“Buck up, Tills,” a jovial voice said from outside of Tillie’s coach window. “If you look so sour, your new husband might send you back to your father.”
That was it for Tillie. She reached out and grabbed the cover for the stagecoach window. “Sod off, James!” Tillie said as she pulled the blind down, effectively blocking her face from James, one of her father’s men.
“Don’t pick on her,” Henry said. He was another of her father’s men, who had been assigned to accompany her on her journey.
“Aww,” James said from outside of the window where he was riding. “I don’t mean anything by it.”
Tillie knew that James was just trying to make her feel better about things, but she wasn’t in the mood for his comedy today. They were a week into their long journey, and with each passing day, Tillie found herself growing more and more listless. She spent most nights crying herself to sleep, but she was starting to feel the sadness drain out of her. The problem was that anger had taken its place.
Tillie was so angry that she could barely see straight.
“Leave her be,” Henry said. Tillie looked out of her left window. She couldn’t see Henry’s face, but his horse was right next to her, and the sight of the chestnut fur made her slightly calmer. Unlike James, who liked to tease her at every turn, Henry was the more serious of the two.
He’d also been present when Tillie had begged her father not to send her away. He’d heard her cry, beg, and plead with him, and he’d watched as her father heartlessly turned her away. Her pain hadn’t mattered to him as much as brokering a business deal.
Tillie was being sent off to northern California to marry one of her father’s business associates. Her stomach turned at the thought. She’d never met this man, but she knew that he was old enough to be her father, maybe even her grandfather, and that made her sick.
Tillie sighed heavily and slumped back in the seat. They were just a few days from her new home, and every night, when they stopped to rest, she thought about grabbing the gold that her father sent with her and running away.
But Tillie couldn’t do it. She wasn’t naïve enough to think that she would get very far. Even with a mountain full of gold, Tillie didn’t know how to survive. She came from a well-to-do family. Her mother had passed when Tillie was young, and she’d mostly been raised by her governess. She’d been taught how to be a wife and run a house. None of the skills she had learned would serve her well if she decided to take to the wilderness.
She sighed and leaned back against the cushioned seat of her stagecoach. Her eyes were heavy, and the rolling of the stagecoach downhill was starting to lull her to sleep. She couldn’t remember the last time that she had gotten any sort of true rest.
Her father had organized her trip so that she would have a comfortable tavern to stop at every night. It was his way of trying to broker peace between them, and while she was grateful, it wasn’t going to change how she felt about things.
The stops were also adding days to their travels, which almost felt worse than if she had just traveled to California directly. Her father had thought that she was too delicate for such a journey, and she hated that he was likely right.
They were traveling at the slowest pace possible, and Tillie could feel the long journey in her bones. Not only was she lacking sleep, but her back and legs ached from sitting for so many hours, and her corset stays had been pressing incessantly into her ribs. She wished that she could have dressed more casually, but her maids had only packed lovely, thick, formal gowns.
Tillie pressed her head against the window and sighed. She allowed the cool, spring air to warm her face. Tillie might not have wanted to go to California, but she was fascinated by all the different places that she had seen along the way.
Tillie had never been anywhere outside of her home in Arizona, which she liked well enough, but a small part of her, the part that still clung to childish things, liked the adventure of it all.
The stagecoach gave a thick jerk which caused Tillie’s eyes to spring open as she was nearly catapulted from her seat and out the window.
“My God!” she said, grabbing onto the frame and pushing herself back into her seat.
“Sorry!” the driver yelled out. “Hit a hole there.”
“Are you alright?” Henry asked. He leaned down slightly so that she could see his face. His cheeks were ruddy from the wind, and his blue eyes sparkled.
“You alright?” he asked when Tillie didn’t immediately answer.
Tillie nodded. “Fine,” she said. “Was nearly underfoot of your horse, but luckily, I caught myself.”
She could hear both Henry and James laugh, and the sound of it comforted her. Though she was being sent away from her home to marry a man she was not interested in being tied to, she was glad that for the next few days, her companions were James and Henry.
Both men were only slightly older than her, and they had worked for her father since they were boys. Tillie didn’t have any siblings, but she always thought of the two men like brothers.
“Are you going to be mad at me for the entire trip?” James asked. She couldn’t see his horse due to her closed blind, but she could still hear him.
She laughed and shook her head at his words. James was good-natured, and she knew that he was simply trying to lift her spirits. James was the jokester of the two men. He was also the oldest, and with a wife and a baby at home, Tillie had been surprised that he’d agreed to accompany her on this trip.
She’d even heard a rumor that his wife was expecting another child.
“I promise not to be mad if you promise to name your next child after me,” she said.
She could hear James’ deep, booming laugh. “What if we have a son?” he asked.
“Tillie is a great name for a boy or a girl,” she told him. It really wasn’t, and James knew that. She was glad that the two of them were able to overcome the tension. In truth, Tillie wasn’t mad at him. She was angry at the situation.
“I don’t know why I put up with the two of you,” Henry grumbled. Unlike James, Henry was a quiet man who rarely spoke unless he was asked a direct question. He’d always been much more sensitive than James, which made Tillie gravitate towards him. When she was younger, she had been absolutely moony-eyed about Henry, but he’d never shown her the slightest bit of interest.
The stagecoach lurched again, and Tillie felt her stomach go right along with it.
“Lots of holes,” the driver yelled.
He hit another one, and this time Tillie had to grab ahold of the window frame once more to keep herself upright.
“What is going on?” she muttered to herself. Tillie hadn’t been on many drives, but she’d been on enough to know that if they hit too many of these holes in the road, then they were going to break an axle, which would be a very large problem, especially considering that they were in the middle of nowhere—likely miles from the nearest town.
“Something’s not right,” Henry said.
“It’s just a bad stretch,” James countered back.
“This road is barely traveled,” Henry told him. “We shouldn’t be having this many issues.”
Tillie wasn’t sure that she was supposed to be hearing any of this, but she also suspected that they didn’t have much of a choice. There was another lurch of the coach, and this time Tillie swore that she heard wood crack.
“What’s happening?” she called out. Her heart was starting to beat quickly in her chest as she thought about all of the things that could be going on outside of the stagecoach. She felt like a sitting duck in her gilded cage.
“It’s nothing,” James said. “Just a stretch of bad road.”
“Something snapped,” Tillie said. “I’m sure of it.” There was something in the air that was making Tillie’s nerves stand on edge. She knew that something was wrong. She knew it with every bone in her body.
“It’s fine,” James said, but he was starting to seem worried. She could hear it in his voice. There was an undertone of panic that hadn’t been there before.
Just as he said the words, they hit another hole. Only this one was a deep crater in the ground that caused the stagecoach axel to buckle and crunch. Tillie screamed as the entire car lurched forward as the wheel snapped. She was sure that she was going to be crushed by the coach.
But luckily, that didn’t happen. The stagecoach eventually settled, and Tillie was thrown back against her seat.
“Tillie!” Henry and James both shouted. They had jumped off their horses, and she could see their faces peeking in through the windows, the glass of which was shattered from the impact of the stagecoach hitting the ground.
“I’m fine,” she said. She pressed a hand to her chest in an attempt to calm herself. “What happened?”
“The idiot driver hit another hole. I think it snapped a wheel,” James said.
“An axel,” Henry responded.
Tillie breathed a small sigh of relief. She was worried about what would happen to them without the coach, but she was glad that everyone was fine. That was all she could think before she heard gunshots.
“What was that?” she asked again, even though she knew what that sound was. Tillie was scared. She had heard about people getting robbed on the road. It was why her father had mapped out a route that was less traveled and had sent Henry and James with her as protection.
Tillie reached out towards the door. She didn’t like sitting in the stagecoach. But just as she was about to pull the door open, Henry pressed it shut. “Stay inside,” he said. “Try and find a place to hide.”
Tillie looked around. The stagecoach was big and spacious, but there was nowhere to hide.
Tillie did the only thing that she could think to do at that moment, which was grab the gold and hid under the seat of the coach. She didn’t know what was going to happen next, but she was certain that Henry and James would take care of it.
If she just stayed hidden, she knew that everything would be alright. It had to be.
Tarak couldn’t get comfortable. Normally, when outside with the sun on his skin and the wind stirring the air around him, he felt most at home. Today though, something was different. The air felt heavy, and the small hairs on his forearms were standing at attention.
“We shouldn’t be here,” Tarak muttered. He was at the front of his tribe, leading them towards home.
“What?” his brother Taza, the head of their tribe asked.
Tarak hadn’t meant to speak aloud, but the words had slipped through his lips before he could think about what they might mean.
“You don’t feel that?” Tarak asked.
Taza chuckled slightly and shook his head. “You are letting your mind run away with you,” he said.
Tarak felt anger starting to form in his chest. He was used to not being taken seriously by his brother. It was the dynamic that existed between them since they were children running in between their mother’s feet. Now that Taza was chief of their tribe, he was more careful about how he treated Tarak, but sometimes, he forgot himself.
“The air is trying to warn us,” Tarak said. “Don’t you feel it?” Tarak’s feelings of unease had grown the further they rode, and he was sure now, more than ever, that the Earth was sending him a warning. He wasn’t such a fool that he didn’t think to heed it.
Taza clearly didn’t feel it.
Or he isn’t open to hearing it, Tarak thought. He was irritated by his brother, which was nothing new. Taza was a good chief. He was fair, and though he believed in the ways of the Apache, he was also open to the new ways. Tarak knew that his brother was the best person to lead their tribe. That didn’t mean that he followed him with blind loyalty.
“You’re tired from traveling,” Taza said. “It’s been a long journey.”
This time Tarak gave a grunt of agreement. It had been a long journey. They’d been gone from home for nearly a month, but Tarak didn’t mind it. He wasn’t built for staying home. He was a warrior, and his place was riding at his chief’s side.
“We shouldn’t have left home,” Tarak muttered. Taza’s eyes hardened as his good-natured smile dropped.
“We needed the white man’s medicine,” Taza said.
Tarak bit his tongue to stop himself from reminding Taza that the white men were nothing more than devils who they should stay far away from. They brought nothing to the Apache people but pain and death.
The white men had been on the land since Tarak was a young boy. His father and grandfather had first tried to broker peace with them, and then, they had fought them. Now, Taza was chief, and he was struggling to decide whether he too should fight the white men or embrace them.
“We wouldn’t need the medicine if you hadn’t invited them into our home,” Tarak said. He could see the effect his words had on his brother. His shoulders tensed, and Tarak was sure that he would have struck out at him if he could.
“Be careful what you speak, brother,” Taza said. His tone was calm, but Tarak knew him well enough to hear the anger in it. They were riding at the head of the tribe. Close enough to be seen, but not close enough for their conversation to be overheard.
Before Tarak could say anything else, he caught the glint of something bright in the hilly landscape ahead. It was so far away that Tarak might not have noticed. But years of being on alert and his warrior skills made him extra cautious, especially when they traveled.
“Halt!” he yelled. He pulled back on the reins of his horse to bring him to a stop.
“Tarak,” Taza bit out, clearly angry that his brother would cause the tribe to stop moving forward. Normally, Tarak wouldn’t have done such a thing. After all, he wasn’t chief. But they had women and children in their party, and he knew they needed to be extra careful.
“Look ahead,” he said.
His brother released a heavy sigh of frustration, but he did as Tarak asked. “What is that?”
Tarak squinted in the sun, and when he caught sight of what was before them, he felt his heart stop in his chest. “Guns,” he whispered, horror overtaking him. “They have weapons.”
There was a tittering amongst the group as the riders behind them tried to understand why they had stopped.
“What’s happening?” Chalipun, Tarak and Taza’s cousin asked, as he rode in between the two brothers. “Why have we stopped?”
“There’s something ahead,” Taza said.
“There are guns ahead,” Tarak told his cousin.
The color drained from Chalipun’s face. He knew how dangerous guns were more than any of them. He’d lost his father to the white men’s weapons, and he himself had been shot by a trader. It had been simple luck that he had survived.
“We need to find a way around,” Chalipun said. “We have women with us, and we aren’t much of a match for their guns.”
It was clearly the opposite of what Taza wanted to hear. His dark eyes became fierce, and Tarak could practically see the spirits of past Apache chief’s taking over. “We aren’t cowards,” he said. Tarak watched his hand go to his thigh towards the long, sharp knife that sat in his belt. Tarak’s own hand was straying towards his belt, where he kept his small axe.
“We don’t know how many there are or what they are doing,” Chalipun said. There was a tinge of fear in his voice, which Tarak knew he would hate. Like the rest of them, Chalipun was a warrior. He would gladly have gone to battle with the white men if he thought they had a hope of beating them.
“They are robbers,” Taza said. He had moved his reins to one hand. It was clear that no matter what they said, Taza was going to go forth and take matters into his own hands.
“You don’t know that,” Tarak said, but as he looked closer at the stagecoach, he suspected that his brother was correct. This area was ripe for bandits.
“There could be women and children in that coach,” Taza said.
“There are women in our party,” Tarak reminded him. “And you are chief. You can’t just run off…” Tarak trailed off. He didn’t want to think about his brother doing something that could get him killed. That would leave Tarak as chief, which was a role he did not care to fill.
Several of the men had gathered round the three of them, and as Tarak looked, he wasn’t surprised to see that every single one of them was starting to go for their weapons. They would fight and die for his brother without question.
“Stay with the women,” Taza said as he released a yelp and galloped off towards the top of the hill.
“He’s going to get himself killed!” Chalipun said. Tarak had to agree. Already, the white men were firing at his brother and his men. “What is he thinking?”
Tarak groaned. He wanted nothing to do with the white men’s problems. They were returning from a trading mission, which they’d had to go on because a bout of smallpox had started spreading through their camp. Taza had been desperate to trade for some medicine, despite the calls for him to stay with the tribe and offer the ancestors tribute for healing.
Tarak watched as his brother dodged bullets as he navigated his horse up the valley. Tarak reached for the axe on his belt and gripped the handle with one hand before leaning forward on his horse. He’d had his horse for years. They had been through many fights together, and he trusted that he would get him through this one as well.
“Not you too?” his cousin said.
“He’s our chief,” Tarak said. “And my brother. If he’s to die, my place is by his side.” It was the last thing that Tarak said before he galloped off after his brother.
Now that Tarak had decided to act, his mind was sharp and focused. He’d been fighting since he was a boy, and his body was well-honed to it. He dodged a few stray bullets and pushed his horse to go faster in order to catch up with his brother. When he did, he saw that his tribe was engaged in combat with more white men than he had assumed.
“Taza!” he yelled, alerting his brother to the man behind him. As Tarak yelled, he released his axe into the air. It landed with a thick clunk, cutting through skin and bone, as it embedded itself into the man’s back.
The sound of a woman’s screams startled and distracted him.
Before Tarak could think too much on it, another man was leveling a gun at his head. Tarak wouldn’t have time to move his horse quickly enough to avoid the bullet speeding towards him, so he made the decision to slide off the side of his horse, landing with a hard grunt as his shoulder absorbed the impact.
As he fell, he grabbed the long knife that he kept by his side. He’d lost track of his axe, in the melee, which didn’t appear to be over. Tarak jumped to his feet, ready for a fight, and he didn’t have to wait too long to get it.
An enemy horse bounded upon him, and Tarek immediately whipped his knife around, slicing the legs of the rider. Hot blood splattered across his face. He knew that he should have sunk his knife in the horse, but he always tried to avoid slaughtering animals unless he had to.
From the screams that the man released, he was sure that he wouldn’t be coming after anyone any time soon.
Tarak didn’t allow himself too much time to think. His eyes did a quick scan of the parameter, and he immediately spotted a young, white woman who was being dragged out of the stagecoach. He immediately knew that she was being pulled out against her will as she struggled against her attacker.
Tarak started running towards her. The sounds of the fighting were drowned out as he homed in on his mission. The sound of gunfire had ceased, and he smiled to himself. Guns weren’t ideal, but the good thing about them was that they eventually ran out of ammunition, and white men tended to rely on them too much.
Tarak was sure that his brother and his men would have no problem taking care of the remainder, which would give Tarak the ability to help the struggling young woman.
“Let me go!” she yelled as she struggled against the man. He had her by the hair and was dragging her hard against his body.
Tarak didn’t have a clear shot to throw his knife and ensure that he didn’t hit the woman.
As he closed in, he knew that he was going to have a hard time just fighting the man. He had a knife against the woman’s throat, and every time she struggled, a thin red line appeared across her creamy neck.
“Unhand her,” Tarak said as he came before the man. He raised his knife and took a fighting stance. Tarak was sure that he was going to have one chance to save this woman’s life, and he wasn’t going to miss it.
The man said nothing. He simply laughed at Tarak and tightened his grip. He yanked the back of the woman’s hair hard, causing her to yelp in pain. Tarak didn’t look at her, though. He kept his focus on the man ahead of him.
“And what are you going to do about it if I don’t?” he asked. He pressed the knife closer to the woman’s throat, and Tarak expected to hear a whimper of fear. When he didn’t, he quickly glanced over at her.
Her cheeks were flushed, and Tarak was surprised to see anger in her eyes.
“He’s not the one you need to worry about!” she said, and Tarak immediately felt his heart drop.
“A Fierce Love Without Warning” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Tillie Hartley’s whole life has been planned out and she always thought she was fine with that. Until her father forces her to marry a man twice her age. As Tillie travels to her husband-to-be, her stagecoach is overcome by bandits and for the first time ever she fears for her very life. That is, until a group of Apache men comes to her rescue… even though they seem to hate her. Scared and confused, Tillie will find a glimmer of hope in the most unexpected form of a fierce warrior…
Tarak, the second son of the Apache tribe, hates the white man. Yet when he saves Tillie Hartley, he finds that he can’t stop himself from being intrigued by her feistiness. Tillie is unlike anyone he has ever met, and she makes him question his anger towards her people. Unfortunately, his tribe doesn’t share his sentiments. They want Tillie gone and will go to extreme lengths to make this happen… Can he keep Tillie safe without betraying his people?
Tarak and Tillie come from two different worlds, but soon the connection between them becomes undeniable. Could a romance between an Apache warrior and a courageous rancher’s daughter transcend all the obstacles between them? Can their love survive and even bring their people together?
“A Fierce Love Without Warning” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.