Emily Sandler didn’t open her eyes when she first heard the rooster crow. She liked to imagine for a moment that there was no devastating drought and that her father was alive. Both things were not true. Emily pictured her father, smelling of sage, waiting for her in the kitchen with arms open, ready for her to jump into. After a few moments together discussing the day ahead, he would go out to tend to his crops, which were verdant green and bountiful.
Then, the inevitability of the day came into focus. Emily’s father had died two years earlier, and he wouldn’t be in the kitchen. There were no green crops, and times in general were tough. It was time for Emily to face reality, and for a few moments, she wanted to remain in bed, reminiscing. However, she knew that she still had her mother, Amy, brother, Matthew, and her friends. Family who made the present worth living.
She allowed herself to wallow in her grief and sadness for a few minutes. That way, it wouldn’t unexpectedly creep up on her during the day. Emily looked forward to the day when she’d wake to a loving husband next to her and a child waiting to be fed. Then, she’d have no time for her early morning reflections.
“Emily, are you getting up soon? Gosh, you like to sleep,” Matthew said.
Matthew Sandler was only four years old when their father, Ezra, died suddenly. He seemed much older than six, although there were times he fell back into the role of a regular kid. He heard his mother and others comment that he was the man of the family and took them literally. Emily encouraged him to laugh and play games. She assured him that there would be plenty of time to be an adult when he was older. Matthew idolized Emily, and she adored him.
Emily lifted her blanket and invited her little brother to join her before it was time to start the day. As usual, he couldn’t resist and snuggled with his big sister.
“You must be sore after swinging that ax yesterday. I hope you know that chopping wood isn’t something you’re expected to do. That’s for when you’re older, and now you should be doing six-year-old things like playing in the dirt and making friends with the children down the road.”
“Who’s going to chop wood if I don’t?” Matthew asked.
“Don’t even worry about it until Uncle Caleb asks for help. I want you to enjoy being six because you only get one chance to be that age,” Emily said.
“Why aren’t you out of bed yet?” Matthew asked
“I like to start the day slow, every now and then. I set the table and collected eggs before bed last night, so I’m not putting extra work on Ma or Aunt Janet,” Emily said.
“Whatcha thinking about when you stare at the ceiling?” Matthew asked.
“I’m contemplating, and I bet you don’t know the meaning of that word,” Emily said with a gentle smile.
“No. You know I’m not good at big words,” he said.
“I’m thinking of the past and imagining what the future will be like. Uncle Caleb has mentioned a wagon train going down to Texas, where we can have a fresh start. That’s exciting to think about.” Emily mentioned Texas, so Matthew was not flabbergasted when the announcement was made. He might be excited about the adventure or hesitant to leave the only home he’d ever known.
“Texas sounds scary. Pa really isn’t coming back, is he?”
“No, and we talked about this. Pa went to heaven, and once a person goes there, they don’t come back. He’s an angel now who looks down on us and keeps us safe.”
“Why doesn’t he keep Uncle Caleb’s crop safe? Didn’t he like his brother?” Matthew asked.
Emily didn’t like when Mathew asked her a question for which she didn’t have a reasonable answer. He made too much sense at times. “Angels lead us to make the right decisions and protect us from evil, but they don’t control everything. The drought happened, and I’m sure Uncle Caleb will bring us to a better place. Pa loved his brother, and he would be pleased that he’s taking care of us.”
“Oh, I get it. We conteplamated enough. I smell breakfast cooking, so we best get downstairs.”
Emily smiled at Matthew’s mispronunciation of the word he was just learning. She knew the concepts of death and angels weren’t something he got entirely, but those were things even adults struggled with. “You’re right. Jump right under the covers if you want to do this again.”
Emily’s mother, Amy, was making some sort of hash for breakfast. It was what she served when they were short on ingredients, which was often. No one cared much what was in it since it always tasted good. The Sandler family knew they were fortunate to have a roof over their heads. It was a miracle that they hadn’t run out of food yet, but they always managed.
Joining Emily, Matthew, and her mother at the table were cousin Lucy, Uncle Caleb, and Aunt Janet. They were a small, happy, and hard-working family that she was proud to be a part of. After Ezra Sandler died, his brother Caleb didn’t hesitate to take in the family he left behind. He maintained that Ezra would have done the same thing if anything had happened to him.
Emily noticed Caleb shifting in his seat, and he continually cleared his throat. She guessed he was going to announce what everyone probably knew already.
“Looks like everyone is here, so I’ll announce a decision I’ve come to. The family is leaving Danville and heading for Texas to seek a brighter future. I don’t know how many more days we can last on this barren land. Thanks to the clever meal prep that Janet, Amy, and Emily have used, we are still eating well. The problem is that it can’t last forever. I’ve been able to work some odd jobs here and there, but they’re becoming less available.”
“Please don’t tell me we’re journeying alone?” Janet asked.
Caleb chuckled. “I have confidence in my abilities, but not that much. I have heard rumors swirling that a wagon train was being planned, and I found the leader. Wes Cooper is organizing the wagon train, and it leaves in one week at sunrise. It seems that at least six other wagons are going, and that number will likely rise.”
“One week doesn’t leave much time to prepare,” Amy commented.
“The women folk are meeting in the church next week to discuss such things. I suggest you all plan to attend.” Caleb looked around the table. “Does anyone have questions?”
No one spoke up. So, they were officially moving from Illinois to Texas. Emily was happy that she already knew this was probably happening, so it wasn’t a complete surprise. She had an important visit to make before the family headed south. The week would be very busy as they loaded the necessary belongings onto the wagon. Emily planned to make it to her father’s grave and tell him about the changes in the family.
Emily turned to her mother. “Would it be okay if I ran off to say goodbye to Father? I won’t be long.”
“Of course, dear. It’s appropriate, and you should go today before we get too busy. I’ll plan to do the same later in the week,” Amy said.
“Thank you, Mom. I’ll be ready to work hard non-stop for the rest of the week.”
“Goodness knows it will be needed. I’m also giving you the responsibility of looking out for your little brother while we’re getting ready for our journey,” her mother said. “That boy tends to listen to you more than me.”
“My pleasure. Matthew and I will have fun, and he’ll enjoy helping out.”
“I know that it’s part of his endeavor to be the man of the family at six.” Emily’s mother giggled, and Emily joined in the laughter.
Emily helped with the breakfast dishes, and then left for the mile-long walk uphill to her father’s tombstone. Danville was mainly flat, so it was more like a hill than a mountain.
As Emily approached the small gray stone with lettering done by Caleb, her eyes filled with tears. The plants they placed around his grave were dead from a lack of water. Two years was a long time, but Emily felt like she had been holding her father’s hand only yesterday. She made the walk to his gravesite about once a month but knew that this time was likely her last.
“Hello, Dad. We figured you would enjoy the view up here, which is why we chose this spot. Now I’m thinking we should have picked something on flat land since it would be easier to get to. I know it seems like an odd thing to say, but I came to say goodbye. I realize I said that two years ago, but this time it’s me leaving. The drought is costing us the farm, along with most of the people in Danville, so we’re heading to Texas in a wagon train for a more prosperous life.
Emily picked away the weeds as she spoke. She continued the conversation as though she was talking to a living person. The gravestone stood alone, so it was secluded, and there were no passersby to think she was daft. Walking to her father’s grave would no longer be an option, but she vowed to continue speaking to him. Emily was able to express her feelings without interference or worry that she was being judged.
“The wagon train will be unlike anything I’ve ever experienced before, so I’m excited, and I think Matthew is also. There are at least six other wagons, including ours, and it will give me a chance to get to know some of our neighbors better. I know most of them say hello, but I haven’t seen them enough in the past to call them good friends. We will have to rely on one another, through triumph and tragedy, to make it all the way to Texas.
“Matthew was intrepid at first, but I think he’s coming along. He misses you, Pa, even though he was only four years old when you died. Uncle Caleb is a father figure, but he’s not enough, and that’s not his fault. Little Matthew is always searching, and I think that’s why the two of us are so close. We both know I can’t be a father, but I do give him extra attention, which he appreciates.”
Emily arched her back and turned her face to the sun. She could almost feel the spray of freckles emerging on her button nose. When her father was alive, she wore her brown hair in two braids. He would tug at them each morning for good luck. Now that she was a woman of twenty-one years, she gathered it in a bun at the nape of her neck. Her mother told her that no women over twenty wore braids.
“As you know, I’m a woman now, and hopefully, I’ll find a man to love in Texas. There are times I fear that will never happen. Cowboys in Texas might not be interested in women from Illinois. It’s a silly fear, but I have it anyway. There are more unknowns than ever in my life, and I try hard not to worry about every little thing. I’m afraid of leaving Danville and of encountering savages as we head south, since I’ve heard they hide where they would be least expected. I’m just a nervous Nellie, as Mother calls me.
“You would be proud of Mother because she is everything she can be to me and Matthew. She takes care of the house with Aunt Janet, and they both do their work with a smile. However, she misses you every day but doesn’t show it around us. I hear her weeping as I pass her bedroom at night or when she thinks she’s alone in the barn. I never interrupt her out of respect for her privacy. Uncle Caleb remarked that she could easily find another husband if she was so inclined. Mother said when love is as deep as the one she shared with you, it makes it impossible to marry again.”
Emily heard voices, and she turned around to see Matthew walking up the hill holding the hand of their cousin, Lucy. She used her hand to block out the sun, which was shining into her brown eyes.
“What are the two of you doing up here?” Emily asked. She wasn’t unhappy to see them, just surprised.
“Everyone took a lunch break,” Lucy said. “Matthew suggested we join you up here, and I thought it was a good idea.”
“It’s a great idea. I was hoping I’d have the chance to bring Matthew up here before we leave Danville.
Emily and Lucy left Matthew to chat with his father. They walked toward a nearby stand of trees so he could have privacy, but they could still keep an eye on him. He used wild hand gestures and spoke loudly as he sat at the side of the grave.
Lucy Sandler was sixteen, and Emily considered her a friend so close that they felt like sisters. They were never mistaken for sisters, though; Emily had wild blonde curls and blue eyes that were opposite of Emily’s brown eyes and hair.
“I don’t know what I would do without you coming on the wagon train,” Lucy said. “I’m not normally the nervous kind, but I’m worried about this.”
“I’ll be right beside you, so whatever happens to you will happen to me, too. I’m very protective of you. It’s as if you were my little sister. If anyone tries to take advantage of you, come get me. I know how generous you can be, like the time you brought home a beggar. He wanted money and food, and we can’t afford that right now. You’re too young to figure these things out, and it’s not your fault. The unknown is scary, but if we avoid it, we’ll never have new experiences or grow,” Emily said. Her advice was good, and she would have to make sure she followed it, too.
Lucy squeezed her hand. “You’re wise beyond your years. I hope I’m like you when I reach twenty-one.”
“I think you’ll be a more mature version of Lucy, and we’ll even be better friends than we are now—if that’s possible.”
The three of them held hands in front of Ezra’s tombstone and said a final goodbye. They all had tears in their eyes.
Emily wasn’t certain what the future would bring, but with the ones she loved beside her, she knew she would be safe.
Emily opened her eyes and realized there was only one day left in Danville, with much to get done. She was ready to rise from the bed, and she was going to forgo her few minutes of reminiscing, but Matthew came charging in.
“I was just about to get up, but now I’ll linger. Are you excited about the adventure that awaits us?” Emily asked.
“At first, I was scared, but now I’m not. The whole family is going, and if I didn’t, I’d be alone in Danville. That would be scarier than taking a wagon to Texas. Uncle Caleb says Mr. Cooper will take good care of us, and I believe him.”
“Only six, and you’re already brave. I love you, and I’ll always be there to protect you.”
“I know. I love you, Emily, and I hope you don’t grow wings like Pa did,” Matthew said.
“I plan to stay right next to you for as long as I can.”
After breakfast, The women loaded the final morsels of food left in the house. Eggs, bread, and dried meat were left for the couple of meals they had left before their departure. Wes Cooper made sure there was a chuckwagon, but it was important for every family to bring as much as they could manage. There wasn’t a lot to take along, so they’d rely on trapping and foraging that they’d do along the way. Each one of them created their own sleep roll, and mattresses were stacked in the back of the wagons so they could sleep along the way.
Amy advised Emily to wear sturdy traveling clothes and to take one extra blouse. There wasn’t room for extras, so sleep clothes, slippers, and every other garment she owned had to be left behind. Emily understood, but regardless of what her mother said, she would pack her journal and a few mementos from her father. She’d purchased a small amount of peppermints that she’d sneak into her pocket for Matthew.
It was the morning of their departure, and everyone was ready before the sun rose in the sky. Emily stood with everyone else as Caleb gave them final instructions; much of it would likely be repeated by Wes Cooper. They planned to gather with the other wagons in the caravan before heading out.
“We stayed in Danville as long as we could, and the decision to leave wasn’t an easy one. Crops are dead, and the bank will be coming for our home soon. We would have withered away and died like the stalks of corn if we had decided to stay. We have to stick together while we’re out on the frontier. You know, to look out for savages, but there are other outlaws and wild animals to consider,” Caleb said. “Does anyone have questions?”
“How long will the trip be?” Lucy asked.
Caleb slowly shook his head. “It could take weeks or months. It depends on what we encounter, and I’m not going to predict. I’m the head of this family, and that won’t change when we leave Danville. The only other person you can take orders from is Wes Cooper, who’s leading this caravan.”
“Do we all get a turn at sitting up front with you and Aunt Janet?” Matthew asked.
“I’m sure we can work that out.”
Emily sensed that Uncle Caleb was nervous, although he’d never admit it. She saw his fists clenched, and he was sweating more than usual. He had a big responsibility since he had not only his family but his brother’s, too.
They climbed inside the covered wagon and headed into the town, where they received instructions from Wes Cooper. He said pretty much the same thing that Caleb had said. There were now ten wagons in the caravan, and Mr. Cooper said that was better than six. Indians and other bandits were less likely to bother a larger caravan.
The back of the wagon with all their belongings was more comfortable than Emily had expected. It was Matthew, Lucy, and Emily, and thank goodness the three of them got along well. They sang songs and felt as if they were in the attic of the house in Danville for most of the first day.
“What was that? Are we crashing?” Matthew asked when they began to encounter rocky terrain.
“We’re just riding over some rocks. I think this part is fun, don’t you agree, Lucy?” Emily asked. She knew Matthew loved to be like the big girls, and if they were fine with it, he would be too. Emily winked at Lucy so she would play along.
“I love it when it’s bumpy. It makes me laugh when I bounce up and down,” Lucy said.
“Oh, I get it. I like it, too.” Matthew started laughing.
He eventually fell asleep in Emily’s lap and she was able to transfer him to a soft surface. She predicted he’d sleep until the next morning.
“Is it safe to talk about boys and our future hopes and dreams?” Lucy asked.
Emily nodded. “Once Matthew is asleep, there isn’t much that will wake him up.” Emily replied. They put their feet up on a chest that held almost everything her mother owned.
“How was it possible that you weren’t able to find a single man to your liking in Danville?” Lucy asked.
“My mother and father gave me an example of how happy a marriage could be. They not only loved each other deeply but respected and trusted each other. I decided a long time ago that I wasn’t going to settle for anything less.”
“We are alike in that regard, since my parents have a similar marriage. It’s like they are always there for each other, and when it was clear they couldn’t have any children beyond me, they grew closer. I would think he would have been angry, or she would have grown bitter,” Lucy said.
“It was the same when my little brother Ezra Junior died. He wasn’t yet one, but they had so much love for the infant. It shattered them, but they managed to pick up the pieces and move forward. I don’t only want a man like that, it’s what I need. If I don’t find someone who I can trust to always remain by my side, then I’ll be a happy spinster,” Emily said.
“Texas is huge, and I don’t think you’ll have trouble finding the man of your dreams.”
“I hope so. A handsome cowboy would be nice if he meets all my other qualifications.”
The girls chuckled and spoke for hours before they stopped to camp for the night. The journey had been without incident so far, and Emily was having a better time than anticipated. Spirits were high, so it seemed everyone agreed.
After breakfast, Matthew jammed onto the bench in front with Amy, Janet, and Caleb. Emily and Lucy played jacks and card games in the rear.
Several hours later, there was a terrible jolt, and all their belongings shifted. Lucy bumped her head.
“Ouch, that hurt,” Lucy said
Emily steadied her cousin. “Are you hurt anywhere else? It doesn’t look like the skin is broken.”
“I’m fine, but I can’t say that about the wagon.”
After the calamitous bump, they came to a stop. The wagon was lopsided, and when they lifted the flap, they saw Caleb assessing the damage. He told them they snapped a wheel, and the damage was severe.
Wes Cooper called out and rang a bell he must have kept handy. Every wagon in the caravan heard and came to a stop. The other families on the wagon train must have been worried. They may have, though bandits were attacking. Several men jumped from their wagons with their rifles.
Wes dispatched a few men working for him to spread the word that it was safe. He hollered an announcement for those within earshot.
“There is nothing to be concerned about. One of the wagons cracked a wheel. There are no bandits or savages. Pass on the word to the wagons behind you.”
Wes threw his hand over his mouth when he saw the damage. Emily heard their conversation from behind the closed wagon cover. “Did anyone get hurt?”
“My daughter was knocked in the head, but all she got was a bump. Everything we loaded into the wagon shifted, and I’m sure some things were destroyed,” Caleb said.
Janet moaned. “My good plates are likely broken. They were a gift from my mother and cannot be replaced.”
Amy put her arm around her and tried to console her.
“Caleb, I hate to tell you this, but that will take days to fix, and I doubt I even have the tools,” Wes said. “The caravan has to keep moving because we have more wagons joining along the way. You’re a good man, and I know how much it means to you to keep your family safe, so I welcome you to rejoin us.”
“We passed a town not too far back, and I’ll ride back there. I hate to leave the women alone, but I don’t see any other choice. You know this territory. Are we safe from savages here?” Caleb asked.
“It’s hard to tell because some tribes move around since they follow the herd of what they’re hunting. In general, though, they don’t come this far north. Bandits are harder to predict. I’d be sure to leave a rifle with the women and make sure one of them knows how to use it.”
“It seems like that’s all I can do. I know these women are tough, but I have a young boy, too. He’s defenseless, and I hate to put my brother’s son at risk. We promised each other that we’d look out for each other’s kin if one of us died.”
“I wish the circumstances were different, but I have to think about the rest of the caravan,” Wes said.
“I understand your need to keep the train moving, and we knew this might happen. There’s not a whole lot you can do for us. I know if there was, you’d try,” Caleb said. “I appreciate you getting us this far, and hopefully, we’ll meet again.”
Caleb handed the rifle to Janet. She reluctantly took it in her hands.
“We’ve prepared for a time like this when you might have to use the rifle. I have faith that you are prepared for this moment.”
“I have no choice, but you prepared me well. Amy is a brave woman, and I’ll have her by my side. It’s you I’m most worried about. This family can’t go on without you,” Janet said. She buried her tear-stained face in his chest.
Caleb unhitched the team, and he rode off in search of help. The mood in their camp changed drastically from the morning when they were laughing and joking.
Emily was terrified that something would happen to Uncle Caleb, but she kept her concerns to herself. Keeping Matthew’s spirits up was more important than anything else.
“Bound by Love’s Ambush” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Emily Sandler, a resilient and kind-hearted young woman, finds herself thrust into an unforeseen journey. Plagued by the cruel grip of a devastating drought in Illinois and the sudden loss of her father, Emily’s family joins a wagon train to Texas, seeking a fresh start. Little did she know that amidst the challenges of the frontier, she would encounter Jack Lindon, the devoted leader of the wagon train, and her life would change forever. Vulnerable yet strong, Emily is surprised by the unexpected arrival of love. As the brown-eyed beauty finds herself entangled in a whirlwind of newfound emotions, one lingering question remainsâ€¦
Is she truly ready for the transformative power of love that has unexpectedly found its way to her heart?
On the other side of destiny stands Jack Lindon, a man molded by the trials of a difficult past. Steering the wagon train with his father, Jack’s routine takes an unpredictable turn when he discovers a spark with Emily Sandler. Diligent, thoughtful, and eager to move past his history, Jack sees in Emily a chance for a future filled with love and happiness. However, the echoes of his past, embodied by a familiar face, knock on the door of his newfound joy, introducing a rocky chapter that challenges the life he imagines with Emily.
Can Jack break free from his past and build a happy future with Emily, or will history cast a shadow over their love?
Amidst the vast expanse of Texas, where danger lurks in the form of bandits, the threat of Indians, and the declining health of Abel, Jack and Emily’s love faces the ultimate test. Can the flame of their love withstand the relentless trials of the frontier, or will the ghosts of their pasts shatter the promise of a shared future?
“Bound by Love’s Ambush” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.