White Raven Series #1
Cathy Brennan is leaving the comfort of her Nebraska home to travel the Oregon Trail. It's the spring of 1849 and she’s brutally unaware of what awaits her upon her departure. Despite the many hardships ahead, romance is on the horizon. Childhood friend and love interest, Shane Mackenzie, earns a place in her heart, wrangling cattle and dangerous obstacles along the trail.
Love blossoms and the couple soon find themselves embraced by their new family of traveling companions, a lovable cast of gold prospectors, gamblers, and even a fast-talking Madame and her charming ladies of “ill-repute,” risk life and limb as they journey across the Great Frontier. Together, they challenge conventional beliefs.
The young pioneers will soon discover an evil lurking within the seemingly quiet plains of the northwest. Haunted by threatening dreams and visions, Cathy battles both real and imaginary forces that eventually culminate in a surprisingly twist of fate.
Will the green-eyed beauty find love and contentment in the arms of Shane Mackenzie, a handsome cowboy? Or will she fall victim to the dark forces bent on her destruction.
Dare to take up the reins in this action-packed romance. Prairie Ghosts is a unique tale for a new generation of western romance lovers.
Release Date: March 3, 2020
Genre: Historical / Western Romance
A Pink Satin Romance
Cathy whispered a prayer for her mother.
Amber light washed over the grave as a trail of fire ants inched along the curve of the mound. Raindrops darkened the dusty earth. Bare feet followed a worn path leading toward the main road. The cedar chest was found where she’d left it, covered in a blanket of dew. Hastily, she clicked open the lock, searching frantically for her boots. Sighing in relief, she discovered them buried underneath an old shift. The remaining possessions were sorted and stacked inside the wooden container. She counted: three homespun dresses, her diary, the family Bible, needles and thread, scissors, undergarments, linen, a Sunday bonnet, and several glass jars filled with dried herbs. Her fingers grazed over the collection of medicinal plants. I’ll need to collect more on the road.
The pounding of hoofbeats woke her from her musings. Her neighbor maneuvered the team along the path, the morning sun highlighting his blond waves, a carefree grin moving over his face. He pulled up alongside the supplies and climbed down. His manner was casual, but his eyes couldn’t quite hide his concern.
“Sorry to be running late. You’re going to get drenched in this weather. That’s no way to start a journey.”
He offered his arm, guiding her to the front rig under the protection of a covered awning. The team blew tendrils of steam into the misty air. The molly whinnied, while her partner nipped playfully at her shoulder. Stocky mules struck the ground, anxious to be on their way. Tethered alongside the frisky pair was an appaloosa gelding. The young man gave the horse a gentle pat before lifting the hope chest underneath the covered wagon. Barrels of dried beans, lentils, barley, fruits, vegetables, and barrels of rainwater were stacked together. Tin mugs, bowls, and cooking utensils filled an ancient-looking cauldron. In the opposite corner sat a Cherrywood vanity—a beloved heirloom passed down from her great-grandmother. A hay-filled mattress took up the remaining space. Handmade quilts covered the modest bed.
“Took me a little longer than I expected, my dear. I replaced the back left wheel and axle, along with the front board. So, I went ahead and fixed them both. Should hold well now.”
“You’re always so thoughtful. Mighty obliged, Shane.”
He looked at her carefully; the soft morning light mirrored in his steel-gray eyes.
“Are you sure this is what you want to do, Cat? An unescorted woman on the trail might be inviting trouble. I’ll be tied up working the cattle drive most days. I won’t always be close. Oh, and I almost forgot, the sheriff assigned me guard duty starting tonight.” He trailed off, realizing her mind was elsewhere.
She gazed out at the prairie; her jaw set firmly. “Appreciate it, but I’ll manage. Some of our neighbors will be traveling the same route. They can help me, I imagine.”
“You’ve always been a stubborn one.” His smile brought out his dimples, but his face grew serious as he looked back at the wagon. “I spoke to the MacGregors yesterday. They’ve invited you to travel with um’ and set up camp. Both are elderly, but Mr. MacGregor has his guns, and his eyes are still sharp.” He hesitated before saying, “I’d feel better if you’d take them up on their offer.”
She nodded absently, looking toward the mountains. He wondered if she was even listening.
“I’ll try to check up on you when I can.”
Climbing back into the rig, he took the reins; a light flick and they were on their way. They rode in silence, each trying to work out their uncertain futures in their minds. When they arrived at the Platte River, they noticed countless numbers of travelers preparing for the journey. A quick-moving current flowed over the winding curves of the valley. The darkening sky made the river appear eerily dense.
A long line of wagons already arrived. Several children played by the water searching for frogs and lizards by the murky bank. Their playful laughter seemed out of place somehow. A young mother called out to her brood. They either didn’t hear or chose to ignore her. She tottered down the hill, hand clutching her swollen belly. Cathy wondered how traveling might be for a pregnant woman.
Scattered across the prairie were several thousand long-steer cattle. The herd would follow the wagon train to Monterey. Most were rust-colored with patches of white. A few Angus bulls stood in contrast, their coal-black hides appearing like sinister shadows.
A group of young men oversaw scouting missions, which consisted in searching for suitable camping sites, water sources, and trading posts. Some took on the added duty of security, being first responders to call attention to any dangerous or suspicious activities along the way. Shane volunteered to work the cattle drive and help with scouting duty. The pay was modest, but the extra money would help him get down to the California territory where he could start his life anew.
The wranglers would have their hands busy keeping the herd together. Bandits and thieves would not be tolerated. Cathy studied the cattle stretched across the vast prairie, wandering the hillside. Men rode along the plains on horseback, shouting commands, guiding the animals behind the caravan. Departure time was close.
Shane climbed out of the wagon and offered his hand. He concentrated on her features, trying to memorize every detail. Dark curls floated past her shoulders, pooling around a heart-shaped face. Emerald eyes framed by ebony lashes, pupils dilating under the rising sun—a startling combination of innocence and pain. A hesitant smile flickered. She blushed, looking down at her worn boots, delicate hands fidgeting with the edges of her sunbonnet. Although small and calloused, her fingers were nimble with a needle and able to wield the plow when needed. A scattering of freckles across her golden skin attested to the long hours spent outside tilling the soil, easing its rich bounty from the red earth. She would miss the land, but it held too much sorrow, too many memories…and ghosts.
She gazed upwards.
“Thank you for everything. I wish you luck and safety on your travels.”
His face grew serious as he untethered his pony. With a tilt of his hat, horse and rider disappeared into the heavy mist. After he was gone, Cathy sat back in the wagon seat and closed her eyes. Time drifted. A warm breeze caressed her face as the rain tapered to a drizzle. A congress of ravens descended from the hazy sky landing on the trees along the bank—their shiny wings glistening in the morning dew.
The landscape appeared dotted by thousands of dark spirits. Multitudes of birds perched in the willow trees, their inky eyes seeming to follow her every move. Mules were anxious, striking the ground, muscles twitching, and in an instant, the ravens took flight, their bodies coming together like an ominous shadow disappearing into the heavens.
One juvenile bird remained. It thrashed the ground trying in vain to fly; the right wing bent at a startling angle. Agitated by the bird’s plight, the team hawed and stamped. Leaving the rig, Cathy climbed down to get a closer look. She patted the john mule’s flank, and he ceased fidgeting. She tentatively reached her hand toward the frightened creature. His shiny eyes caught her gaze, and she knew in an instant what she must do.
Cradling him close, they headed back to her wagon where she rummaged through her hope chest in search of fabric. She used a small piece of cotton linen to wrap his wing in place. Surprisingly, the bird remained still, his eyes searching her face inquisitively. She placed the remaining cloth inside a wooden bowl as a makeshift nest. Once settled, he nibbled the soft material, fluffed his feathers, and began to preen.
Satisfied, she examined her collection of dried herbs. She chose a combination of wheat grain, barley, parsley, and thyme grinding them firmly into her pestle. A drizzle of honey was mixed in, forming a rich paste. She offered the raven a few drops of water and feed, which he devoured. The creature’s eyes closed, his ebony beak resting against his chest. When he was asleep, she placed the bird and nest on top of the straw mattress.
Outside, the winds were strengthening—flashes of lightning streaking across the amber sky. Horses reared and stomped as thunder rolled off in the distance. From the seemingly endless throng of travelers appeared a tall gentleman on horseback. Flecks of gray peppered his jet-black hair; his face tan and weathered, worry lines etched deep around his eyes and mouth. He rode a palomino gelding, guiding him to the top of the ravine, stopping to survey the prairie schooners.
“Good morning, travelers!”
His voice was commanding, the sound echoing down the valley and river. A few men called back, answering him by name.
“Many of you know me. We’ve been neighbors and friends for many years. For those who don’t, my name’s David Carpenter. I’m the sheriff of these parts. I’ve been asked to lead this wagon train, and I’ve accepted the job and will do my best to serve our community. A group of us will be surveying the land, scouting for water sources, looking out for cattle thieves, and the like.”
A murmur went through the crowd as he spoke. He let it die down before he continued.
“I’d like to explain a few things about our journey. We’ll be traveling northwestward, our final destinations being Oregon, San Francisco, and Monterey. Some of you may not make it all the way for this will not be an easy trip. We’ll be dealing with the unknown—the elements often unpredictable, food and water sometimes scarce. Scouts will ride on ahead, searching for the best rest stops, looking out for possible bandits.”
A nervous chatter ran through the crowd.
“Our caravan will stop twice a day—once for lunch and a second time for supper and camp. I suggest preparing simple meals for breakfast since we will be leaving at dawn’s first light. A horn will be sounded at noon and again at suppertime. Bullwhackers will help chain the wagons together at sunset each evening. Stray cattle will be corralled inside these barriers, keeping them safe from predators and thieves. Once the wagons are tied, it will be important to stay inside the safety of the corral. Guards will be posted at outposts every evening around the wagon train. They’ll keep an eye out for any dangers in the night. These duties will be switched out on the third week of each month, so men, make sure to check-in for your assigned schedule.
“We will be facing many obstacles, but it’s important to remember the people of Nebraska are tough. We’ve been through good times and bad crop failures, illness, and natural disasters. We’ll face these new challenges together as we’ve done in the past. Now, I’d like to invite Father Sebastian to come up and say a few words.”
An elderly priest walked toward the crowd, his baby blue eyes sparkling in the morning sun. The crowd greeted him warmly, many calling him “Father.”
“Good morning, friends!” His manner was calm, his voice kind and inviting. With a thick Irish brogue, he addressed the travelers.
“I’ve known many of you since you were wee babes.” Several travelers waved and signaled from the crowd.
“I want to tell you the Lord will be with us along this great journey. Take peace in knowing God’s eyes are watching us even now. I’ll be leading Sunday Mass each week and will be available for confessions and Bible study for those interested.
“Some of you may not be Catholic, and it’s all right. Everyone is invited. No one will be turned away, as we’re all God’s children. For the people traveling to Monterey, I’ll be helping to set up a new Mission there. It’s my hope and prayer to bring the word of Jesus Christ to those new to our faith. Blessed be the souls yet to hear his beautiful voice and speak his glorious name. Good news is coming. Hallelujah!”
An excited murmur ran through the crowd. Fathers held their children high on their shoulders to get a better view of their beloved priest.
“Well now, I’d like you all to hold hands as we recite the Lord’s Prayer.”
Husbands and wives, brothers and sisters joined hands with one another. He made the sign of the cross, “In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
Who art in heaven,
hallowed be Thy name;
Thy kingdom come;
Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
and forgive us our trespasses
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil. Amen.”
Afterward, the crowd greeted him with kind words. He headed into the throng of travelers, shaking hands and offering blessings.
Sheriff Carpenter moved toward the platform to address the people once more.
“Let’s begin our journey, friends.”
He held a large bull horn to the sky and blew deeply. The repercussion echoed across the valley. Men called out to the line of wagons signaling their departure. Cowboys whooped and hollered guiding their cattle westward.