Kate Davis is intrigued when her father reveals his dream of starting a horse ranch in Oregon Territory. Settlers out west value a strong woman, and though she manages the financials of her father’s mercantile her competence earns her ridicule, not respect, from Virginia’s elite society.
Jake Fitzpatrick, an experienced trail guide, wants land out west to raise cattle and crops. But dreams require money and he’s eating dandelion greens for dinner. So when a wealthy businessman offers double wages to guide his family across the Oregon Trail, Jake accepts with one stipulation—he is in complete control.
Departure day finds Kate clinging to her possessions as Jake demands she abandon all he deems frivolous, including her deceased mother’s heirlooms. Jake stands firm, refusing to let the whims of a headstrong woman jeopardize the wages he so desperately needs—even a beautiful one with fiery green eyes and a temper to match.
Trail life is a battle of wills between them until tragedy strikes, leaving Jake with an honor-bound promise to protect her from harm and Kate with a monumental choice—go back to everything she’s ever known or toward everything she’s ever wanted?
Jake is an experienced trail guide hired to lead a wealthy businessman, Elijah Davis, and his family across the Oregon Trail. This excerpt takes place Jake’s first day as he meets an unexpected traveler—the beautiful, headstrong woman he’d had a brief argument with weeks earlier.
Jake rode onto Elijah’s property with a bedroll, four saddlebags, and two horses. As he approached the massive house he squinted, thinking once again his eyes betrayed him.
Supplies and crates were scattered across the lawn. A woman, her face obscured by a grandiose hat, called orders at an old man struggling to heft a trunk into a wagon so overloaded two of the sideboards were already split. He looked to the porch and noticed more luggage. Glancing back to the grass, he saw another wagon. Unbelievable.
Jake dismounted to gauge the full extent of their over-packing. A peek into a wagon revealed trunks stacked so ineptly the first hard jolt would bring everything tumbling down.
A boy with a coil of rope slung over his shoulder approached, climbed a wheel, and began to push up the doubled canvas. This must be Elijah’s son.
“Helping your father pack?” Jake took the rope from him and tossed it into the wagon.
The boy nodded while flashing a wide grin.
Jake chuckled and stepped around him, intent on finding Elijah, but instead he ran right into the woman he’d seen earlier. Only this time a hat didn’t obscure her face.
“You!” he said in disbelief.
Standing before him was the beautiful woman with the sharp tongue he’d met at the apothecary weeks ago. The same one who had been on his mind every day, no matter how hard he tried to forget her fiery green eyes and the temper to match. What was she doing here?
“Did you come for a reason?” Her fists slammed against her hips. “Or merely to ogle me?”
If she was surprised to see him she covered it well.
“So, do you remember me?” he asked, amused at her instant anger. “Or are you always this rude to people you’ve just met?”
“Do you always appear out of nowhere and scare women and children?” she responded in mimicking sarcasm. “I thought you were a friend of my father’s until I noticed you poking around our wagons.”
Jake recalled Elijah mentioning his daughter was grown. Could this wildcat be coming along?
“Would your father be Elijah Davis?”
“Yes.” Her eyes narrowed with wary curiosity. “Why do you ask?”
“Name’s Jake,” he said with a tip of his hat. “I’m here to guide him and his family to Oregon.”
He watched with odd satisfaction as she realized the man who’d overheard her conversation with her beau was the same man hired to bring her across the country. To her credit she recovered quickly.
“My name is Katherine, and this is my brother, Ben.” She tucked an arm around the boy’s shoulders and managed a hurried squeeze before he pulled away. Undaunted by the snub, she returned her attention to Jake.
“My father mentioned he hired someone to assist us. However—” she brushed imaginary lint from her sleeve “—you’ll find I don’t pay much attention to servants.”
“I’m not a servant, ma’am,” he corrected. “I’m your leader.”
Her eyes locked with his and told the lie of her next words.
“Well then, you simply must forgive my harshness.” After a long pause, her innocent expression turned smug. “You see, I took you for yet another of the dishonorable men milling around town lately. A woman can never be too careful.”
Jake bit his tongue so hard it stung. This woman was the sum of Valerie and all her kind: big skirts and little substance.
Even worse, she was completely unsuitable for trail life. They were to leave in minutes, and she wore a dress fit for an evening of parlor games.