Walks Alone

by Sandi Rog

A Cheyenne warrior bent on vengeance.
A pioneer woman bent on fulfilling a dream.
Until their paths collide.

After fleeing her abusive uncle, Anna is determined to reach the city of her dreams. But White Eagle and his fierce warriors take her prisoner. Anna attempts a harrowing escape, but her savage captor is determined to have her at all costs and forces her to be his wife. Has God forgotten her, or does He have plans of His own?

A man with a boot in one world and a moccasin in the other, White Eagle is disillusioned with his faith after a minister leads a massacre on his peaceful tribe. Where is his God? He’s definitely not with the white men who are slaughtering his people. But White Eagle also can’t give in to the idolatry practiced by his fellow tribesmen. Only the Truth can set him free.

And it’s found in beautiful Anna’s carpetbag.

Prologue

November 29, 1864

Sand Creek, Colorado Territory

A drop of blood warmed his finger, and crimson stained the white snow as Jean-Marc bound three dead rabbits together. “Sorry to kill you, my friends, but Mother and Grandmother need to eat.”

He tied the knot fast and rubbed his hand along the soft fur. The skins would make a good muff for Grandmother this winter. He’d seen many white women wear them; they looked warm, and his heveškemo deserved the best.

He picked up the rabbits and added them to the other two he’d already tied together.

Running Cloud trudged around a thick cottonwood with his latest kill, a prairie dog, hanging at his side. “The chief has trained you well.” He nudged with his chin toward the game Jean-Marc caught. “He’ll smile on your success.”

“You didn’t do so badly yourself.” Jean-Marc gave an exaggerated wave toward the fowl and two rabbits dangling over his friend’s back. They hadn’t found any deer or antelope, but what they did find was better than nothing. Jean-Marc’s father would soon arrive from Denver City with supplies. Until then, he had to find other means to survive.

Running Cloud stomped through the snow toward him.“Do you think Gray Feather will be impressed?”

Jean-Marc chuckled and slapped his shoulder. “Take them to her father’s lodge and see.” Of course, they both knew Running Cloud’s current offering was meager compared to the young buffalo he’d delivered to their lodge just four moons ago.

“And which woman do you plan to impress?”

Jean-Marc smiled. “My mother.”

Black Bear stepped high through a powdery snow bank, carrying game over his shoulder. Twenty winters out of his mother’s womb and a seasoned warrior, he wore the clothes of a brave with his tanned leggings, knee-high moccasins and silver armbands over his fringed buckskin shirt.

If only Jean-Marc could wear the silver armbands of a warrior. That’d make him a hero, a man. But to reach such a lofty position of honor among his tribesmen was not to happen. Torn between the white man’s world and that of his tribe, he could never bring himself to fight against his own, let alone kill another man. Still, pangs of jealousy twisted in his gut. How would he ever become a man among the tribe if he refused to fight?

Bow and quiver strapped to his back, Black Bear glanced up through the cottonwoods. “We should get back before the sun stands straight up in the sky.” His eyes flickered toward Running Cloud. “And before our mother starts to worry.” He strode past them.

“We’ve only been gone one sun.” Running Cloud fell in step behind him. “She knows we’re hunting.”

Jean-Marc glanced at Running Cloud and suppressed a smile. He knew Black Bear was merely attempting to annoy his younger brother, and by the scowl on Running Cloud’s face, it had worked.

“We’re only three winters younger than you. Besides, we’re bringing food.” Running Cloud stomped through the snow. “She’ll be pleased.”

 Jean-Marc jogged ahead and untied the large dog that pulled a small travois piled with game and thick buffalo robes. They dropped their latest kills on the stretcher. He tugged on the dog’s ropes and urged the animal forward.

Bending down, Jean-Marc grabbed a fistful of snow. As he patted it firmly into a ball, he contemplated his target. Black Bear was quite the brave, but would he be able to avoid a hit from Jean-Marc? He whisked around, took aim, and tossed the snowball at Black Bear.

 Black Bear stopped. He looked at his chest, and then his eyes narrowed at Jean-Marc. He gathered his own snowball and threw it.

Jean-Marc ducked, and the white mass sailed over his head, missing him. A smirk of satisfaction tugged his lips into a grin, and he laughed.

All three tossed snowballs at each other. Eventually, they tested their strength to see who could throw the farthest. Snowballs sailed over the travois as the dog plodded ahead of them, until their fingers went numb from the cold. Drying his hands on his leggings, Jean-Marc walked backwards. His moccasins stamped a trail on endless acres of untouched snow.

Heavy breathing broke the stillness as they trudged through the wooded valley. When they left the cottonwoods behind, a cold wind stung Jean-Marc’s cheeks, carrying an unfamiliar scent on the air.

He stopped, taking in his surroundings. Patches of snow dotted the stark landscape, and white flakes drifted over the ground like a wave foaming at his feet. He held out his hand to catch the falling snow.

Not snow. Ashes.

Dread crawled up Jean-Marc’s spine. He lifted his face to the sky. A dark cloud swelled over the horizon, casting a shadow across the land. The black mass reached into the blue sky like a hand choking out the sun. He stared at the strange horizon. The village wasn’t in sight, but the smoke came from that direction.

Fire.

He sprinted toward his home.

Mother. Grandmother.

“What caused it?” Running Cloud shouted. “It’s too cold!”

“It’s soldiers!” Black Bear raced ahead of them.

The answer made Jean-Marc’s feet move faster. He charged over thick patches of snow and dead bushes. Cold slithered into his lungs, stretching icy fingers across his chest. But he kept running.

Gunshots sounded in the distance. He tripped. The frozen dirt bit into his fingers and knees.

Running Cloud yanked him to his feet.

Again, he sprinted toward home. His chest heaved painfully from the cold, heaved with every intake of breath.

Heaved.

Gunshots exploded louder over the plains, forcing his legs to pick up their pace. Several tribesmen ran toward them.

“Turn back!” someone shouted, and screams carried through the air.

Others took cover with their children in half-dug trenches.

Jean-Marc scanned the desperate people, searching for his mother. He looked for the colorful leather that dangled from her dark braids. The silver ring shining against her hand. Her buckskin dress with the blue and green pattern along its fringed hem. He didn’t see her among the people escaping.

Voices shouted and screamed.

Jean-Marc jogged ahead. Song Bird stumbled toward him, her clothes torn, her arms sagging in anguish.

“Where’s my mother?” He grabbed Song Bird by the shoulders and shook her. “Where is she?”

“I don’t know!” Song Bird wailed. “They killed Gray Feather.” She crumpled in his arms. “My girl, my little girl!”

 Running Cloud appeared next to them, his almond eyes round with shock. “Gray Feather? Gray Feather is dead?”

Jean Marc watched as Running Cloud’s shock turned to rage, a rage that matched his own. How could the soldiers attack? They knew this was a peaceful camp.

Shots sounded through the air, and sand exploded nearby.

“Take cover!” Jean-Marc pushed Song Bird toward safety and raced for the village.

He had to help the innocent. He had to find his mother. This village was filled with women and children and very few braves.

He stumbled toward the bank. A black cloud cloaked hundreds of distant lodges. Their burning scent invaded his nostrils. He dropped behind a snowdrift and rolled between thick underbrush, trying to find a safe place to hide and catch his breath. Running Cloud joined him. The acrid smoke hung in the air, and shots cracked above their heads.

The cry of a young child rushed to Jean-Marc’s ears. He crawled on his belly and peered over the snowdrift between the dead brush. A small child stumbled along the other side of the bank, crying for his mother.

Another shot fired. Sand and snow near the toddler’s feet spattered up from the ground.

The baby screamed.

“Let me try,” a white soldier said, coming up on his horse. He dismounted, knelt down and aimed his revolver at the toddler, then shot.

Shrubbery against the bank split apart behind the baby. His black hair clung to the tears on his cheeks as he continued to wail for his mother.

Jean-Marc watched the soldier. Nothing was real. He was in a dream, like when he’d try to run after the buffalo but his legs wouldn’t go fast enough. He forced himself to move and pulled an arrow from his quiver. His numb hands set the arrow against his bow.

He pulled the bowstring so tight it cut into his fingers. The muscles in his arms hurt as he aimed at the soldier’s blue coat.

He’d never killed a man before.

He released the string.

The arrow sliced through the air.

[products limit=”1″ columns=”4″ orderby=”date” order=”DESC” ids=”750″]

Chapter 1

New York

Almost there. Her new home.

 Freedom and grand dreams awaited, and Anna glided to them on a cloud across the ocean. The Vesta cut through waves as salt water sprayed her cheeks. Seagulls called above the sails that billowed into the sky.

It’d been two long months since she’d heard or seen anything other than the same groaning ship, the same hard working bodies of officers and crew, and the same gray water stretching across the endless horizon.

She brushed a strand of hair from her eyes and held her cap in place. Gulls soared above the towering masts and dove between the taut ropes that shot up and down on all sides of the ship. This was so much better than being tucked away in the cabin that rocked and creaked monotonously below deck.

“Anna!”

She turned to her father’s voice but saw only faces of other passengers.

“Anna van Stralen!” her father called again.

She spotted him on the other side of the deck. She ducked under a rope, dodged past a couple, and tucked herself under his arm.

“There is it, my little one. America!” Papa whispered hoarsely through wind that whipped his blond hair above his collar. He hugged her to his side and pointed across the water.

Anna gripped the ship’s railing and gazed through frigid air where mist rose to reveal a shadow of land in the distance. The scents of grasses, fresh water streams, and rich earth seemed to carry up like a faint vapor above the salty sea. What would it be like to have her feet on dry land again? She tried to imagine the trees and flowers, the cobblestone streets and houses, wondering how much they’d resemble Holland.

“There was your mother born long ago.”

“Why are you speaking English, Papa?”

“I told you, when on America we arrive we must speak English. So, now we begin.”

Anna giggled.

He squeezed her close. “It were many years since I’ve used these words. Too many,” he added with a shake of his head. “For this day on we speak English. The language of your mother.”

“Ya, Papa.” Even though she’d studied English, the thought of not speaking Dutch seemed strange to her.

“You are smart girl. You receive good schooling here. I make sure of it.”

Sails whipped in the wind above their heads, and she huddled close to her papa.

He coughed into his kerchief, his breath evaporating into the crisp air.

 “Maybe we should go below deck, Papa? De wind blows strong.” Her tongue stumbled in her mouth every time she tried to hiss a “th” sound past her teeth. She’d struggled with it since trying to learn the language, and she hoped now that she was in America and surrounded by English, she’d master it.

“No, we are staying here. I dream of this moment for long time. We live in Denver City. Near the beautiful Rocky Mountains.” He sighed. “You never saw mountains like in Colorado Territory. We raise cattle. I plan it all.”

Anna grinned. They’d had countless conversations about their plans. She hugged him tighter at the thought of finally nearing their dreams.

“The Lord bring us so far.”

Anna nodded, knowing full well they were spoiled by God. He always looked out for them. And she had no doubt He’d make their dreams come true. Despite never knowing her mother, Anna didn’t feel like anything was missing in her life. She had everything she needed. As her father said many times, God always looked out for them.

“Mr. van Stralen,” Mariska’s voice called from behind them in Dutch. Anna’s nanny pulled her heavy cloak closed against the breeze. “Would you like me to take Anna below deck?”

“No, that’s not will be necessary.” He waved her away. “This is special moments with my daughter.”

Anna nestled under his arm for warmth. Speaking the new language felt like a game. She giggled.

“It’s a bad time in the East,” another passenger bellowed in Dutch to his friends as they walked by. “The North and South are still at war.”

Concern clenched Anna’s heart as the word “war” sank into her mind, dashing dreams of a new, happy life. She vaguely remembered hearing about the war before they left Holland.

“Be not afraid, little one. We not worry about that. The Lord protect us. Besides, we be far away from the fighting and death. We go west. To American frontier. Denver City. That is where we belong.” His sky-blue eyes gazed out over the sea. “That is where we belong.”

~*~

Three weeks later and still in New York, Anna sat alone in the quiet hall of their rented, furnished townhouse. The large clock thrummed half past the hour, and she worried that each passing moment was one moment closer to her father’s death. Each tick of the clock like a drop of water from a leaky faucet: drip . . . drip . . . drip. Each droplet, a draining of life. If only the incessant sound would stop. Wringing her hands to keep them from covering her ears, she stared through the banister at the Christmas tree in the parlor below.

Red ribbons and white popcorn draped around its greenery. Earlier that day Mrs. Stone, her father’s lawyer’s wife, had come to help Anna and her nanny decorate its branches. An effort to cheer her spirits. But Anna felt anything but cheerful. This would be the worst Christmas ever.

“Let him live, God. Please, let him live.” She folded her hands until her knuckles turned white. “You made all those people in the Bible better, so I know You can make Papa well too.” Yes. That was it. Jesus healed so many. He would heal Papa.

She sighed with relief, and her gaze fell on a newspaper lying on a small table next to her chair. The Dutch name Wynkoop caught her eye. Hands still folded, she leaned closer. It was page one of the New York Tribune where a Major Wynkoop told about his encounters with Indians in Colorado Territory. Her interest piqued as she read the words. Though they were in English, she was pleased she understood most of them. It’d always been easier for her to read the language than to actually speak it.

She became caught up in the story as she read about Colonel John M. Chivington, who led a surprise attack killing Cheyenne and Arapaho Indians. Hundreds of women and children had been murdered. She couldn’t imagine anything more horrible.

Those poor people. How could anyone be so cruel? Her father had nothing but good to say about the Indians he’d met along the Arkansas River. They had treated him with kindness and let him stay in their tent-like homes. Why would anyone want to kill them?

Indians.

She’d come to a land where Indians roamed. What did they really look like? Her father talked about them, had even described them in his stories about his long-ago travels to the West. It fascinated her to read about Denver City where she and her father would begin a new future. They were so near to their dream, and yet so far.

No, he wouldn’t die. He couldn’t die! They had to go to Denver to fulfill their dream.

“You may see him now.” The doctor’s voice carried down the quiet hall from her father’s room.

Anna slid off the chair, bringing the paper with her. Perhaps reading about the West would help boost his spirits and make him well again? She’d try anything at this point. They’d been in New York much longer than planned.

When she entered the room, she walked slowly to his bedside and kissed his cheek. “I bring something for you, Papa.” She spoke in English, remembering their promise. She held up the paper for him and pointed at the familiar Dutch name.

“Wynkoop?” Her father coughed then slowly turned his weakened gaze toward her. “As much as I’d like to, I can’t read this right now.” To her surprise and worry, he spoke Dutch.

Anna placed the paper on the nightstand. “I understand, Papa. You can read it later.”

She straightened, trying to ignore how he’d changed in appearance just since their arrival in New York, his cheekbones more prominent, his skin pale, and his eyes surrounded by dark circles.

“Little one, I don’t know,” he paused as coughs racked through his body, “any other way to say this.”

“Then don’t say it.” She shook her head and her throat tightened. “Please, don’t say it, Papa. We’re going to Denver City.” She smiled even though tears burned her eyes. “You need to get better so we can go.”

“I’m dying.”

His words struck her like the Vesta plunging into the waves, only this time, the ship sank beneath them, and the cold water swallowed her and the ship whole. Not daring to breathe, for fear she might release a wail as she drown, she stared for a long time at the lacy curtains draped over the window. Beautiful dreams, all fading away with the sun. She swallowed hard, widening her eyes to keep from crying, but she felt the betrayal of a tear as it trickled down her cheek and onto her chin. Soon, like that tear, she would be alone.

“Papa, please don’t die.” It was a foolish request, but she couldn’t help herself. She felt like she was falling and had nothing, no one to cling to, no one but him. She fell on his chest.

The bed shook as her father coughed.

Was he laughing? It’d be so like him. Her head shot up.

He smiled. “If I had a choice, I’d stay alive.”

How could she be so selfish? She wiped her eyes. At her age she should have known better. Ten was quite old, after all, but right now, she felt like a baby—his baby, and he was leaving her.

She scooted closer, desperate to take in every word, clinging to him over the bedcovers.

He ran his finger down the bridge of her nose. “Don’t cry anymore. You must be brave.” He gulped in air. “You will live with your uncle Horace, your mother’s brother, and he will take care of you. I’ve arranged for him to provide for your needs and your education.” He turned his head and panted for breath then expelled a long wheeze.

His face turned bright red against his light blond hair while he coughed. He was so thin, and his skin so pale. He no longer looked young and full of life like that day on the ship’s deck.

He cleared his throat. “Just do as your uncle says and be a good girl.” He coughed. “It’s a shame . . . he never married,” his words came out in spurts, “then he would . . . have a wife to mother you.”

“I don’t need a mother, Papa. I just need you.”

“You have to be strong.” He wiped a tear from her cheek. “No more tears.”

“Yes, Papa.”

“I wish I could send you back to Amsterdam. But no one is left. It’s just you and me.”

Just you and me.

“Oh, Papa!” She wailed. How could he leave her alone? “Please don’t give up. Jesus will heal you! He’ll make you better.”

“It’s not the Lord’s will.” He fought off another attack.

She waited and watched him battle for breath, his blue eyes now watery pools of gray. His words made her heart, like the ship, sink even further. He wasn’t just going away for a short time, he was going away forever. Her throat hurt as she fought back tears, trying to stop crying.

He looked into her eyes. “I’m sorry I couldn’t get over this, little one.” He wheezed. “Just know I’m proud of you. If only I had more time . . . more time to teach you.” He coughed. “Remember, I may be leaving, but the Lord is always with you. You won’t be alone.”

“Yes, Papa.” She hugged his chest again, trying to swallow the knot that formed in her throat.

She wouldn’t cry.

~*~

The heavy tray quivered as Anna set it on the small table in the study. She felt his gaze on her, watching her every move. When she first met Uncle Horace, he reminded her of Mama. They had the same eyes. Even though she’d never met her mother, she recognized the similarities from photographs. She’d felt less troubled when she’d noticed the likenesses, but immediately learned that those outward similarities where all that existed.

Anna picked up the porcelain teapot and tipped it over a cup. The hot liquid gushed out from its weight. She caught the long spout with her hand, burning her fingers and filling the cup much closer to the brim than she’d intended.

Her gaze darted to her uncle, who thankfully grinned at the lovely Mrs. Craw, missing the slight blunder. She set the heavy teapot back on the tray next to the dishes, her hands trembling and her arms aching. With clammy fingers, she lifted the cup and saucer then held it out for Mrs. Craw.

“No. Sugar!”

Startled, Anna jerked to the sugar, sending the cup over the saucer and onto the hem of Mrs. Craw’s gown. The dishes clattered on the table as she grabbed the tea towel to wipe off Mrs. Craw’s dress.

 “You horrid little creature!” Mrs. Craw slapped her, sending stings of pain across her cheek.

Anna put a hand to her face and turned to Uncle Horace who sat across from them.

His eyes blazed, and a frown darkened his threatening face.

It had been two months since her arrival, and she still hadn’t found a way to please him. She held her breath.

He stood from his chair and lunged toward her.

Anna raised her hand to block his swing, but he grabbed her arm, yanked her to her feet, dragged her out of the room and down the carpeted hallway. “You stupid child. I ought to throw you on the street for what you’ve done.”

The stairs leading down to the entry hall appeared before her. She clung to his arm.

He pried her loose. “Get off me, you little terror!” He tore her hands free and threw her down.

She missed the first step then tumbled down the others. Her shin caught between the rails of the banister, and she jerked to a stop. Pain shot through her leg as she dangled from the rail halfway down the stairs.

Uncle Horace turned to Mrs. Craw as she came up behind him. Her large hoop skirt swung up far enough for Anna to see her bloomers. “My husband believes I’m taking a stroll in the park.” Hands on hips, the woman glared at Anna. “How am I going to explain this tea stain?”

Anna’s hands trembled as she leaned up to pull her leg free. Would Uncle Horace come after her again? She grasped the rails and climbed to her feet.

“I’ll teach you a lesson you’ll never forget.” He marched down the stairs, black eyes blazing, and grabbed her by the hair.

She screamed and shuddered. “Papa!”

He dragged her through the hall. “Papa’s not coming. He never loved you anyway.” They passed the grand parlor, and he shoved her into the small bedroom behind the kitchen.

She tripped but caught herself on the bed.

“Gather your dresses. All of them.”

With quivering hands, she opened the wardrobe and collected all her garments. There weren’t many, since her uncle had only allowed one trunk of her belongings when she moved in.

“Take that off,” he said, pointing to the dress she wore.

Anna hesitated.

“Now!”

She got out of her dress as quickly as she could. Heat crawled up her neck to her cheeks as he stood watching. Glimpsing herself in the mirror, she noticed how thin and naked she looked.

Carrying her dresses, ready to surrender to whatever punishment he chose to deal out, she came to the door in only her chemise.

“Come,” he said.

Favoring her bruised leg and trying not to trip over the dresses, she hobbled behind him back up the stairs. It was difficult keeping up with his long strides.

When they returned to the study, Mrs. Craw stood glaring at her with thin lips turned up as if in smug satisfaction.

Uncle Horace snatched the dresses out of her arms.

One at a time, he tossed all her lovely gowns into the large fireplace. The flames exploded and then calmed as they melted away the beautiful silk and crinoline fabrics.

“Nay,” Anna whispered as she sank to her knees. Her father had given her those dresses. They were all she had.

“There are maid’s uniforms hanging in your wardrobe,” her uncle said, beads of sweat covering his flushed forehead. “You will wear those.”

“They don’t fit me, sir,” she whispered, thinking about the adult clothing that hung there.

“Wear them!” He clenched his teeth. “Now go.” He pointed to the door. “I don’t want to see your sniveling face again.”

She limped down the stairs, shivering from the cold and trembling over her situation. Trapped. With nowhere to run. She stumbled past the parlor and into the kitchen, wishing to warm herself by the stove, but the fire had long gone out.

Dejected, she limped into her small room, which had formerly belonged to a maidservant, and closed the door behind her. Her father’s portrait stood on the nightstand, the only sight of familiarity and joy. Trembling, she hugged it to herself then fell on the bed and wept.

“I miss you, Papa.” Sobs choked her for a long time while her arm and leg throbbed in pain. She sniffed and wiped the tears from her cheeks. Shivering in her chemise, she pulled the covers around her for warmth.

 Her father’s handsome, serious face looked back at her from the photo. “I wish you were here.” Loneliness swept over her in a thick wave of nausea. She stared at her father through blurred vision, trying to imagine what he might say, trying to hear his voice. The Lord is with you. You’re not alone.

If that were true, Anna should be able to feel His presence. She tried to feel God. To feel His closeness. Nothing but the cold draft sighing beneath her door swept over her cheeks and made her shiver.

Why was He so far away?

Not daring to give in to her fear, she wiped her eyes and then scooted up on her elbow, but painful tingles shot through her arm, so she decided to sit up. She kissed her papa’s portrait.

“Tell me a story, Papa. Tell me about the Indians, just like you used to do.” She’d hoped to meet some Indians when they went to Denver City.

With that, an idea struck, and she slid off the bed. Underneath, still packed in her carpetbag, she found the book her father had read before his death. She kept it hidden from her uncle, for he had said it was shameful to read books. She brushed against the jewelry box and Bible that once belonged to her mother. She kept those hidden too.

Anna sighed at seeing the purse of paste jewelry Mariska had given to her. Uncle Horace had released her nanny as soon as they’d arrived, and since then, they’d lost contact. She had likely found work somewhere far away. If only Anna could go somewhere far away too.

 She pushed the jewelry box and Bible back farther into the carpetbag and grabbed the book, The Last of the Mohicans. Though her father had read it, he refused to read it to her, saying she was too young.

She climbed back onto her small bed, picked up her father’s picture, and laid the book on her lap. Tenderly, she brushed her fingers across his face. How she missed his blue eyes and warm laughter.

“I wish you were here so you could read to me.” She loved losing herself in the sound of his voice, and right now, it was the only way she could escape her life. Hmm . . . she could simply read the story and imagine him reading it to her.

Drained by her tears, Anna hugged the photo. If only she could leave this place. She didn’t know how, but she knew where—Denver City. That’s where home was supposed to be. Perhaps God would find a way to take her there? He could take her away, far away from New York where nobody wanted her. She would be gone, no longer a burden to anyone.

Yes. He would rescue her.

Please save me, Lord. Take me away from here. Far away.

~*~

New York

May 1870

“It will never happen again,” Anna whispered to herself in the looking glass. After six long years, her uncle had beaten her for the last time. She winced from the pain in her arm where he had punched her the day before. All because she had returned late from the market. He might be growing suspicious of her so-called visits to the marketplace. But the last sewing project had to be turned in, the money she’d earned was now stashed away, and after several letters of correspondence, a teaching job awaited her. Amazing how much one could accomplish on her daily visits to the market.

She turned and pulled her carpetbag out from under the bed.

At sixteen, she had fulfilled her promise to her father and completed her education. Had the tutor not been ordered by the judge to come to the house for her lessons, she would never have gotten any schooling. Her uncle had been set against it. But the school had been paid, and since she couldn’t go to them, they came to her. Thank the good Lord for that.

Now was her chance to leave. Her uncle was away on business for the day, the other maid was gone, and the only one left in the house was the butler who never paid her any mind. She packed the few things she owned into her carpetbag and turned to the bureau.

She smoothed her hand over the surface of her mother’s jewelry box—she’d have to leave it behind. Anna’s mother had died giving birth to her. All she had left were her mother’s gems, given to her at the time of her father’s death, her mother’s English Bible, a few pictures, and what little money she had managed to save these past years from sewing in secret. The jewels were sewn into her bodice. It had been a tedious task, but at least thieves wouldn’t find them.

Anna stashed the fake jewelry her former nanny had given her into a small pouch, pulled the drawstring closed, and put it in her carpetbag. They might come in handy if she were to run into thieves. She’d heard too many stories about the dangers of traveling west. Grabbing her things, she hurried to the front hall.

One last look in the mirror revealed her blond braids stylishly looped, and she pinned her hat neatly in place. Her traveling dress, the only one she had time to make, suited her. Its sage color set off her green eyes, and the bustle was slight so as to provide comfort for traveling.

As she pulled her cloak on over her shoulders, she noticed a gathering of dust along the small shelf below the mirror. She smiled to herself. Never again would she have to slave for her uncle and put up with his beatings. Let him find someone else to dust and clean his house.

Carpetbag in one hand, gloves in the other, Anna van Stralen stepped outside the front door. She strode down the walkway with her chin held high. The entire world was open to her. Freedom and dreams waited to be realized.

The great frontier, her new home—Denver City.

[products limit=”1″ columns=”4″ orderby=”date” order=”DESC” ids=”750″]