Kate tucked a stray strand of her unruly hair behind her ear. She hated dancing for this very reason. She could never get it right, and by the time the lesson was over, she was so flustered and out of sorts that it felt as if the rest of the day were ruined.
“I did it! I finished learning all my steps!” Her younger sister Laura grabbed her by the hands and spun her around, nearly knocking Kate down to the floor.
“Calm down, I’m happy for you,” Kate said with a grimace. Of course, she was overjoyed that her sister was doing well. She had already surpassed Kate by leaps and bounds in dance class. The only thing that Kate wished was that she didn’t have to keep attending. But whenever she even hinted at the idea of quitting dance to her mother, her mother reacted in outrage.
“What will you do when you go to a dance, or at your wedding? I will not have my daughter making a fool of herself when she doesn’t know how to dance properly in society.” Kate could practically hear her mother’s upset voice now.
She knew that her mother meant well, but she also seemed to forget that she wasn’t in England. Her mother hadn’t lived in England since she was younger than Kate, but the proper behavior of society girls had been drilled into her by Kate’s grandmother, her friends, and generally, the people around her.
If Kate were like Laura, she was sure that her parents would be the happiest people in Kentucky. But Kate wasn’t like Laura. While they were best of friends, they were two very different people. Laura loved all the fancy gowns and the dance lessons, the piano and singing lessons, and being presented to her mother’s group of friends at every chance possible.
Kate, on the other hand, would take a walk in the woods with Dixie, her dog, any day over a tea party.
Kate smiled as she thought of Dixie. She was a Collie mix that Kate had found cold and shivering on the streets nearly three years ago. She had nursed the poor puppy back to health, despite the protests of her family, and the two of them had become inseparable ever since.
Well that was except for the many classes and events her mother insisted she attend; unfortunately, those were places that Dixie was not allowed.
“I’ll see you young ladies next week. Don’t forget to practice at home,” the dance instructor called out to the class, pulling Kate’s attention back to the stuffy classroom.
“So, I got given a new dance to study. I can’t wait! I’m going to practice every day at home,” Laura gushed happily.
“Well, you go ahead and practice for both of us. Mother will be lucky if she gets me back here next week, much less to use the little free time I have on dancing at home,” Kate said with a little shrug. But she knew better. Of course she would be here next week, just like she would be at her piano class, and her singing class, and at her mother’s tea party.
“Oh, and I can’t wait to tell my friends that I’m finally done with the last dance at my debutante tea party,” Laura went on.
Laura’s debutante party, Kate had completely forgotten. While it was a hard thing to do, considering Laura talked about it nonstop, she had indeed forgotten. It was the day after tomorrow, and her sister was bursting at the seams for the day to arrive.
“Laura, it’s just a tea party, and are you sure you really want to be presented to society yet? You’re only seventeen, and as soon as you are presented, you are expected to find a husband,” Kate chided. For a moment, she wanted to stop herself, to let her sister just enjoy this happy moment, but she couldn’t.
She had learned the hard way that the festivities of the debutante tea party weren’t everything they were made out to be. Yes you got to wear a pretty dress and be admired by all the young ladies and men of society, but that was only for the afternoon.
After that, it was the endless questions about suitors and the constant reminders that if you didn’t find a husband soon, you would become an old maid.
“That is how you found Austin, isn’t it?” Laura asked, her cheeks blushing red as she mentioned Kate’s fiancé.
“I suppose it is, but it’s not all it’s made out to be, Laura, just remember that.” Kate sighed as they continued the walk home.
She didn’t want to go into all the details about Austin with Laura. She didn’t love him. She hardly enjoyed spending time with him, but she needed to be married. She had already gone through her first debutante season and then her second began and she hadn’t had a fiancé.
It was something that her mother had constantly reminded her about, bringing different suitors to the house for Kate’s approval.
When her mother had found Austin, she had made it pretty clear that Kate had little choice. He was all the right things that her mother wanted her to marry. He was a prominent rancher with a large amount of property and workers under his name, not to mention the reputation his father had for being one of the wealthiest men in Hope’s Hollow and several surrounding towns.
Her mother had gone on and on about all his attributes and everything that Kate would enjoy about being his wife, but Kate still hadn’t come to discover any of these things for herself.
The times that she did spend with Austin were usually with him talking about himself and his accomplishments and her hoping it was over but keeping a smile and the right face plastered in place under the watchful eye of her mother.
Kate sighed again just thinking about it.
On one hand, the idea of having the wedding out of the way and settling down to a new life somewhere on Austin’s ranch no longer subjected to the demands of society sounded nice, but on the other hand, she found herself dreading the idea of being put in a house alone with Austin and being expected to carry out wifely duties to a man that she was pretty sure she could never love.
But the truth was she couldn’t choose another path. Her parents were the only ones she had to help her in this life, and this was the future they had set up for her. She had nowhere else to go, no other choice to make, and even if she did, she had already agreed to the marriage with Austin. As it drew nearer, she tried to take more walks in the woods with Dixie and enjoy every single moment that she could, hoping that her future would at least allow her to continue the few things she enjoyed.
As Kate walked through the front gate of their yard, Dixie greeted her by putting her dusty paws on her light blue dress, but Kate didn’t mind. She rubbed her dog behind her ears, trying to show her how much she’d truly missed her during the day.
She gave a little laugh at Laura’s annoyed look. Laura didn’t enjoy Dixie any more than her parents did, but they all tolerated her. In a way it seemed like it was them allowing her at least one thing that was truly of her real personality in her life. That was something that Kate was grateful for, but she didn’t feel like it was nearly enough most days.
After she’d given Dixie her fill of attention, she slipped inside the house, making as little noise as possible. She was sure that if her mother spotted her, she’d have her sitting in front of the piano trying to improve the song that had plagued her for the last three months, and that was the last thing that Kate wanted to do at this moment.
She made her way up the stairs and peeked into her father’s study. It was empty which made Kate’s smile just a little bigger. She slipped into the study and headed to the book shelf at the back. If there was one thing she loved about her father, it was his love for literature. He had gathered books during his entire life and had quite the collection. Kate’s favorite parts were the adventure and romance novels.
Her fingers paused over the title Gulliver’s Travels, and she pulled the book out, holding it close to her chest.
While her father supported her mother in all of her classes and social expectations, there was one thing that he had never tried to remove from Kate, and that was her love of reading. Her mother didn’t approve of Kate spending hours upon hours with her nose buried in books that were about adventure and travel, but her father understood her need for books. It was something that she had gotten from him after all.
Somehow, new titles that interested her were always available in the library, and Kate couldn’t be happier about it. Reading a book was traveling to a different world, getting to know endless friends and people that she would never have the chance to meet in real life. And most of all, reading these books let her live lives where she traveled the world and fell in love to live happily ever after.
Soon she was curled up by the window in the attic, reading chapter one, as she pushed all other thoughts from her mind. She was ready to let her current life slip away as she took up the life of the man on a ship who becomes stranded with only tiny little people for company.
Jack barely looked up when the server brought yet another round of drinks to his table. He had already had two drinks tonight, just to fit into the crowd in the saloon, but his patience was wearing thin. If the man who had sent him the message didn’t show up in the next couple of minutes, he was marking this entire evening up to a failed job, and that was that. It wasn’t worth the risk.
He had gotten a message that there was an opportunity for some easy cash and all that was involved was holding a prisoner for three days. It didn’t sound like anything too difficult.
Whoever it was hadn’t included all the details in their cryptic message but had demanded to meet him in person. Jack hoped that it hadn’t been a mistake to come here. He was wanted in more than one town for more than one offense, and it wouldn’t be too unheard of for this to either be a trap or for someone to accidentally recognize him.
“I’m looking for a man named Jack. Is that you?” a child’s voice asked. The small voice at his side was a surprise to Jack. He had been expecting a man, but the little boy in the grubby clothing was definitely not anywhere close to being a man.
“Maybe, what do you want?” Jack said softly, not wanting to attract any attention.
“The man said to tell Jack to meet him behind the saloon,” the little boy said then disappeared as quickly as he had appeared. Jack shook his head. Everything about this job seemed off to him, and the thought of leaving while he was ahead crossed his mind, but instead, he found himself heading outside and around the saloon to the back alley.
His gang needed the money, and if there were any chance of this job being a real thing, he was going to follow through.
At the back of the saloon a single figure was waiting. Jack could tell by his clothing and the way he glanced nervously around him that this wasn’t his usual activity for the night. It never was for this type of person. Many of the people who hired him were people who you would never suspect, people who seemed like they had everything under control but had to hire him to fix a mess they had made.
“I’m assuming you’re Jack,” the man said, and by his tone, Jack could tell that he was more than a little nervous.
“I am. Start talking about the job you mentioned, or I’m gone. You are more than an hour late,” Jack said looking suspiciously around at the dark shadows and bushes. He pulled his hat down a little lower and adjusted his jacket. This was definitely not a new situation for him, but it could never hurt to be cautious.
“I’m in need of some money and quick,” the man said rubbing some sweat from his brow. In the dusk it was hard at first for Jack to place where he’d seen the man before, but he soon connected a name to the face. He couldn’t say he was surprised at his prospective client’s identity. It was often the people you least expected it to be who were involved in this sort of thing.
“As long as it involves a good portion of money for myself, I’m interested,” Jack said with a look behind him. He didn’t like being exposed. It was still light enough that someone could see the two of them talking, and he wanted to get on his way as soon as possible.
“I just need you and your men to take someone captive and hold them for three days. When the ransom is paid, you keep forty percent and deliver the other sixty percent to me,” the man said, wiping his sweaty palms on his expensive tailored pants.
“The other way around,” Jack said evenly without a pause.
“What?” The man was obviously not used to being contradicted, but he would soon learn that no one ordered Jack around. That was the best part of being in charge of his own job, his own income; he could walk away from a deal at any time.
“Sixty percent for me and forty for you. I will be doing all the work, taking all the risk, and my men will need a share. The risk is all mine, and you will be doing nothing. It’s either sixty percent, or I walk away.” Jack waited for a few moments before he began to retreat from the saloon.
“Wait! Forty percent, I’ll take forty percent,” the man said. A brief smile skipped across Jack’s lips. That had been easier than he’d thought. This man must be pretty desperate.
“Who is he, the person we’re supposed to kidnap?” Jack asked. He hoped it was someone with a low profile, but he had an idea that it wouldn’t be. Anyone who had enough money to pay a ransom that was worth it would be someone that would create a little bit of a stir when taken, but that was what he and his men were for, to pull off a successful kidnapping.
“It’s actually a young woman; Kate Saunders. Her father will most definitely pay a very high ransom to get her back,” the man said.
“A woman?” he said distastefully. “I don’t really like the sound of that,” he added.
“Don’t worry,” the man said. “I don’t want you to harm her. Just hold her for three days and then let her go when her father pays.”
Something stirred in Jack’s stomach, and he thought once again of leaving this job behind. But the thought of going back to his men empty-handed wasn’t really an option. They hadn’t had a suitable job in a couple of weeks now, and funds were running low. They needed some money and fast, and this job sounded pretty simple. He would make sure that the young woman was safe and unharmed as long as her father delivered on what they asked for.
“I’ll send you a telegram when it’s done,” Jack said as he turned to go.
“My name is–”
“I know who you are,” Jack said before the man could finish. He didn’t wait to see the man’s reaction as he slipped into the now dark night and rejoined his horse. His men would be happy, and soon, hopefully, they would once again have money.
They had a lot of work to do if they were going to do this in the next day or two. Time was of the essence and also planning. Jack always made sure that their jobs were planned down to the minute. That was how you successfully avoided jail. He sometimes wished he had never gotten into this line of work, but now there was little he could do to change the situation.
As he rode back towards his gang’s camp, he let his mind wander. He had spent a good portion of his childhood in Hope’s Hollow, before he had changed his name and before he had become a criminal. It hadn’t been the only town he’d called home, but it was definitely one of his favorites.
While he knew most of the prominent families in Hope’s Hollow, he didn’t know much about the Saunders family. He had occasionally heard of them but mostly in passing in conversation. He had never been contacted by them, which had made him feel a little worse about this job. As far as he knew they were an upstanding family and most likely didn’t deserve what was going to befall their family.
But his job wasn’t always pleasant, and Jack didn’t always enjoy doing what he did, but it had become a necessity of life.
In a way, he had a family to support, his gang. They depended on him for work and for a living, and he wasn’t about to let them down. When guilt gripped him on the occasional day, he would remind himself that his gang tried not to kill people or hurt people unnecessarily. They tried to do what they had to do to survive in a difficult world, and that wasn’t such a bad thing.
Jack often wondered if his childhood had been different then maybe his adulthood would have been different. He was pretty sure it would have been, but there wasn’t much he could do about it now. Each person was given a lot in life, and he seemed to be pretty good at the one that he was given.
Jack smiled as he drew near camp. The men were going to be happy at least that he had a job for them. After all this, was the news that they had been waiting for.
“Calm down or you’re going to wrinkle your dress even more!” Kate scolded Laura with a little giggle. They were in the carriage heading to the debutante tea party arranged for her sister. Her sister was obviously nervous and had been taking these feelings out by scrunching her white dress in her fist over and over, leaving quite a bundle of wrinkles as evidence of her nervousness.
“I know, I know. It’s just that tonight is going to change my life forever,” Laura gushed with excitement.
“You will soon realize that it is just like any other event, and there will be a hundred more like it. You don’t have to be nervous,” Kate reassured, patting her sister’s shoulder kindly.
She couldn’t say that she remembered what it was like to be nervous about the tea party since for her own she had been more worried about when it would be over.
“That’s easy for you to say. You don’t even like these things,” Laura said with a sigh. She tried to smooth out the wrinkles she had caused with an exasperated motion.
Kate laughed with a sad sigh. “You’ll see that once it all starts, you’ll feel less nervous, and who knows? You might even find your future husband tonight.”
Kate turned her attention down to her own hands and turned the small gold band around her ring finger. It was delicately crafted with a tiny diamond inlaid at the center. It was simple but beautiful, and something that Kate would have truly adored had she not received it from Austin. It already felt like a prison, a constant reminder that her life was mapped out with an inescapable path ahead.
Suddenly the coach jerked to a stop.
“Are we there yet? It must be closer than we thought. I wonder if we’re here before Mother. That would be dreadful,” Laura said wringing her hands.
“I don’t think we’re there yet. We haven’t been going for that long,” Katie said with concern in her voice. She wasn’t sure what was going on yet, but she couldn’t help feeling something was off.
Suddenly, the sound of men arguing loudly filled the night filtering into the small space where Laura and Kate sat together. The wagon rocked violently. Kate hugged Laura tightly and closed her eyes. Something very bad was happening. She was sure of it.
Not a moment later, the door of the coach opened abruptly and a man’s head and shoulders appeared in the opening. Kate couldn’t make out his features in the barely existent light. All she could see was the bandana around his mouth, his hat pulled low over his face, and of course, the gun he held in his hand pointed at them.
“Get out here, both of you,” the man demanded roughly.
Kate felt fear clutch her heart. She had heard of coaches being robbed and plundered and the women being taken for unthinkable things. She just had never thought it was possible to happen here in Hope’s Hollow.
Kate moved forward with shaky knees but pushed her sister back.
“Please, don’t hurt my sister,” she said with the strongest voice she could muster.
“I said, both of you out, now!” the man said, the volume of his voice rising with his command.
Realizing that there was no reasoning with the man in front of her, Kate pulled Laura along with her, holding her shaking hand tightly, hoping that Laura would find some sort of strength in her grip. Whatever happened, she would do her best to protect her sister.
Once they got outside, the scene in front of them slowly began to make sense to Kate. Their coach driver was on his knees, his hands and feet tied tightly, and a gag in his mouth. Kate could read the apology in his eyes. This wasn’t his fault, though. There was nothing he could have done.
While they weren’t exactly in the center of town, they were still close enough to people that someone would notice what was going on soon enough, and it helped that they would be missed quite shortly at the debutante tea party.
Kate could only hope that rescuers would come in time.
The man who had pulled them from the coach shoved them forward near their driver.
“Which one of you is Kate?” the man said in the dusk light outside of the coach. It was easier to see the parts of his face that he was showing. He had a dangerous and determined glint in his eyes as his gaze wondered between Kate and Laura.
“I – I am,” Kate said, trying to stand tall without fear. She had always read about these things in books and assumed that if something like this were to ever happen to her, she would defend herself somehow, or that she wouldn’t be afraid, but now as she stood in front of the man with the gun, she realized she had been terribly wrong.
There was nothing she could do against so many men. As her eyes had adjusted to the dark, she had made out at least three other men besides the one who seemed to be in charge.
Before Kate could ask any other question or say another word, the man in charge and another rushed towards her, grabbing her by her arms.
Kate gripped Laura’s hand tighter.
“Kate!” Laura’s scream struck true fear into Kate’s heart. What were these men going to do with them? How had they known her name?
“Laura! You’ll be okay, Laura!” she called frantically as she struggled with all her might against her captors.
She watched helplessly as another two men took their places beside Laura. They grabbed her hands and began to tie them behind her back, ignoring Laura’s pleas and tears as she called after Kate.
“Let me go! What do you want with us? Please just let us go!” Kate pleaded, tears of her own wetting her cheeks.
The man in charge ignored her begging and with the help of his companion soon had Kate’s hands bound and her sitting in front of him on a horse.
“Please don’t hurt my sister! Just let her go.” Kate changed her request. It appeared as if there would be no hope for her, but if only they would spare her sister, if only she could do something.
The next thing Kate felt was a rough cloth being tied around her mouth.
“We can’t have you alerting the entire town now, can we?” the man behind her said with a slight chuckle.
Once the gag was in place, nothing that Kate attempted to say was heard, and she was left with her wrenching sobs as the horse led her away into the night.
The man behind her didn’t say a word but merely urged the horse to go faster and faster until Kate felt as if she would never find her way back home again.
She began to pray to God that somehow, he would help her escape this nightmare, and most of all to protect her little sister who was also at the mercy of these outlaws.
Jack had assumed that the job would be slightly more uncomfortable than a typical one, but he hadn’t estimated just how difficult. When he had spotted Kate and her sister inside the coach, all he could see was two young girls undeserving of this and pleading for mercy.
He had to admire Kate. He had suspected she was their target from the moment she had stood up to him inside the coach, but he had to be sure before he took her. Her pleas for her sister were what truly hurt the most. The frail red-haired girl seemed to have at some point resigned herself to her fate, but she had never once stopped begging for her sister’s safety.
Jack had instructed his men to leave her sister tied beside the coach driver. They had no need for her and no need to waste extra time. But even if they had had the extra time or the desire, he wouldn’t have allowed anything to happen to either of the young women.
It was distasteful, the entire business, but there wasn’t much he could do about it at this point. Even as he tried to reason with himself, Kate’s sobs reminded him of what he had done. He wished she would stop crying. He could handle her being angry, hating him, but the crying was something he just wasn’t sure what to do with. It didn’t really matter, though; this would all be over for all of them in the next three days if everything went well.
As long as everyone followed directions, no one would get hurt, and everyone would be happy in the end, except maybe for the man who would have to pay for the return of his daughter. Yes, the sum they were asking of her father was a large one, but it was one he could easily afford. Even though he didn’t know a lot about the Saunders family, he did know that they were quite wealthy.
Jack often wondered what it would be like to be wealthy just because it had been inherited. It was something that of course, anyone would want, but hardly anyone accomplished.
He sighed; maybe this experience would do young Kate good. Girls like her growing up with a silver spoon in their mouths didn’t understand what difficulty was. They didn’t understand what it was like to watch your parents die and not be able to help them. They didn’t understand hardship or what it was like to work for every single thing they had.
Maybe she deserves this, he tried to tell himself as he pulled his mount to a stop.
He pulled the girl down from the horse trying to be as gentle as possible. Kate in her struggles fell down in a heap at his feet. Before Jack could do anything, she was back up again and running towards a grove of trees nearby. Her quickness caught him by surprise, and it took a few moments for him to follow.
Kate in her simple party dress and her tied hands was no match for him, and he caught up with her before she had even made it halfway to what she perceived to be a way of escape. Jack felt a pang of pity. Little did she know that they were far away from any person, house, or town. No one was coming to rescue her here, and there was no chance of her getting further than a stone’s throw away from camp.
Jack chuckled as he pulled her back toward camp.
“You think this is funny?” Kate’s angry shriek surprised him. He looked back at her to find she had somehow worked the gag out from her mouth. Silently he scolded himself for not tying it tighter.
He didn’t answer her but continued walking, keeping a firm grip on her tied hands. After a long day of waiting and watching for their chance and the stress of carrying out their plan, he was exhausted and ready to get some rest. He didn’t have time to deal with this girl’s attitude and complaints for tonight.
“What did you do with my sister?” Kate demanded, the fury he had previously seen now filling her voice.
“Your sister will be fine,” Jack said without missing a step. He had resolved not to answer her, but then he couldn’t let her think that her sister was suffering some terrible fate. That would only make her all the harder to deal with.
“Did you hurt her? Where is she?” Jack could hear the fear and worry in Kate’s voice, and it impacted him more than he thought it would.
“I said, she’s fine. Most likely she’s back at your house by now,” Jack said with a sigh. He began to consider stopping to retie her gag but decided against it as the tents came into view. Finally some rest for the weary.
He led Kate to the tent next to his. He had prepared it that way so that he could keep an eye on her but also to keep her safe. While he trusted his men, he didn’t want to put any temptation in their way that was unnecessary, and their entire job depended on Kate’s parents paying to get her back. He didn’t know if they would demand to talk with her or verify her safety before handing over the money, and he wasn’t about to take any risks.
“You’ll sleep here tonight,” Jack said roughly, showing Kate the bed he had made on the ground for her.
He could tell by the look on her face that she wasn’t particularly happy about the arrangement, which brought another smile to his lips. He wondered if she had slept anywhere besides a fancy four-poster bed her entire life. Well, like it or not, she was about to get some experience in discomfort tonight.
He untied her hands but retied one of them with a tight knot that he was most certain she wouldn’t be able to undo with one hand, even if she tried. He tied the other end of the rope to a wooden stake beside the bed.
“Just to keep you around,” he said, “and if you should be particularly skilled in escape and get out of this tent, I will hear you and stop you, so I suggest you try and get some rest instead of wasting all of our time. Besides, Wolfie will be loose tonight, and he might think we brought a soft little lamb for his supper should he find you alone in the woods. You should keep your tent closed so he doesn’t come in with you,” he added.
Jack certainly hoped that she would take his advice. He didn’t have any desire to be chasing Kate in the woods tonight. He closed the tent securely before releasing the large hairy dog. Wolfie gave one large “ruff” in greeting and nearly knocked him over trying to lick his face.
“Get off, you hairy brute!” he shouted and cuffed the dog playfully. “Get on now. You watch out for trouble, dog,” he added pushing the beast away. Wolfie sniffed the tent and wandered toward the campfire, waving his tail amicably.
Kate hadn’t said a word as he had left the tent. It was an enjoyable silence as well as a disturbing one. Jack had the feeling that if someone like Kate wasn’t talking, she was thinking, and that couldn’t be good. So much for a simple job to get some money. It was looking as if Kate Saunders might be harder to deal with than he thought.
Soon he was relaxing on his bed, letting his tight muscles relax for the night. As he drifted off to sleep, Kate’s scared but angry blue eye’s stared back at him in his mind, and Jack wondered if he could ever erase them from his mind.
Laura paced back and forth with her hands wringing furiously. She was still shaking from the encounter, but despite her mother’s constant pleas, she would not sit down to rest.
Her father burst through the door of the parlor.
“Did you find anything? Did they find her?” Laura said, tears threating to spill from her eyes.
She couldn’t get the image of her sister being dragged away from her mind. She kept on telling herself that she could have done something to stop them, offered something, begged them to take her instead.
“No, not a trace; whoever did this knew exactly what they were doing. Are you sure you didn’t see something, anything that could help us identify them?” Her father turned to her now, his face showing as much distress as she was feeling.
“I wish I had seen something … they were all wearing masks … I wish I could have done something, maybe –” She broke down into sobs again.
“It’s not your fault. You two shouldn’t have been traveling alone in the first place,” Laura’s father said as he moved quickly across the room and drew her into an embrace. “We’ll find your sister, no matter what we have to do. I promise we will find her,” he said , trying to console her.
Laura tried to believe her father’s fierce words, but no matter how she tried, she just couldn’t. She had heard too many stories at school of young women who had been whisked away never to be heard from again. That couldn’t happen to her sister! How could any of this be real?
The door opened yet again, this time it was Austin. A moment later, the door opened again, and another man entered; a young man that Laura had never met before. He was tall, and although he didn’t look extraordinary, there was something rugged and mysterious about him.
Laura’s father hurried over to shake both of the men’s hands.
“I can’t believe this is happening, I should have accompanied her in that carriage,” Austin said, running a hand through his disheveled hair. “Who is this and what is he doing here?” Austin added in a rude tone looking the second man over with suspicion.
For a moment, Laura thought the other man would be offended at the questions, but instead he only smiled a little and waited.
“This is detective Mark. He will be helping us look for Kate and hopefully putting whoever is responsible for this mess behind bars,” Laura’s father said as he turned to introduce the man to everyone.
“What if that only makes them angrier?” Austin said, staring at Mark with an accusing look.
“If whoever took Kate should provide a way to get her back, we will most certainly oblige. That doesn’t mean I will be sitting back in my chair letting whoever did this get away scot free,” Laura’s father said, putting any other objections Austin had to rest.
“Thank you for coming, Sir.” Laura’s mother now joined the conversation, dabbing her cheeks with a handkerchief. “Do you have any idea where Kate might be, or what they want with her?” she asked the detective hopefully.
“I don’t have any leads at the moment, but most of the time when this sort of thing happens they are interested in money. From what I understand of the events of tonight, the outlaws asked for Kate by name. Most likely they knew that she was the daughter of a banker and the fiancée of the mayor’s son and figured she would be an easy target,” the detective explained calmly. “And she was,” he stated matter-of-factly.
Laura listened to every word carefully. She hoped that whoever it was would ask for money and return her sister unharmed, but what if they didn’t?
“What – what do you think they’re going to do with her?” she asked timidly.
All eyes turned to her as if they had forgotten she was still in the room.
“I don’t know. It all depends on the men and on the gang. We can only hope for the best,” the detective said in a serious tone.
Laura nodded her head quietly. She hoped that her sister was okay. She could only pray that she wasn’t undergoing something horrific as they scrambled to find out what had happened to her.
Finally, after much conversation about what they were going to do about the whole situation had transpired, the detective left, and Austin left soon after. Everyone headed off to bed with heavy hearts.
Laura lay down in her blankets, trying not to look over towards her sister’s empty bed. She couldn’t help feeling this was all her fault. If she hadn’t been going to her debutante tea party, her sister would be here, safe at home with her family.
Bringing up Kate’s smiling face in her mind, Laura cried herself to sleep.
Kate woke up the next morning to a mixture of sounds that she was most definitely not used to hearing. Men having conversations, a campfire being prepared, horses whinnying in the distance. It was all so unfamiliar.
As she tried to turn over and was hit by terrible aches and pains in her body, the events of the day before came rushing back. Kate had never slept on the ground before with nothing more than a blanket, and her body was feeling the effects of it. She moved herself slowly and carefully, pausing every few seconds to let herself adjust. Soon she was sitting up, her tied hand resting on the blanket bed beside her.
She wondered when the outlaw would come for her. And she also wondered if she wanted him to. Her lips were dry and parched, and she was almost ready to do anything for a glass of water. Her stomach was grumbling from going without supper the night before.
Overall, she felt more uncomfortable than she had in her entire life. She hoped that if the criminal came back, he would bring some food and water with him. It was the least he could do after what he had put her through.
She had entertained the thought of trying to escape the night before, but she had heard the large dog sniffing at the tent and the deep woof he had made. He was huge in her mind, and she imagined him chasing her down as she wandered in the forest. No, she would wait. She was exhausted after the wild ride on the horse and struggling with her captors. Even though she thought she could not possibly sleep under these conditions, she had drifted off as soon as she lay in the quiet dark for a few minutes.
She tried to recall the direction they had ridden once they had left town the night before, but her mind came up blank. She had been too busy worrying about her sister and her own demise to have paid enough attention. Besides, it had been so dark she doubted that she could have seen anything useful anyway. They had twisted and turned through the woods and gone up and down so many trails it was a total jumble in her memory now.
She needed a plan, a plan to get out of here as fast as possible and back to her life. What would Austin think of this? Would he still marry her when she got back? She would explain to him exactly what happened and that nothing inappropriate took place.
She had heard the rumors about what happened to women taken by gangs, but it didn’t seem to be the case here, or at least not yet. A streak of fear rushed down her spine. She looked around the small tent. Besides her restraints and the blanket she had slept on, there was nothing else in sight.
They had probably thought of everything to keep her here, but that wasn’t going to stop her. She would find a way out of this mess, no matter how many times she had to try.
She figured that her first order of business was to convince the men that she was resigned to her fate. She couldn’t have them thinking she was trying to escape. That would only put them more on guard.
The second order of business was the dog. She hoped that despite his name and size he would be easy to make friends with. She thought about her own dog at home. She must be wondering why Kate had forgotten her. She hoped her parents would remember to feed her.
She straightened her shoulders a little and ran her free hand through her disheveled hair. She felt a little better now that she had decided what to do for the time being. She would try not to draw attention to herself, and then when they were least expecting it, she would steal a horse and ride to the nearest town or people, wherever that was. She hoped she could manage a horse. Until the night before she had never sat on one. They had always used a buggy. Although she had been terrified, she had been surprised at how high off the ground she had been and the speed and agility the horse had given them. It was a heady experience. She made a mental note that someday when this was all over, she would have to learn to ride a horse properly.
“Good morning!” The gruff voice at the door of her tent startled her from her thoughts.
“Did you sleep well?” the man said with a smirk.
Kate glowered at him angrily. He was making fun of her discomfort. How cruel could he be?
He wasn’t wearing the bandana now, just his hat. He looked as if he hadn’t shaved in a couple of days, and if she wasn’t tied in a tent and kidnapped from her family by him, she might even consider him handsome.
“Are you going to let me go?” she asked bitterly.
“I see that you are just as talkative as you were last night. Actually, I came to get you outside a bit for some food and water and for a trip to the privy, but if you’re not interested …” The man backed out a little threatening to leave.
“I’m hungry and thirsty, and I want to be untied,” Kate said angrily. She hated this, having to ask for these things from these men, having to be near them, but there was no remedy.
The man came over with a chuckle and untied her hand. “Follow me and don’t bother trying to run. You’ll never make it in broad daylight,” he said.
Even though he said it lightly, Kate recognized the warning. He meant business.
She rubbed her sore wrist as she timidly stepped outside. Her heart pounded frantically in her chest. If these men decided to hurt her, she wouldn’t be able to do anything to stop it. The fear nearly paralyzed her, but she forced herself to stand straight and brave. She couldn’t let them see her fear.
“Come on; there’s breakfast this way,” the man said, leading the way to the campfire.
The man pointed to an empty log, and Kate sat down obediently. Soon a metal plate heaped with eggs and beans was pushed into her lap. A few seconds later, it was accompanied by a metal mug of water.
Kate drank most of the water first. Her thirst was excruciating. The food was next. At first, she told herself she would eat slowly and not eat all of it. She didn’t want them to know how hungry she was. But her resolve dissolved as soon as she took the first bite. The food, although simple was delicious.
She noticed the man in charge watching her out of the corner of his eye. For a moment, she thought she saw a look of pity cross his face, but it was gone as soon as it had come.
She didn’t understand any of this. Why had these men taken her, and why were they feeding her and being nice? This wasn’t what she had heard when the girls in town told stories about young women being kidnapped. This wasn’t what happened in the books she read.
When she was finished with her food and had drunk two glasses of water, the man stood up and motioned for her to follow. “The privy is this way,” he said.
She followed meekly, and they walked down a narrow trail to a very small shack in the woods. Her nose told her what sort of building it was.
“I’ll wait here,” he said with a twinkle in his eyes.
She nodded and tried to hold her breath as she entered. She had never used a primitive bathroom before, and she was horrified to be in such a situation. She closed her eyes and said a prayer, “Please give me strength to endure!”
She left the shack as fast as she could and rejoined her captor. His contorted face showed that he could tell that she was mortified at the experience, and he struggled not to laugh out loud. He turned away and cleared his throat.
“I’m going to cut some wood, and since you can’t be trusted, you’ll have to come along so I can keep an eye on you,” he said gruffly.
Kate nodded numbly. She had a feeling that arguing wasn’t going to change his mind, and besides, going somewhere besides camp might give her an idea of where they were.
“What’s your name?” she finally asked. For some reason, it bothered her not knowing a single thing about this man who was now in control of what happened to her.
“Why do you want to know?” the man asked, looking back at her with an amused glint in his eye.
“Because everyone has a name,” Kate said unsure of what else she could say.
“Jack,” he answered shortly.
“Oh,” Kate said, following in silence for several more moments.
“Do you live around here?” she asked truly curious.
“I don’t live anywhere,” Jack said adjusting the axe on his shoulder.
“So, you just move around a lot?”
“You ask a lot of questions,” Jack said, stopping in a small clearing.
Kate sat down at the edge of a clearing and watched as Jack began to cut a large pile of wood. It looked as if it had been there for quite some time, and if Kate knew anything about the forest, it was that it took a while to dry as much as this wood had.
This gave her a spark of hope. That meant that they had been camped here for a while, and if she was lucky, they would stay here. Maybe someone had seen them and would tell the people looking for her. Maybe they would find her sooner than she had a chance to try and escape.
Kate didn’t ask any more questions as she watched Jack chop stump after stump. Soon there was a neat pile of wood ready for a campfire, and they were heading back to the camp.
Kate memorized the small path to the clearing in the woods; maybe beyond these woods, there was help. The howl of a coyote in the distance made her shiver. She wasn’t sure what she preferred, being trapped here with a ruthless gang or risking it with the coyotes in the woods.
They entered the camp area again, and the men nodded to her. She said nothing. She looked around the clearing. The large dog she had heard the night before was tied near her tent with a thick chain. He looked formidable, large and muscular with long thick hair. He looked at her with intelligent unwavering brown eyes, and she suppressed a shiver. Her earlier thought of making friends with the dog suddenly seemed foolish.
She could tell that Jack wasn’t going to take his eyes off her long enough for her to make any escape today, but when he did look the other way, she would be ready. It would have to be when the dog was tied.
“Loving a Tender Outlaw” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Kate Saunders never expected that she would have to fight for her life while accompanying her sister to her first Debutante party. When circumstances arise and her kidnapping becomes a permanent situation, Kate finds herself bonding with the very man who took her away from her family and fiance. Will it be possible for her to find what she was looking for where she least expected to? When the time comes, will she choose love over family, or will she find a way to have it all?
Jack has led a rough life and he’s determined to care for no one but himself. When he is hired by someone to kidnap young Kate and hold her for ransom, he jumps at the chance. But getting the money will not be that easy, as Kate’s father is prepared to fight back. Jack is initially challenged by her stubbornness, but in time he discovers that her sweet personality brings out a softer side of him. In this impossible dilemma he is facing, will he choose to save the woman who makes him a better person over money?
Nothing is what it appears to be and when all cards are revealed, decisions will need to be made. Who is behind Kate’s kidnapping? They say when you find love, hold on to it, but will Kate and Jack dare to let love conquer all?
“Loving a Tender Outlaw” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.