The wagon bounces over a rut and tosses the hostesses in the air. They come down hard on the wooden plank seats. Mac grabs hold of Patsy’s arm to keep from tumbling off the side.
|deep ruts on the Oregon trail|
“Are we there yet?”
“The campsite is just over this hill.” She jerks her chin toward the towering rock formation in the distance. “See, there’s Chimney Rock.”
“Thank God. I don’t know how the pioneers did it. Can you imagine spending weeks on the trail?” Mac brushes at the simple calico material of her pioneer dress. “And in these clothes. What do you want to bet a man came up with the idea of covering a woman from head to foot.”
“Tell me about it.” Patsy lifts the hem of her skirt and flaps it in the air. “These pantaloons are making my legs and… other things sweat!”
Mary snickers. “TMI Patsy.”
Mac grins but nods in agreement. “You know, we’d already be there if we took my Jeep like I offered. Did I mention it has air conditioning?”
Patsy nudges her with a shoulder bump. “Charlene wants her party to be an authentic camping celebration along the Oregon Trail. The pioneers didn’t have Jeeps or air conditioning.”
Mary lifts her face to the gentle breeze. “But they did have fabulous adventures full of spectacular views and fresh air.”
Mac scowls and angles on one hip to rub at her butt. “And splinters.”
Nibbie begins barking wildly as the wagon crests the hill and the campsite comes into view. Cuddles, Hampy and Foster climb up from the wagon bed to perch on the hostesses’ shoulders.
“Wow.” Mary wraps an arm around the dogs shoulders. “I feel like I’ve gone back in time.”
“We’re not in Kansas anymore, ladies,” Lyn breathes reverently.
“Kansas?” Mac looks around. “I thought this was the Oregon Trail.”
Mary winks at Patsy and Lyn. “She’s confused again.” She pats Mac’s arm. “We’ll explain it to you later, hon.”
At the bottom of the hill in a clearing beside a gently flowing river, covered wagons formed a horseshoe around a roaring fire pit. Three large cows and two pigs forage the wild grass amongst a small herd of horses. Several dogs race after a half dozen children at play. Dainty ladies in simple dresses mill about the clearing, fussing at makeshift tables laden with platters of food. Roasted wildfowl and venison share the tables with bowls of dandelion green salad, fresh berries, beans, rice and bread. A kettle of porridge simmers on a spit about the fire. Sturdy men in homespun breeches and shirts hover around the large punch bowl on the center table, or gather around the fire. One plucks out the toe tapping notes of Jim Cracked Corn on the strings of his guitar.
Charlene spots the wagon lumbering to a stop at the edge of the clearing. She lifts the skirt of her dress with one hand and rushes across the clearing to greet the hostesses.
“You made it!” She claps her hands. “Isn’t this fabulous? I half expect Brianna and Columbus from TENDER TOUCH to come rolling over the hill.”
The hostesses scramble from the wagon to hug Charlene. The side-kicks leap to Nibbie’s collar, clinging as the excited dog races off toward the children.
Charlene lifts a brow in question.
She laughs and herds them toward the crowd waiting to meet them. “Oh, we are going to have such a good time!”
*And if you'd like to know some of Charlene's authentic 'Pioneer' recipes you can find them HERE
They had lost everything that mattered...
Three nightmarish years of marriage had shattered Brianna Wight's sheltered world. Leading her husband to believe she'd been murdered, she fled St. Louis...harboring terrible secrets that could mean her death.
The tragic loss of his Indian wife left Columbus Nigh a wanderer; necessity made him a wilderness guide. But now he found himself drawn to the enigmatic woman who'd hired him to lead her westward. Her gentle strength stirred his lonely heart...her tender beauty aroused his deepest passions.
Would they find love again on a western hourney?
But the perils of the Oregon Trail paled beside the murderous wrath of the man who tracked them across the harsh frontier. Brianna knew the only way to save herself and Columbus was to risk their tender love. Only then could she free herself from the horrors of the past--and embrace a rapturous future.
St. Louis, Missouri, April 1849
Brianna Wight’s heart pounded as she reluctantly followed her housekeeper’s son inside the dingy, cavernous livery stable. She felt as though she were entering the very bowels of hell.
Heat from the blacksmith’s shop blasted her delicate skin through her clothes and fluttered the veil covering her face as she waited for her eyes to adjust to the darkness. The flames leaping from the forge and the murky silhouettes of men, dancing about the fire like so many devils, were all she could make out.
Harsh, angry voices flew at her out of the blackness, like hurtled knives. Instant terror stiffened her body and she threw up an arm to shield her face.
“Wait your turn, stinkin’ squawman. Whaddya need yer horse shod for anyways? It’s only one o’ them Injun ponies. Get back to yer slut squaw an’ have her pick the lice from yer hair, why doncha?”
The voice that answered was soft, deep and—Brianna thought—deceptively calm, but the words were unclear.
“Why, you bastard!” the first voice yelled.
The sound of flesh and bone striking flesh and bone froze Brianna. Her heart stuttered. That sound was entirely too familiar, as was the pain that always followed. She tensed, waiting to feel the expected blow.
Instead, a man sailed toward her out of the smithy. Brianna screamed in the instant before he slammed into her. Together, they tumbled to the straw-littered floor in a tangle of arms, legs and skirts.
“You blasted squawman!” someone bellowed. “Look what ya done now. Get up, damn you! That’s a lady you’re laying on.”
Brianna fought for air and shoved frantically at the heavy man weighing down her already bruised and battered body. Pain from a hundred places threatened to rend her unconscious. Inside her head, a voice shouted,“It’s not Barret! Not Barret!” But the fear had her in its grip. She could not stop batting for her life, as she had been forced to do, so many times before.
Close to her ear a low rumbling voice muttered, “Hell- fire! Give it up, woman. I ain’t gonna hurt you.”
Hands like steel bands pinned her wrists to the hay-and horseshit-strewn dirt floor. His panted breath warmed her cheek, smelling of tobacco, and, oddly enough, apples. Brianna felt her breasts flatten against his hard chest, felt that same hard chest expand and deflate along with hers, as they each gasped for air. Something stirred inside her, something she had never felt when Barret held her this way, something that left her confused, as well as scared.
“All right,” the low voice rumbled. “I’m gonna get up now.”
The weight lifted from her body. He towered above her, ten feet tall and at least three across. As she lay there staring up at him through her veil, still fighting off the fear, he reached down to offer her a hand up. She could see better now, well enough to note that his palm was dirty and callused, the smallest of the long, slender fingers missing a joint.
“You all right?” he asked, not unkindly.
Before she could gather enough sense and wind to answer, Sean and his mother were there, bending over her. Brianna groaned as they hauled her to her feet. Every bone in her body ached. It was all she could do to stay upright while Mrs. O’Casey brushed the dirt and straw from her rumpled skirts. She refused to give way to the tears and pain and terror that threatened to engulf her. If she couldn’t even survive one day of freedom without knuckling under, how would she live long enough to start a new life?
Charlene Raddon is the award winning author of five western historical romance novels originally published by Kensington Books, which are now coming available in ebook format from Tirgearr Publishing http://www.tirgearrpublishing.com. TENDER TOUCH is her second book to be released electronically. This story was a Golden Heart Finalist in 1990 under the title Brianna. Ms. Raddon's other books have won other awards. She began writing in 1980, driven by a love of romance, the old west, and a dream she felt had to be put into print. The result was an unpublished time travel, which she is now reworking. When she isn't writing, Ms. Raddon loves to travel, do needlepoint, crochet, collect antique china, scrapbook, do genealogy and spoil her two grandchildren. She lives in Utah with her retired husband and a paranoid cat.
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