Authors: Susan Edwards
By Susan Edwards
Oregon Trail, 1856
Jessica Jones is excited at the prospect of journeying west with her brothers—until she learns unmarried women are forbidden on the trip. Refusing to be left behind, she disguises herself as Jessie, the fourth and youngest Jones brother. Working as a man isn’t the hard part—the challenge is hiding the womanly passion building within her, passion for the infuriating but intriguing wagon master White Wolf…
White Wolf is a man caught between two worlds. Raised among his father’s people, educated by his mother’s, he travels the land in search of his own path. He knows from experience the trouble a single woman can cause on the trail but when he discovers the truth about Jessie, it’s too late to send her back—and too late to fight the sensual attraction he feels to the green-eyed beauty. But until he knows his destiny, he cannot ask her to stand at his side…
Book 5 of 12.
I am so excited to see my White Series available in digital format and once again available to you, my readers. This series is so close to my heart—each character became my brother, sister, best friend, etc., and to see them republished makes it seem like a long-awaited family reunion. I can’t wait to become reacquainted with each character! Even the villains, for there is nothing like seeing justice served.
I started the first book,
way back in the ’80s. These two characters just popped into my head one day. I met them at a stream in the wilderness where my honorable (and very virile) hero, Golden Eagle, was determined to rescue a very stubborn heroine named Sarah. It just seemed as though the action stopped as they turned to me and said, “Well? What now?”
Huh? Did they think I was a writer? Not me. Never did any writing at all and had never had any desire to do so. Well, Sarah and Golden Eagle just shook their heads and let me know that despite never having written before, it didn’t matter because I was a storyteller! A vivid imagination, a love of romance and the Native American historical genre were all that were required. Okay, not quite but I got the message.
So I thought, why not? I could write a nice scene or two. Or three. Hey, how about even just a love scene in this wonderful setting that I could see so clearly in my mind? But then I ran into the first problem. What had brought my two willful characters to this stream at the same time? What connected them? Why would this mighty warrior want to claim this white girl? What made him fall in love with her and risk everything for her?
I found that I couldn’t go on until I had answers and that meant, yep, I had to start at the beginning. I learned who they were, what their problems were, and when we once again met at that stream in the wilderness, I just sat back and gave directions, and this time, my characters knew their lines and away we went!
And that, dear readers, was how my writing career began. Once I started, I could not stop. I loved writing about this family. Sarah and Golden Eagle had four children and it just seemed natural to continue the series. I had so many letters begging and, yes, even demanding Jeremy and White Dove’s story in
And honestly, I was right there with each and every reader, for that was one story that just called to me. So from two people, who met by chance, eleven books were born.
Over the years, I valued each and every reader comment: from the mother who read the books to her dying daughter, to the lonely women who found companionship, and to women who appreciated the bravery and willingness of the heroines and heroes to do whatever it took to overcome adversity.
Each of the White books has a story that means something to me. Jessie in
is a lot like I was in my youth. I couldn’t accept “no” back then without a good reason, always looking for a chance to rebel
. I could go on and on but then I’d be writing a book instead of a letter!
Just writing this letter makes me all teary and homesick, but just as these books will be available once more to my readers, I will become reacquainted with each book and each character. Thinking of reunions, I might just have to plan a White reunion! But for now, I am just so grateful to Carina Press and my editor, Angela James, for once again making this series available.
This book is dedicated to women.
To the frontier women of our past who left family and friends behind to go west. As we women of today continue to forge new frontiers, let us never forget those brave and courageous women in our past.
And to the special women in my life. Thanks, Mom, for giving me the gift of life and a love of reading. Sally, my thanks for all you’ve done and the incredible courage you’ve shown. LaVona, you are the best mother-in-law a girl could ask for. And last but not least, Betty. What would I do without your red pen? Love you all.
Westport teemed with activity. Storekeepers swept weathered boardwalks while customers indulged in spots of gossip. From inside Baker’s Mercantile, Jessica Jones stared out the window. “I’ll sure miss this town when we leave for Oregon, Mr. Baker.”
The store owner wrapped a pair of gloves in some brown paper. “We’ll miss you and your brothers, Jessie. Town will be downright dull without you to liven things up. Here’s your gloves. Any idea when you’re leaving?”
Jessie took the packet. “First of May. Only two weeks to go.” Her voice rose with excitement as she thought of their plans to emigrate to Oregon. Suddenly, two weeks seemed so far away. She was eager for the adventurous trip, yet there was so much that still needed to be done. “Guess I’d best get back before James wonders where I’ve gone.”
“I reckon he’ll be worrying over what sort of mischief you’re getting into.”
Jessie grinned as she met Orvil Baker’s twinkling gaze. “That too, Mr. Baker.” With a farewell wave she stepped outside, greeting Shilo, her black mare. “Ready to go, girl?” The horse nickered softly as Jessie unhitched her. A loud shout in the street drew her attention.
One man, unable to control his oxen, rammed his team into another wagon, which resulted in braying mules and shouted obscenities. She shook her head. Westport had become another jumping-off place. Each winter and early spring, those seeking to join a wagon train bound for Oregon or California arrived in droves.
Stowing her package in the saddlebags, she leaned down to pat Sadie, her black-and-tan dog. She put one foot in the stirrup and grasped the saddle horn with both hands. But before she could swing up, a high-pitched voice hailed her.
“Yoo-hoo, Jessica, don’t rush off.”
Jessie swore beneath her breath and gritted her teeth. There was only one person in all of Westport who dared to call her by her given name, and that person had the ability to raise her hackles faster than a cornered rattler. Glancing over her shoulder, she saw three young ladies dressed in their Sunday best sauntering toward her.
“Oh, Jessica, I’m
glad I caught you before you left.”
Dropping her forehead into her hands, Jessie swayed, her left foot in the stirrups, the right dangling loose. “Damn, just once I’d like to come into town without running into Coralie and her snotty friends!” Maybe she’d just ignore Coralie Renee Baker’s royal summons and ride for home. A drop of moisture splashed onto her nose. Holding her hat in place with one hand, Jessie eyed the sky and groaned.
“Oh, dear, girls, it looks like Jessica will be riding home in the rain. Too bad she doesn’t live here in town.” Laughter accompanied the false concern.
Given a choice, she’d gladly endure all manner of bad weather if it meant not having to deal with Coralie. “Might as well get this over with,” she muttered. Years of dealing with the rich girl had taught her that Coralie’s attention always boded ill for her. Jessie stepped down into the muddy street and turned to confront Coralie. She stumbled when her boot sank up to the ankle in the mud and had to grab her saddlebags to keep from falling into the slippery goo.
She tugged at her foot. The rude sucking noise followed by the release of her boot from the grip of the thick mud brought forth a fresh wave of snickers from the three young ladies standing high and dry on the boardwalk in front of Baker’s Mercantile. Jessie clamped her jaw tight. Though she was used to being shunned because she lived on a small farm on the outskirts
of town with her brothers, their disdain still hurt. She folded her arms across her chest. “What do you want, Coralie?”
Coralie twirled her closed parasol in front of her and took a small step forward. Shilo thrust her raven-black nose forward in greeting. The blond-haired girl squealed and jumped back, fanning herself with her hand. “Keep that beast away from me, Jessica. He’ll ruin my new dress.”
Against her will, Jessie admired the other girl’s crisp-looking daffodil-yellow dress with matching bonnet and parasol. Just once she’d like to look like a beautiful young lady instead of a rowdy tomboy. She stared down at her own threadbare homespun shirt and worn canvas pants dotted with dried mud. Suppressing a sigh of envy, she patted her mare. “Shilo won’t hurt you, Coralie. Now what do you want?”
Coralie smoothed her skirt, fingered a silky blond ringlet hanging over one shoulder and opened her baby blues wide.
Jessie wasn’t fooled by the innocent look.
“Oh, dear; do forgive me, Jessica.” She smirked. “I forgot, you have cows to milk and chickens to feed.” A chorus of soft sniggers followed her taunt.
Setting her jaw, Jessie turned away, struggling to control her anger. The last time Coralie’d riled her, she’d shoved the hateful girl into a pile of manure. The sight of pale pink fluff gracing the brown pile, like icing on a cake, had been worth being confined to her room for a week.
But she wouldn’t give in to her temper today. She’d promised her eldest brother she’d avoid Coralie—but it was hard when the snotty rich girl deliberately provoked her! Jessie swung up into the saddle, determined to make her escape before she said or did something that would get her into trouble. “I don’t have time for your little games, Coralie.”
Coralie pouted. “I’m sorry, Jessica,” she said, not sounding the least bit repentant. “There’s a dance tomorrow night. Are you coming?”
Jessie frowned, not trusting the innocent question. “Why do you want to know?”
Coralie made a pretense of shaking out nonexistent wrinkles in her skirt. “Well, Elliot asked if you were coming.”
Jessie’s head shot up, her interest piqued in spite of herself. She glanced in the store window behind Coralie and spotted Elliot Baker standing at the wooden counter beside his father. Why did he care whether she came to the dance or not? Though she harbored tender feelings for him, at twenty-one the man was four years her senior, and Elliot always treated her as a pesky young sister.
“Why does he want to know?” She held her breath in anticipation. Her attention centered on the movements of the fair-haired young man in the store, Jessie missed the look of amusement that passed between Coralie and her friends.
Coralie’s lips curved into a malicious grin. “So he can keep away from you!” she declared, turning to join her friends in gleeful laughter. “After last month’s dance, who can blame him? What a disaster!”
One of the other girls, a dark brunette named Becky, sashayed forward and slipped her arm through Coralie’s. She looked Jessie up and down and sneered. “The dance was ruined before it started, and it was all your fault. Elliot left to change his clothes and never returned; then
brothers left to follow you home. I didn’t get to dance with Jeremy, all because of your clumsiness!”
Coralie patted Becky’s arm in mock sympathy, her voice soft and cajoling, but her blue eyes were hard and filled with hatred. “Dear Jessica, on behalf of Becky and Sarah, I do think it would be most considerate if you stayed home tomorrow night, don’t you? We don’t want this dance ruined.”
Sarah stepped forward, her nose in the air. “Who’d want to dance with her anyway? She looks, dresses and acts like a boy.”
“Now, Sarah,” Coralie began, “you know that’s not true. That fat mama’s boy Robbie doesn’t care what Jessica looks like. I heard he’s courting her.”
Becky shuddered delicately. “Oh, do come on, you two. Mama’s waiting tea on us.” Arms hooked at the elbows, the three young ladies turned away.
“Well, ta-ta, Jessica. Nice talking to you. Tell Jordie I’ll see him tomorrow night,” Coralie trilled over her shoulder.
Through the narrowed slits of her eyes, Jessie glared at Coralie’s retreating figure. She clenched and unclenched her fingers. How dared she throw that horrible night in her face? She groaned with mortification. She’d never forget the humiliation. Wanting to look her fashionable best for Elliot, she’d piled her waist-length hair on top of her head, leaving tight ringlets to dangle past her ears.
Then she’d gone through the trunk of her ma’s clothes and pulled out a gray woolen broadcloth trimmed in white lace with leg-of-mutton sleeves. It had been one of her ma’s best Sunday go-to-meeting dresses. But to her dismay, when she’d put it on, she’d discovered that it was much too big. The sleeves slipped past her wrist, falling even with her fingertips, and the skirt was several inches too long.
Having nothing else suitable, she’d worn it in the hope of attracting Elliot’s attention. She grimaced. She’d certainly done
Lacking the skill to do her own hair and without enough pins to hold the weight securely on top of her head, she’d arrived at the dance with her hair already on the verge of falling.
The older women had been polite and sympathetic in their glances, but not so their daughters. They’d pointed at her lopsided head and snickered behind gloved hands. The boys had laughed outright, but Jessie had ignored them, determined to have a good time in spite of their cruel laughter. Then, in her haste to get away from their taunts, she’d tripped on the hem of her skirt and fallen headlong into Elliot, sending them crashing into the refreshment table.
No, she’d never forget that horrible night, nor would Coralie. Well, she’d teach that spoiled, mean-spirited girl a lesson. After all, she’d started it. Jessie gave Shilo a sharp kick to the flank. They galloped down the street in the opposite direction of the three girls. Sadie followed. When Jessie reached Garvey’s Feed and Grain, she guided Shilo behind the store and raced back up the alley.
At the end of the wooden buildings, she reined in Shilo and waited behind one of the town’s many saloons that seemed to have popped up overnight. Motioning for Sadie to sit, Jessie cocked her head and listened. It wasn’t long before she heard the trill of feminine voices. Backing the mare out of sight, she gripped her hat in her hands.
In a darkened corner room above the saloon, White Wolf stared at the ceiling. The late-afternoon shadows danced their way through the curtained window. His gaze followed the trail of dust motes shimmering in and out of the single beam of light that sliced the room in half. Resting his head in the cradle of his linked fingers, he berated himself for agreeing to go west again. He’d sworn never to lead another party of emigrants west, not after his last trip, not after losing Martha…
Severing the painful train of thought, he brooded over the events that had once again put him in the unwanted position of wagon master. He’d arrived in Westport just yesterday. Each spring he made the journey down the Missouri River to sell the furs he and old Ben spent the winter trapping. Even though the fur trade was dwindling, he’d gotten a fair sum for his goods. In addition to the furs, he’d auctioned off five wild horses he’d spent the long, lonely winter months breaking and training.
While examining the other horses up for sale, he’d found a spirited black stallion that no one had been able to mount. After proving his skill by riding the black beast, he’d heard that Able Bennett, an old friend and trapping partner, hadn’t been so lucky. He was laid up with a busted leg after being thrown. After purchasing the black devil, Wolf had gone to visit Able.
The older man hadn’t wasted any time in calling in a favor. With a broken leg, he couldn’t take his cattle west to sell them, or lead the small party of emigrants who’d already paid him to act as wagon master. Wolf sat up in bed, careful not to awaken the woman in bed beside him. He wished he’d refused Able’s request, but both men knew he couldn’t; he was bound by honor, for Able had come to Wolf’s aid many times. Angry with the circumstances he found himself stuck with, Wolf ran a hand through his mane of golden-brown hair and cursed his luck.
Untangling the sheet from around his waist, he eased out of bed. The floorboards chilled his feet as he padded across the room to a chipped ceramic pitcher sitting on a small water-stained washstand. Pouring a small amount of cold water into the basin, he splashed his face, neck and chest. After drying himself with a coarse homespun towel, he paced, unmindful of his nudity. He drew in a deep breath, then wished he hadn’t. The small room reeked of stale drink, smoke and the odor of unwashed bodies.
To alleviate the feeling of suffocation, he pulled back the grimy curtains and opened the room’s sole window, allowing the weak afternoon rays of sun to streak into the room. He braced his hands on the narrow sill and leaned out, the dark gold of his unbound hair brushing against his shoulders. Desperate for a breath of untainted air, he inhaled deeply, then coughed. His nose twitched at the rank odor that rose from the street below, where waste, both human and animal, rotted. He sighed, missing the crisp air of his home and his clean, well-ordered cabin.
To his left, sounds of fighting drew his attention. Several rowdies from the saloon beneath him barreled through the swinging doors, heedless of the wagons and livestock as they rolled through the mud, their fists slamming into each other. Their angry shouts added to the noise and confusion in the street. Mules harnessed to wagons brayed in annoyance as their owners cracked whips over their heads and cussed to keep the animals moving.
Amid the angry shouts, the trill of female laughter drifted upward. Tearing his gaze from the fight, he spotted three young ladies standing on the edge of the boardwalk, opening their parasols to guard themselves against the light misting rain before tentatively stepping into the street. His lips twitched with amusement as he watched them attempt to cross the mud-slick road without dirtying the hems of their finery. His left brow rose when one of them boldly lifted her skirt high enough for him to see one neatly turned ankle.
Suddenly, from his right, he heard the pounding of hooves. A black horse bore down on the women. He shouted a warning. Two of the women jumped back onto the wooden planks, but the blond-haired woman screamed, frozen in the middle of the street. He held his breath, willing the horse to veer away. To his relief, when the horse was several feet from the young woman, the rider yanked hard on the reins. The horse turned sharply and came to a stop.
Wolf heaved a sigh of relief, then winced when a spray of muddy water flew through the air and pelted the vision of sunlight standing below. High-pitched wails filled the air, along with
the dark-haired rider’s husky laughter. Furious with the irresponsible rider, Wolf felt his sense of fairness rail at the spiteful act. Wolf leaned forward. “Hey, you, boy,” he called down to the rowdy young man. The figure on horseback glanced upward.