Authors: Alex Taylor Wolfe
A Ransomed Heart
A Novel By
Table of Contents
A cold finger of apprehension crept down Annabelle’s back. She could feel the beads of sweat under her bonnet, moistening her hair. It was warm out but that wasn’t what was bothering her. Within the hour she would be meeting her betrothed for the first time. The form-fitting bodice of her beautiful silk gown seemed to grow ever tighter as the minutes passed on. She cast a wary eye in the direction of her coach mate. He sat stiffly in his spot across from her. His eyes, beady and black, looked out the open window towards the jagged badlands of the Wyoming Territory. He had been an uncomfortable companion, his air demeaning and unkind, and his personality as dry as the desert grass they were traveling upon. Annabelle was anxious for encouragement but the flat Mr. Mousse was of little help.
It was a dusty afternoon and she was constantly brushing the fine silt off her heavy silk skirts. For the hundredth time she looked over the beautiful green dress and was
amazed at how beautiful it was. She had planned on her blue gingham dress until Mr. Mousse had insisted on the gown he had brought. The skirts were so full and she was weighed down by the six petticoats which were concealed under the fine cloth. Her bodice was pleated and perfect with a silk ribbon lacing its way down to her small waist. The sleeves were puffed and perched stiffly on her bare arms which were white as snow and dotted with freckles. She was young, only eighteen, and her fair skin and blue eyes spoke openly about her Irish ancestry. It had been no wonder her youthful beauty had won over the heart of a man; she had just imagined it happening a little differently. But no matter now, she had chosen this course and she was well on her way there.
Her blue eyes moved to the surrounding hills. Th
is land was rugged and untouched. The cliffs looked as if they were molded carefully by a sculptor, then in a moment of his abandonment, he would drop a plateau or sandstone rock cluster in an obscure manner. Then he painted it all with three colors: red, brown and gold. It seemed mundane to the average eye, but Annabelle Casey was not average. Tipping her head just outside the window she strained to see their destination. It was useless. The land seemed to stretch on for miles like a lost, empty river bed. Forlorn, she leaned back against the hard seat and waited.
It had been two days
since she had left her home. Things had happened so quickly it seemed almost as if she was in a dream. Her whole adventure in this Wild West seemed as if it wasn’t really happening, like she was reading a clip from a newspaper telling the story of another young woman thrown at the mercy of life. She closed her eyes and tried to ignore the rough jerking of the wooden coach and the squeak of the wheel next to her. She longed to be back at the day she first laid eyes on this beautiful plain.
had been over a year now since her family had rolled, dust covered and weary, into the town of Destitution somewhere off the Oregon Tail. Her father was an adventurous man, much like herself, and the idea of this immense amount of space called to his heart. Her mother and two older brothers needed more encouragement, but Annabelle was front and center on their journey. She had dreamed of the day she would leave their little town in rural Pennsylvania and nothing seemed bigger than the west. The unknown was wildly romantic in her opinion and her excitement encouraged her father onward as well as boosted the spirits of her other family members.
It had all changed however when they arrived and
found the Wyoming territory an unforgiving place. Crops refused to grow and water never lasted long enough. Winters were harsh and cold and killed nearly all their livestock. Father had invested in a few sheep, which unfortunately seemed to be the only animals who could live in this barren region other than the mule deer and antelope that munched happily on the family’s dying crop. It had been frustrating to say the least, but their strong Irish blood kept them going. Then this summer it seemed as if the gods had opened a door. Her father had obtained a loan to supplement the poor harvest of the year before and they were back to planting. Annabelle worked so hard her hands bled trying to carry water to the starving crops. Her mother suffered greatly and her father spent months with his back bent in worry. The memory of it even now pulled at her heartstrings enough that she felt moisture in the corner of her eyes.
Brushing it away
, she opened them against the hot afternoon sun and squared her petite shoulders a little bit. All of it was going to change now though, because of her. She had made her decision with no force or judgment of her family. She was on a mission now to help them, at no matter the cost. This was her errand; it was her ability to save the family who loved her so dearly. Even with such a conviction as that, she trembled slightly inside. Looking toward her only companion she tried a feeble smile. He only stared back at her, his pencil-thin mustache wiggling wildly about on his top lip. She wrinkled her nose and fixed her gaze on an approaching knoll about a quarter of a mile away; only time could slow her destiny now.
Logan Bailey waited
patiently perched on his buckskin gelding. The afternoon sun beat down on the brim of his black felt hat and he felt slightly like an egg on a hot skillet. They had been watching for nearly an hour now with no luck. His best friend, Kit, along with their motley crew of men, lounged on the backs of their mounts. Kit seemed to be napping expertly on the hard leather saddle, his feet dangling outside the stirrups. If Logan didn’t feel so tense, he would have given the red mare a good slap on the rump just to watch his friend scramble to stay on the animal. A smile crossed his face as he thought how funny Kit would look, but his anxiousness kept him from following though with the prank. He had an uneasy feeling they may have missed their intended target.
Logan was a quiet man, his blond hair cut short to his head and his
steel-blue eyes said all he needed to say. He had lived a long life in his twenty-five years and some days he felt as if he would never live to see another twenty. His tan skin spoke of hours in the sun and his casual, easy gait meant he had spent more than a few hours in the saddle. There wasn’t much that got past his gaze so it made him uneasy that their intended target was not yet in sight. Scratching a leather-gloved hand against his face, he drew a deep breath and held it until the air filled every corner of his broad chest. Logan would need to be as alert as ever now that the sun signaled its descent from the sky. The day was winding down, but he was just getting ready for quite possibly the longest day of his life.
All fifteen of
his men had watched ever so carefully for the telltale cloud of prairie dust. As the sun moved higher and higher into the blue sky, less and less of them kept a vigilant watch, all except Logan. This was going to be his payday and nothing short of hell or high water was going to keep it from him. He adjusted himself in his saddle and urged his horse over to Kit’s. He needed to break up the time by talking to someone; Kit was his most trusted friend and could lend some support in this anxious time. He cleared his throat not wanting to startle his friend and then leaned over his saddle horn to whisper at Kit:
eah, sure, is it time?”
“Naw, just needed some company.”
Kit had known his friend long enough to see Logan was worried. It wasn’t as if the plan was a bad one, but he wished he could have talked Logan out of it. They had planned down to the wire and Kit knew they would pull it off, but his easy-going nature and lack of interest in confrontation made him hesitate a bit. Of course he would follow Logan off the back end of a cliff if he had asked him to, but that didn’t stop his inner voice from expressing its own opinion. Calmly he looked his friend in the eye:
“It won’t be long now, just relax.”
Knowingly Logan nodded and turned the head of his horse to the west. At the very same moment he saw the unmistakable cloud of dust. Little Bear, another trusted friend, gave him the sign from his post on top of the eroded mound. It was time. Moments later the man watched as the red stagecoach came into view and rumbled slowly along, like a bug across the valley floor. The men covered their faces with colorful bandanas and urged their ponies close to the ends of the mound. The animals could sense the change in atmosphere. Almost immediately they strained against their leads, chomping on their metal bits.
, too, felt the rush of adrenaline flooding into his system. His heart pounded wildly in his chest and he could feel his muscles flex and un-flex under his shirt. Carefully he pulled his hat further down on his head and then gave a cautious look at his men. Gripping the leather reins in his hand he let out a loud whistle. The half-wild animals reared a bit and then danced on the soft sandy earth before they were freed from their riders’ hold. Like a band of Indians they whooped and hollered their way down the dusty incline and onto the flat hard earth of the valley. Logan’s mind was swallowed up in the excitement as he led his men to victory.
Annabelle was pulled away from her
memories and the incessant squeak of the wagon wheel by the distant sound of shouting. Craning her head around she peeked out the window behind them to see a band of men riding furiously in their direction. She felt her heart skip a beat and she quickly turned to face Mr. Mousse. His face had lost the usual smugness and his black eyes were wide as saucers. He, too, poked his head out the window but it was to yell at the coach driver in an unusually high-pitched voice. The horses pulling them jumped at the crack of the whip and Annabelle was roughly thrown into the back of her seat. Her own eyes wide with fear she again thrust her head out the window and looked back at the approaching men.
The naturally windy
plain was a force to be reckoned with all by itself, but with the rapid speed of the coach Annabelle felt her bonnet being ripped from her head. The jostling of the coach was bone-breaking and she gripped the window sill tightly in her hand. This helped her to no longer leave her seat, but her teeth rattled wildly in her head and her whole frame shook until she felt as if every bone would break. The noise of the galloping horses and clatter of horse tack was nearly deafening, but the sound was punctuated by the yelling of their pursuers.
began begging the driver to go faster. His whiny voice was nearly an octave above the comfortable range for the human ear. Annabelle slapped her shaking hands over her ears trying to protect them from the horrendous screech which ripped though the confined space, and then to her horror, she watched as the noisy wheel on her side of the coach wobbled loose. Her eyes went to her companion but he seemed to have closed himself off from the nightmare that had overtaken them. His black pig eyes had glassed over and his lips were set in a white, grim line. Annabelle knew then he would be no help at all.