could be at Fort Hall within a month. That might be around the time the first wagon trains heading west would arrive.
Anna bent and reached for the dirty rag on the ground. She dipped it in the equally dirty water, and wrung it out. She’d wiped up most of the mud Patrick had brought into the cabin, but another good scrubbing with some clean water wouldn’t hurt. She hung the rag on her pole which she then propped against the wall, and eyed the pheasants. When Patrick returned from the creek, he could de-feather the birds and she’d start on supper.
Anna grabbed hold of the rope and lifted the bucket. Brown brew sloshed out the sides. She opened the cabin door and took a step outside, squinting into the bright sunlight that entered the room. Her arms trembled from the effort of holding up the heavy bucket and, taking hold of the bottom with one hand, she swung her arms back and tossed the dirty contents as far as possible into the yard. A stream of loud curse words followed instantly.
“What in the blazes has gotten into you, woman?” a man roared.
Anna’s heart sank to the pit of her stomach. She stumbled backward. A dark, imposing outline followed. Anna dropped the bucket and her hand flew to her mouth.
“Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry,” she stammered. Her eyes widened, staring up at Ethan Wilder. He swiped a hand across his wet face while glaring at her. He looked ready to murder someone. Muddy water dripped from his face to the ground. His shirt and britches were soaked.
“What the hell do you think you’re doing?” He advanced on her some more, his tone more furious than a second ago.
“I . . . I didn’t see you.” Anna clutched at the high collar of her dress in case Ethan reached out to strangle her.
“Can’t you pay better attention to what you’re doing, woman? I ain’t that small not to be seen walking up to the door.”
He did have a point. Ethan Wilder wasn’t a small man. He wasn’t overly large, either, but at this moment, he may as well have been a giant, the way he towered over her in his rage. His dark scowl increased as the seconds ticked by.
“Next time, look before you do something as witless as tossing a bucket of water at a man,” he growled. The cords along his neck were strung tighter than a drum.
Anna’s spine stiffened. Her mouth pulled in a thin line and she squared her shoulders.
“I told you I was sorry, Mr. Wilder,” she said in a firm voice, emphasizing the mister. “It was an honest mistake, and I truly apologize for tossing the water out the door at the exact moment you decided to waltz into the cabin.” Her voice rose with each word. She’d just about had it with his rude behavior. It wasn’t as if she’d thrown the water at him on purpose, but he sure deserved it.
“Can’t you ever say anything nice rather than throwing insults at a person?” she continued. “I’d be more than happy to wash your soiled clothes to make amends for what I did. I doubt you would have apologized for tracking mud into the cabin that I just spent hours cleaning.” To make her point, she directed her eyes to his dirty boots.
Anna’s heart pounded so loud, her ears rang. If Ethan said anything else, she didn’t hear it. Abruptly, he turned on his heels and strode off toward the horse corrals and barn. On weak and shaky legs, Anna leaned against the cabin door. She swiped a trembling hand across her face and sucked in several breaths of air to calm her nerves.
Renewed anger surged through her. How dare he speak to her in such a rude manner? She’d made an honest mistake. Granted, getting doused with dirty water couldn’t have been a pleasant experience, but he didn’t have to continue acting in such a hard-headed fashion, especially since she’d apologized.
Anna shook her head. Her limbs were still shaky as she made her way from the main cabin to the one she’d called home since last autumn. She scoffed. Home? Nothing could be further from the truth.
She fumbled with the latch on the cabin door and stumbled into the dark interior. Tears blurred her vision. She didn’t bother to light a lantern, and sank onto her bunk. For all the beauty to be found in this wilderness valley, there was no feeling of home here. An overwhelming sense of loneliness gripped her and she curled into a ball, allowing her emotions to get the better of her.
(copyright 2016 Peggy L Henderson No part of this excerpt may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author)