The Last Ride West (Preview)


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Missouri, 1882

“Not a sound now, Monica, love. Not a sound.” Anastasia whispered the words to the baby swaddled in her arms, praying that despite her young age, her daughter would understand and stay silent. If she was going to accomplish all that she wished to that night, then she had to act now, and they had to stay quiet.

Creeping down the stairs of the house, Anastasia held her daughter tight to her chest. She was careful to work at the very edges, to avoid making the wood creak beneath her. Many nights when she was young, she had crept down these stairs, trying not to wake her father. She could have been a child again now, hoping to sneak past him.

When she reached the bottom step, she held herself perfectly still, listening to the sounds of the house around her. The wooden walls creaked occasionally in the wind and then fell still. Above her, not a sound came from her father’s room.

Good. This will be easier if he doesn’t wake up.

Closing her eyes momentarily, Anastasia breathed deeply. Making the choice to leave hadn’t been an easy one, for much had held her back. The pain it would cause her father was one such thing that made her reconsider, but the agony Monica would be put through if she stayed had persuaded her in the end that she was making the right decision.

“Goodbye, Father,” she whispered to the air as if he would somehow hear her in his sleep, all the way up in his room. She glanced back up the stairs, thinking of the letter she had left in her bedroom for her father to find. He’d discover it the next day, and hopefully, he would understand why she had made the decision to leave. “Goodbye,” she whispered again, then turned away.

By the front door was a bag she had brought down earlier that night and hidden beneath the lace curtains covering the windows. In the bag, she had packed just a few things for herself—she’d mostly brought supplies for Monica. Her focus would always be the child now, no matter what came her way.

Pulling the bag over her shoulder, she looked around the room. The moonlight peeking through the windows fell on all the hazards she had known in this house for as long as she could remember. On a table by the open kitchen sat two guns her father had left out, bullets strewn across the wood. More than once over the years had Anastasia been sat at that table when her father had returned home, sporting wounds from his latest exploits. She had patched him up, and sometimes gone for a doctor to do the stitches.

It’s not the life Monica will have.

Anastasia wrapped her coat around her body and Monica’s in her arms, then she turned for the door and opened it a little, creeping through the slim gap to step outside.

The moon was bright tonight, with not a wisp of clouds to cover it. The street glowed in that light, almost ethereal-looking, making the empty road something rather magical in appearance. Anastasia was not fooled. As she locked the door and turned away, hurrying down the street, her eyes landed on various places along that road that had scarred her with memories.

Two doors down was where she had found her father once, bearing a gunshot wound to his shoulder. It was a wonder he’d lived through that one. At this far end of the street, where it met the adjoining road, Anastasia had been playing with the other children—and would have been no older than seven at the time—when she was snatched by a thief. That thief had tried to run with her before her father had appeared, and the gunshot fired at the thief haunted her memory forevermore. Sometimes, she still woke at night with the dreams, remembering the sight of the blood.

Monica cooed and wriggled in her arms, evidently wanting her attention.

“Stay quiet now, love,” Anastasia whispered to her, bending down enough to tighten the swaddling around her daughter one last time. “We’re going to get out of here, yes? We’re going to start a new life, somewhere far away from here.”

The baby gurgled.

“I don’t know where,” Anastasia went on as if the baby’s sounds had been a genuine question. “Yet we’ll find somewhere. This town… it holds too many ghosts.”

Turning at the end of the street, she directed her steps through the busiest streets of town. She had learned a long time ago to avoid the quiet and narrow lanes, for they held danger. Criminals could be lurking, hiding in the shadows, waiting for an opportune moment to steal a purse or something worse. As she walked, thinking only of her task, her heels striking the hard ground repeatedly beneath her, the baby began to grow restless. Monica cried a little, pulling at her swaddling with her small pudgy hands.

“No crying, love, this is a good thing.” Anastasia held Monica closer to her chest. “Are you cold? That must be it.” She tried to warm the child, kissing the baby on the cheeks and blowing on her temple before wrapping her arms tighter around the girl, being careful to always keep her head supported. “Not long, now. Just a bit farther.”

Anastasia had considered getting a horse and riding out of town herself, but such a ride would be uncomfortable for a baby to endure. What was more, Anastasia didn’t trust the lonely tracks around town. If she was going to get as far from here as possible, safely and quickly, there was only one way to make her escape.

Pausing, she lifted her chin. Through the moonlight, between the wooden rooftops, she caught a glimpse of the train station, its brightly painted sign glimmering in the silver light.

Nearly there.

A gunshot fired behind her.

Anastasia crouched down to her knees and leaped for the shadows in the road, considering how close the shot was. Something was happening—typical in this town. Barely a night or two could pass without a shot being fired. The saloons were full of thieves and con men; even the marshals took backhanders, making the work of the sheriff doubly hard. Pressing herself into the shadows, Anastasia craned her neck, looking down the road.

Another gunshot fired, followed by the hasty footsteps of someone running. Gradually, at the end of the street, two figures appeared, dressed darkly. They had holsters at their hips, though their guns now rested in the palms of their hands. They were shooting wildly behind them, clearly at someone pursuing them, though with little aim. It struck Anastasia that even a casual onlooker out of a window, curious to the sound, could be caught by one of those wayward bullets.

It won’t happen to Monica.

She turned her back on the street, hoping she was masked by the shadows as Monica fell quiet in her arms.

“Keep running, you snake!” one of the men yelled at his friend. “You want to be caught after one job? Brilliant. The thieves who can’t even pull off one bank robbery.”

Glancing over her shoulder, Anastasia noticed the bags the men carried. They seemed to be overflowing with the notes they had taken from the bank. Behind them in the street, marshals were appearing, sprinting as fast as they could with pistols outstretched in front of them.

“We won’t be caught in the middle of this, Monica, I promise you that,” Anastasia whispered to her daughter and kissed her forehead. The baby wriggled in her arms, the bright blue eyes that were so like her own staring up in wonder. Anastasia offered a small smile before another gunshot tore her gaze away.

Shifting Monica into one arm, Anastasia reached into the bag flung across her shoulder and laid a hand on the pistol she had packed. Her father had given it to her years ago.

“Sometimes, there’s only one way to survive in this world, Ana. You have to shoot first.”

She hadn’t praised such a teaching, but now, she was thankful for the gun. With her fingers curling around the hilt, she waited, watching in the street for what would happen next.

The thieves didn’t appear to notice her. They ran on down the road as fast as they could, trying to escape with the loot they had stolen. On their tails were three marshals, all shouting for the thieves to stop.

“You want to be shot like a dog in the street?” one called. “That’s what will happen if you keep running!”

More gunshots fired. As a bullet landed in the wall over Anastasia’s head, she dropped to the earth, practically falling on her rear as she clutched Monica with both hands. The skirt of her gown pooled around her feet, nearly tripping her up, and Monica wailed.

“Shh,” Anastasia pleaded.

A marshal’s head turned Anastasia’s way, clearly curious at the sound, but he didn’t stop to investigate. Jerking his head forward, he ran on again, pursuing the thieves.

“It’s nearly time, Monica, nearly time.” Anastasia moved to her knees as her eyes shifted to the train station. The train had to be coming, for she could hear it now in the distance, rumbling beneath the gunshots. Steam was beginning to fill the air by the rooftop to the station, too.

Knowing she couldn’t wait any longer, Anastasia left her hiding spot, cutting across the street, she made her way to the train station. The thieves didn’t notice her and neither did the marshals, too caught up in their own chase. As she bolted across the platform, the station platform attendant waved a small flag at the train, showing no one was waiting.

“No!” she called. “Wait, I’m getting on.”

The attendant stopped waving the flag and turned to look at her.

“Leaving it late, hmm.” He grunted with the words, his eyes shooting down to the baby Anastasia carried. He asked nothing, though he checked Anastasia’s ticket with an intent gaze before allowing her on board.

As she climbed on, Anastasia could still hear the gunshots in the street. The thieves seemed to be getting closer again. The chase spilled out onto the station platform and she darted up onto the train, out of harm’s way, and heaved herself into the nearest seat.

The train was nearly empty, so the few people that were there looked through the window, startled at the sounds of gunshots. Out of the corner of her eye, Anastasia could see fight through the glass. The two thieves were tackled to the ground by the marshals, who took the bags full of cash.

Only when the train began to pull away did Anastasia’s breathing begin to calm. Each breath became slow, rather than fast and jittery.

“There now, Monica. I said all would be well,” Anastasia whispered. Realizing that she was still holding onto the gun in her bag, she loosened her fingers from the weapon and adjusted the swaddling around her daughter. “With a little luck, I won’t have to use a gun again.”

The whispered words brought her comfort as Monica wriggled and yawned, her blue eyes slowly closing.

“This place always needs another sheriff or bounty hunter, with one criminal taking the place of another as soon as he’s dragged off the street. But I promise you this, love.” She raised the baby closer to her face and kissed her daughter’s temple. “I’ll find us a home that’s safe, where guns will not be needed, and sheriffs and bounty hunters won’t have to come calling.”

She prayed it was a promise she would be able to keep.

Chapter One

Missouri, 1888

“That doesn’t look like cleaning up to me.” Anastasia laughed as she looked down at her daughter. “Monica, I thought we were sweeping?”

“You’re sweeping. I’m drawing angels.” Monica giggled and bent down to the floor, swiping a finger in the flour that had been spilled from Anastasia’s baking.

She chuckled heartily at her daughter’s antics and leaned the broom against a nearby worktop, bending down to join her daughter. “If she’s an angel, she needs wings then.”

Anastasia gestured to the woman drawn in the flour, who was missing wings. Pressing her tongue between her lips in concentration, Monica drew in some wings, then flicked back her long dark hair. Anastasia smiled as she watched her daughter, for each day she seemed to be growing into a smaller version of Anastasia herself.

We are so alike.

Anastasia frequently plaited their long dark hair, so it was swept away from their faces, and their blue eyes were mirror images of each other. The only thing Monica had really gotten from her father were stronger cheekbones, across which her smile now wavered.

“That doesn’t look right!” she complained, looking down at her drawing. “It looks more like elephant ears.”

“Well, I wasn’t going to say it,” Anastasia teased her daughter.

“Mean!” Monica launched herself at Anastasia. In a bid to defend herself, Anastasia pretended to hold her daughter back before giving in and allowing Monica to tickle her.

“Alright, you win. Zounds! You always win at that game.” Anastasia stood and carried her daughter with her, kissing Monica’s forehead as she looked around the kitchen in which she worked.

There’s so much to do.

Working as a maid on the largest ranch in town had its advantages and its setbacks. There was certainly always more work to do. Having baked fresh cakes for the ranch hands, with flour everywhere, she had to tidy it up before they returned from their work. She had a feeling her rather grumpy boss would not appreciate his kitchen being full of flour angels.

“Time for me to clear up,” Anastasia said and put her daughter back down on her feet. “Why don’t you give the cake mixture a stir while I tidy.”

Monica nodded and kneeled on a chair, bending over a bowl to stir it as Anastasia picked up her broom and swept behind her. As the two worked, Monica went intermittently between humming her favorite songs and talking of flour angels. She drew a few more beside her on the workbench. Anastasia mirrored her daughter’s smile.

This is a happy place to be.

Before she had come to work on the ranch, things had been difficult. Having struggled to find a job for a long time that would let her work around her child, she had been forced to leave Monica with a local girl who would look after her, and then go off to work. These days, she faced no such challenges. The ranch owner was glad to have Monica on the ranch too, for he saw it as company for his son.

Where is Dylan?

Struck by the thought, Anastasia looked around the room. There was still much for her to tidy, and between the crates with deliveries for the ranch that had been piled high by the floor, a small face was pressed. Dylan had evidently crept in and was watching closely. A year Monica’s senior at seven, he lacked her confidence at times.

“Dylan?” Anastasia called to him. His small gray eyes widened, startled he had been caught. “Do you want to come help us?”

He stood straight, revealing his body. Bearing the same unruly fair hair as his father, he ruffled it now, and hung his head.

“I’m not interrupting, Miss Ana.”

“I never said you were.” She laughed at the idea. “Who told you such a thing?”

Dylan didn’t answer but shrugged his shoulders. Anastasia paused her sweeping and looked at the boy, who fiddled with the sleeves of his shirt. It had been much the same ever since Dylan’s mother had died the year before. He had taken to creeping about the house and hiding in corners. He even hid from his father on occasion, though he had never once given Anastasia a reason why.

I’d probably hide from such a father too.

She refused to let her thoughts slip to her own father and thought of the ranch owner, Mr. Woody Carlton, instead. She had seen many times how much he loved his son, but she wouldn’t have called him the warmest and most affectionate of fathers. He kept a cool distance, especially since his wife had died. Anastasia half-wondered if it was partly why Dylan hid in corners. Perhaps he felt he couldn’t come and join in.

“Come play with us.” She beckoned him forward, laying her broom down once again. Dylan stepped forward slowly at first, so nervous that his small black boots nearly slipped on the flour beneath him. “We’re making flour angels, look.”

He lost his nerve and scurried forward, trying to clamber up onto the chair beside Monica. Anastasia helped, lifting him under the arms so he rested on his knees beside Monica and peered at the angels.

“You draw one too,” Monica invited, showing him what to do. Using his finger, he copied her movements, drawing lines in the flour on the table until an angel was created. “There! Mine are better than yours.”

“Are not.”

“Are too.”

“They are both good,” Anastasia said succinctly before an argument could be started. She bent down and kissed Monica on the forehead before returning to her broom. “Perhaps you should draw other things, too.”

“I know…” Dylan bent forward, drawing something else on the table. When Monica tried to peer past his shoulder to see what he was doing, he raised his arm and hid his work from her.

“Oi.” She pulled at his arm.

“There!” He sat back with triumph and gestured down at what was on the table.

“Eek, it’s a little devil,” Monica said, pointing at it.

Anastasia smiled as she moved to stand beside Dylan, looking at what he had done. Beside his drawing of an angel there was now a devil, complete with horns and a tail.

“That’s silly,” Monica said in dismissal.

“Why is it?” Dylan returned to fidgeting with his sleeves, clearly nervous again.

“There are no devils in this world.”

“Sadly, not all devils have horns and a tail, love,” Anastasia said. “If only they did, it would make it easier for us to see them.” She patted Dylan on the shoulder in comfort. “I like it, Dylan.”

“Thank you.” He returned his finger to the angel he had drawn and made the lines thicker in the flour. “Pa says Ma is an angel now.”

The way the words were said so casually pulled at Anastasia’s heartstrings. Her hand tightened a little on Dylan’s shoulder. Poor boy.

“She is, sweetheart, she is,” she said gently. “You should draw her a friend, other than the devil. She must have angel friends, too.” Anastasia blinked, warding off the tears that had threatened at the thought of how much Dylan missed his mother.

“Here, have more flour.” Monica pushed some more forward, scattering it across the table. “We’ll draw her many friends.”

Soon, the devil was quite discarded. There was something about the devil that Anastasia couldn’t forget, though. Stepping forward, she peered down at the drawing, looking at its pointy horns.

Living and working here at the ranch, it was easy to pretend that there weren’t such devils in this world, or that, at least, they couldn’t reach the ranch land. Anastasia and Monica had been safe for so long that the town they had left behind six years ago seemed quite made up, as if it were nothing more than a dream.

But it was real. I should remember that.

She smiled sadly as she looked at Monica and Dylan, watching them play together. At least she had comfort in Monica’s safety here—much more so than she would have been in that town.

“Now, shall we do some more baking?” Anastasia asked and lifted a fresh mixing bowl, being careful to place it over the picture of the devil to mask him completely from view.

“Will Pa be home soon?” Dylan asked, looking up at Anastasia as she handed him some fresh flour to pour in the bowl.

“Oh, I…” She glanced at the window looking out over the ranch. “I expect so.” Still, when Mr. Woody Carlton returned, she wasn’t convinced he’d be spending time with his son.


“What do you think, sir?” one of the ranch hands called to Woody, waving at the cattle before them. “Fair sight, isn’t it?”

“Fair as a newborn lamb,” Woody said drily, earning the laughter of another of the ranch hands beside him.

Thomas was one of the few who understood Woody’s humor. The wryness came easily from him, though some mistook it for sullenness. He could never describe the cattle as a ‘fair sight’, no matter how many cows he had or how well the business was doing.

“Careful where you lead the cattle today,” Woody called to the youngest ranch hands up ahead. “We don’t want them wandering off.”

“Yes, sir,” the two young men said together and turned their horses away, angling them to direct the cattle through the fields.

“Eager, aren’t they?” Woody turned to Thomas at his side. “Like schoolchildren eager for a teacher’s approval.”

“Ha! You’ve judged them well already.” Thomas laughed heartily and shook his head. Woody clicked his tongue and urged his horse forward a little, looking out across the cattle. “I still think you did right to hire them, Woody. I do.”

“Really? I’m thinking I would have been wiser hiring two flies.” Woody gestured to the ineffectual way the ranch hands were leading the cattle away. “My bull would blink more at a fly than he does at that young man.”

“They’ll be hard workers,” Thomas assured him. “Give them time.”

“I know.” Woody sighed, his eyes dancing over the large cattle herd standing beneath the sun.

It was another hot day, scorching in its heat. Sweat trickled down his brow and hung in the cropped beard at his chin. The cattle were suffering in the heat, moving sluggishly and disobeying even more orders than usual.

As it was such a large ranch these days, Woody had had no choice but to take on more staff, yet with more staff came more problems. It meant another mouth to feed. With this in mind, he glanced back in the direction of the ranch house. They were so far away from it now that he could barely catch a glimpse of the wooden rooftop between a rocky outcrop and a field of tall grass that was dying in the heat. In that house, his maid, Anastasia, would be making snacks for the men now.

I wonder if Dylan is with her.

Dylan had asked him once again that morning if he could come out riding onto the ranch. No matter how many times Woody had tried to explain kindly that the rides would be too long and hot for someone of Dylan’s size, it didn’t make a difference. As his son had hurried off through the house, his bottom lip had trembled and his cheeks had turned red.

Marianne was always better at handling his tears than I am. I was never particularly good at that sort of thing.

He lifted his large-brimmed hat and scratched his forehead, thinking of his son at the house. By now, he expected Dylan had joined Anastasia and Monica in the kitchen. He seemed to have a habit of watching them play together from corners of rooms.

“You’ve done well, Woody,” Thomas said, moving his horse to ride alongside Woody’s own. “You must admit it. This ranch has never been so big!”

“It’s a success, I suppose.” Yet the words didn’t bring Woody much happiness.

“Many a man would delight in this news.” Thomas tipped his head back, and the auburn hair at his ears, damp with his own sweat, shook with the movement. “They would jump down from their horse and dance with glee.”

“Dance? You don’t want to see me dance, Thomas,” Woody said, shaking his head. “It might scar you for life.”

They laughed together, though the laughter didn’t last long on Woody’s lips. Thomas was trying to cheer him up, but Woody hadn’t known many smiles that had lasted for long this last year.

Ah, Marianne. Smiling was easier when you were here.

Looking down at his hand, he let his eyes rest on the wedding ring that was still on his finger—one he had no designs to ever take off. The simple gold band felt hot on his skin today, with more sweat beading beneath it. Just the night before, Dylan had sat beside him by the fire and played with that ring, spinning it around his finger. The pain on Dylan’s face, thinking of the mother he missed, was etched in Woody’s own expression.

I can’t bring her back, Dylan. I’m sorry.

“Zounds, what are they doing now?” Woody asked, his attention caught by the two young ranch hands that were trying to lead the cattle through the fields. One had ended up pinned to a fence, his own horse growing spooked at the crowd of cattle. Though the other ranch hand waved his arms, trying to get the attention of the cattle, it accomplished no more than a breath of wind would do. “I think I’ll hire flies next time.”

“Sure, you will,” Thomas said, chuckling. “You know they’ll be good. They just need a chance.”

Woody chose not to answer as he flicked the reins of his horse and urged the animal to catch the others up. Thomas was right. He’d hired these new ranch hands because they deserved a chance, and no one ever came to this job fully prepared. It took months, sometimes years, to grow accustomed to the work. He liked to think he was a fair employer; he ensured his ranch hands were paid well and were fed, too. He had no desire to oust any of his employees for poor work, no matter what jokes he made about their lack of skill.

“You want a cow to do something, this is how you make them do it,” Woody called as he rode ahead to the biggest bull in the field, scattering the other cows for he rode so fast.

Taking hold of the rope that was attached to the metal loop in the bull’s nose, he tugged harshly. The bull mooed loudly into the air, the sound unearthly, before adhering to the order and following Woody obediently, his ungainly lope a contrast to the horse’s elegant gallop. As the bull ran, the other cows followed suit, and soon the cattle were moving with ease through the field.

“Impressive!” one of the ranch hands called.

“You’ll get the hang of it,” Woody assured him as he slowed the pace of the bull and reached the ranch hand’s side, passing the rope into the young man’s palm. “Now, see if you can lead them down to the far end of the field.”

“Will do.” The ranch hand looked uncertain, though, his eyes turning up to the sun in the sky.

“Something wrong?”

“No, sir. I was just wondering what the time was.”

Woody smiled as he reached for the pocket watch in his shirt, checking the time.

“No doubt your stomach is rumbling and telling you the hours are ticking by,” Woody said with humor as the ranch hand shrugged innocently. “We’ll work a little longer yet.” He pocketed the watch once more. They could have stopped for the day now, but this last year, he had never finished a working day early.

It had become a rhythm with him, a way to try to forget that when he went back to the house, Marianne would no longer be there. The emptiness didn’t bother him so much when he busied himself, spending time away from the house as much as possible.

The ranch hand drew the cattle away and Woody sat back with his horse. The steed flicked his nose in the air a few times, as if in approval of the cattle’s movement.

Something in the back of Woody’s mind urged him to look back in the direction of the ranch house once again. Perhaps Marianne wasn’t there, but Dylan was. The mere thought had him staring at the glimpse he had of the rooftop for some time, wondering again what his son was up to now.

“Woody? Woody!” Thomas called.

Woody whipped his head around at the tense tone. “What is it?”

“Look.” Thomas was on the other side of the field, pointing out across the ranch boundary toward something in the distance.

“Storm cloud?”

“No, look again.”

Woody squinted his eyes, prompting the steed forward a couple of steps, to see that there were figures in the distance. Riding between the trees and the open plains, they were heading this way.

“Visitors?” one of the ranch hands suggested.

“Visitors come by the road, not across the fields, usually,” Woody muttered wryly. When one of the figures raised his hand and a gunshot echoed out across the fields, Woody and all of his men fell still. “They’re no normal visitors.”

“The Last Ride West” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Anastasia has faced fear before, but nothing compares to the moment her daughter is taken by ruthless cattle thieves. Now, she must summon every ounce of courage to rescue her beloved daughter and the ranch owner’s son from the clutches of evil. The journey ahead will be treacherous, but Anastasia will stop at nothing to bring her back home. Does she have the strength to overcome the impossible odds and reunite with her daughter?

She will leave no stone unturned to find her…

Since the loss of his wife, Woody has been living a hollow life, estranged from his only offspring. When his child is taken from him, Woody realizes the error of his ways. Embarking on a perilous journey to bring his son home, Woody is joined by his maid, Anastasia, who holds a mysterious allure. As they delve deeper into the enigma of the abduction, Woody uncovers the truth about Anastasia and the demons she battles.

Does he have a chance of rescuing his son?

This emotional and thrilling journey will leave you on the edge of your seat as Anastasia and Woody risk it all to find their children and come face-to-face with death. Do they have what it takes to bring their children back home, or will the trail go cold? Find out in this captivating Wild West adventure!

“The Last Ride West” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!


Grab my new series, "Legends of the Lawless Frontier", and get 2 FREE novels as a gift! Have a look here!

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