Escaping her Gilded Cage (Preview)


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Chapter One

Lily shielded her eyes from the sun as she looked at the wildflowers gently wafting in the breeze. They were gorgeous at this time of year. It had taken a while for her to come out here so she could do some painting, and Lily was glad she had chosen to do it today.

Aunt Agatha couldn’t tell her she wasn’t allowed to take an afternoon off and force her to work yet again. Lily knew there were times she would be needed, but she put her foot down today. She was not about to let the older woman treat her like a slave. Lily deserved time away from the house to herself, and Aunt Agatha wasn’t going to force her any longer.

It would probably result in the woman writing to Lily’s parents and telling them how rude and abrasive Lily was, yet again, but it was to be done. Lily needed her time to herself, time away from the woman she had been sent to so she had a secure roof over her head. Aunt Agatha wasn’t going to hold that over her.

Besides, she had to catch up with her art for her clients. Matthew Walton, the art gallery owner in town, was asking when she would show him her newest pieces as he was eager to do a gallery viewing for her. Everyone loved her work and wanted to own a piece created by Lily McKenna, so it brought a lot of attention to his gallery in the middle of Dodge City. Lily hadn’t been able to get enough for a viewing, mostly because Aunt Agatha had been making her niece do whatever she could to stop her. Matthew was understanding, but Lily didn’t like to keep him waiting.

If only her aunt were more understanding. Then again, ever since Lily could remember, Aunt Agatha had always been like this.

“Hello, Lily!”

Lily looked around and smiled at the little girl who came clambering over the rocks toward her, a basket in tow, which almost hampered her attempt to climb. Getting up from her stool, Lily jumped down from the flat rock she had taken up as her painting spot and met the girl halfway.

“Hello, Betty!” She gave the child a hug. “You’re looking rather spritely today.”

Betty Capewell grinned, showing a gap in her front teeth that somehow made her even sweeter. The wind whistled around them gently, tickling the bright red curls that hugged her scalp.

“Mama asked me to get her some mushrooms for dinner later. I thought I’d collect some wildflowers for the table as well.”

“That’s lovely.” Lily tapped the girl on the nose. “It’s a sweet gesture.”

“Do you mind? I don’t want to get in the way.”

“Of course not. There are plenty to choose from.” Lily turned and showed the area she was focused on with her hands. “Just keep out of this part; otherwise, I’m going to have to adjust the painting. That alright?”

“Not a problem.”

Lily was fond of Betty. She was the ten-year-old child of their neighbors, and she had been very welcoming to Lily since she moved to Dodge City from Houston a year ago. Betty, her siblings, and their parents were very kind, and Betty often asked if Lily wanted any help with anything. Aunt Agatha called her annoying and a brat, but Lily didn’t mind the bright girl being around. Betty was like a breath of fresh air.

“And Mama said if I saw you to thank you for the sketch you made for her birthday last week,” Betty went on. “She was not expecting that you would do a portrait of Papa and us for her without needing us to sit still for you.”

Lily smiled.

“I’m pleased she liked it. Portraits can be tough when you don’t have the people in front of you, and I’m happy it turned out well.”

“How do you do that?”

“It’s called memory.” Lily tapped the side of her head. “Memory and a lot of practice. You start early, and it will stay in your head a lot longer.”

Betty sighed.

“I wish it was the same with me. I’m struggling with my sums at school. Papa is getting frustrated trying to get me to understand, but I can’t get it through my head.”

“Some people have more problems than others. I was the same when I was your age.” Lily leaned in and lowered her voice to a whisper. “I made my father go white very early because I was terrible with numbers. He looked like an old man ready to go to the grave by the time I finally grasped it.”

Betty giggled, and Lily squeezed the girl’s shoulder.

“It’ll be fine. Just take a deep breath and be patient. Anyway,” she went on as she straightened up, “aren’t you supposed to be collecting mushrooms?”

“Yes, but I saw you and thought I’d say hello first.”

“Well, hello to you, too. Now, off you go. Your mother is going to want to start dinner sooner rather than later when all of you are hungry so quickly.”

Betty’s eyes twinkled as she bounced on her toes.

“Alright. Enjoy your painting. Oh,” she began to turn away, only to turn back, “be careful, Lily. I saw Mr. Tate driving cattle not too far away, and I think he’s coming this way.”

Lily felt her heart sink. She knew this was not going to go well. If that man came anywhere near her, he would lower the mood and ruin the scene. It wouldn’t be the first time he had done that. But she managed a smile at the girl.

“Thank you for warning me. I’ll keep an eye out for him.”

“I’ll see you later, Lily!”

Betty bounced away, scrambling back down the rocks. Lily watched her go, somehow covering so much ground despite being so small and slight. It was adorable. But Lily’s mood was not going to be raised that easily, especially if she knew that Jackson Tate was coming her way.

“That man,” Lily muttered under her breath as she returned to her stool. “I wish he would take the hint that he’s not the man he thinks he is.”

Since arriving in Dodge City, Tate had been trying to get her attention. He would turn up wherever Lily went and try to talk to her, often asking her if they could walk out together. Normally flattered when a good-looking man paid her attention, Lily didn’t feel that whenever Tate was around. She wasn’t entirely sure, but something about him made her skin crawl. He was not a good man. He was someone she should stay away from.

If only Tate would get the message. One year on, and he was still following her around. How many times did she have to say no before someone paid attention?

Picking up her paintbrush, Lily continued painting the wildflowers, her sharp eyes taking in as much as she could. She was aware that this painting was going to be rushed, but if there were an impending storm in the shape of a man coming, it would be best to get what she could down onto the canvas and give it more detail later. Lily just wanted to get everything down.

She couldn’t avoid the storm, hearing the sound of thundering hooves and mooing not long after Betty had left. Lily didn’t look around as she stroked her brush across the canvas, putting in as much detail as she could. She was aware of someone galloping toward her, the sound getting louder, but she didn’t turn. Her painting was more important than telling a man who wouldn’t listen to go away.

“Hello, Lily.”

Lily tensed, but she barely slowed down. She could hear Tate breathing as he waited for her reply, her heart pounding in her chest. If he had been anyone else, Lily might have given him attention. He was tall, broad-shouldered, and dark-haired, all the things that would be attractive to her. Even the jagged scar on his cheek that slashed across the bridge of his nose and up his forehead could be enticing. But his demeanor shook Lily, his eyes that seemed to be a little too intense. And his ability to focus far too much on her when Lily told him to leave her alone. That was enough to make her want to run away.

“Aren’t you going to say hello?” Tate asked as his horse snorted. “It’s rude not to say a greeting in return.”

“I’m very busy, Mr. Tate,” Lily said crisply. “And I’m behind schedule.”

“I thought we were past formalities now.”

“I prefer to stick to formalities, sir.” Lily finally looked up at him. “Is there something you wanted, Mr. Tate? Because I need to get this ready for Matthew.”

Tate frowned, clearly not happy with her response. Lily wondered why he thought following her around and being a brute would make her swoon. She didn’t care for it at all. Back in Houston, that hadn’t been attractive to her, either. She didn’t mind men being protective, but throwing their weight around would not turn her head. Now Tate was leaning on his saddle, towering over her on the back of his huge stallion. Lily had to tilt her head back to look at him.

“Don’t you have something to do, sir?” she asked. “Your cattle need to be driven, don’t they?”

“I was wondering if you wanted to see me later. I can call around to your house after dinner this evening …”

“And I’ve said plenty of times in the past that I would rather we didn’t see each other in such a way,” Lily cut him off before he could carry on. “I’m sorry, Mr. Tate, but I have politely refused you so many times since you first asked me. My mind is not going to change because you keep coming back to ask me again and again. That’s more likely going to make me refuse you more rudely.”

Tate’s jaw tightened. Now he really didn’t look happy. He leaned toward her.

“You think you can keep me away from you? You know that we would be a good couple, Lily.”

“That’s Miss McKenna to you,” Lily retorted haughtily. “And I don’t think we will. We’re completely different people, and I don’t care for the way you treat others, not including me. I’ve told you this so many times.”

“You’ll understand it eventually.”

“I don’t think I will. Now, would you mind getting on with what you were doing? I’ve got work to do, and I’m sure your employer will wonder where the cattle are. This isn’t your usual route to drive them, is it?”

Lily knew that it wasn’t. She had chosen the area because she was sure Tate wouldn’t come this way; his employers wouldn’t have wanted the cattle driven in this direction without a proper water source. And yet Tate had ignored all that, including doing it alone. He should have had at least two people with him to help. It was dangerous to drive cattle along, even with the most experienced ranch workers.

Scowling darkly, Tate straightened up in the saddle and turned his horse around.

“You’re going to be mine one way or another, Lily McKenna,” he growled. “You know it as much as I do.”

He charged toward the cattle, making noises that seemed to get the big animals’ attention. That upset them, and they started scattering, moving erratically across the landscape to get away from the man on the horse. Lily watched as they trampled across the landscape, crushing the wildflowers underfoot. For a moment, she thought the cattle would come by and trample her, but somehow they avoided her. She shot to her feet and watched as Tate managed to get them under control and herded together at the far end of the stretch of grass she had been focused on. She couldn’t see his face that far away, but she knew he would be smirking at her for ruining what she had been painting.

As he turned and got the animals moving again, Lily tossed her paintbrush onto the ground and threw her hat across the rocks, wishing she had something bigger to throw. That man just made her want to scream.


Ethan felt the train begin to slow down with a jerk and a shudder as it rattled over the points and looked up from his book. From what he could see out of the window, they were finally in Dodge City. The open landscape suddenly filled with houses and homesteads, most of which looked made from wood. Sturdy structures, but nothing compared to what he had left behind in Boston.

So, this was the place where he was going to make a name for himself. Well, the name he had for himself, anyway. That was not coming with him to his new life. Ethan wasn’t about to bring too much attention to his presence; trust was hard to come by, and he didn’t want to trust the wrong person. His name came with a lot of meaning in several ways. It was not comfortable for him.

This was a new start, a fresh one. And Ethan was looking forward to it.

“Thank God for that!” the elderly gentleman across from him cried, his expression one of relief as he put away the small tin he had been looking through into his pocket. “I was beginning to think the trains were getting slower.”

“They are rather long journeys, aren’t they?” Ethan agreed. He grimaced as he bumped against the wall when the carriage jerked again. “Not very comfortable, either.”

“You get used to that. But the length of the journey makes me feel like I aged several years.” The man pointed at himself with a wry smile and a twinkle in his eye. “Look at me, lad. I was probably your age when we started this journey, and now I’m old and gray.”

Ethan laughed. Jericho Carter had gotten onto the train in Missouri, settling in the same carriage as Ethan. They were the only ones, so they had ended up talking for a while. Jericho was from Dodge City, the father of saloon owner Jeremiah Carter, visiting his daughter and her family in Jefferson City. He was affable with a sense of humor that made Ethan warm to him. It made him wish his father had been like this.

Maybe things would have been better if they had gotten along in twenty-five years. Ethan and Jericho had gotten along faster in the hours they had known each other.

“There!” Jericho opened the window and let it drop, deeply sniffing with a satisfied smile. “Just smell that fresh air!”

Ethan leaned over to sniff but ended up with engine fumes in his nostrils. He spluttered and got out his handkerchief.

“I don’t know how you can manage with that,” he spluttered, blowing his nose.

Jericho laughed.

“You’ll get used to it. We have a factory on the outskirts, a couple of farms, and a ranch further up the hill, but the wind is often blowing the other way, so it normally doesn’t smell too bad.”

“I used to live near a factory that made soaps.” His eyes watering, Ethan shoved his handkerchief back into his pocket. “You know what they make soaps out of? Insides of an animal and lye.”

“Yuck. The disgusting things are the stuff that makes us smell so sweet.” Jericho shrugged as he opened the door. “Jump out with me, lad. Just be careful, though: when you’ve been traveling for so long, you’ll end up with your legs feeling like you haven’t got any bones. Take it easy.”

Shoving his book into the leather travel bag beside him, Ethan stood and picked up his coat, waiting for the older man to jump out first. They were at a station, but there was no platform. Back in Boston, a raised platform raised the steps into the train without much effort. Now, people had to climb in and out of the carriage physically.

Passing his belongings down to Jericho, Ethan began to climb down. He jumped off when he got to the bottom and found himself sitting on the dirt a moment later. Jericho laughed.

“I told you, lad. You need to take it slow when you’re not used to it.”

“I’ll remember that,” Ethan muttered, feeling his face getting warm. He took the man’s hand and got to his feet, surprised at Jericho’s strength. “Although I don’t see myself using the train so much if I’m planning to stay.”

Jericho arched an eyebrow.

“Sounds like you’re running from something. Am I right?”

“I …” Ethan realized that he might have said a bit too much and cleared his throat. “Maybe not anytime soon. I don’t want to embarrass myself again.”

Jericho nodded, but his eyes were sharp. He might have looked like a comely grandpa with his long white hair and thick white beard, but he was more astute than he let on. Ethan was sure he had lulled people into giving away secrets before. Given he used to own a saloon, it wouldn’t be a surprise; the bartenders were very good at getting people to relax about anything, especially secrets.

Much as Ethan liked the old man, he would need to be careful.

“I see,” Jericho said finally. Then he held out the coat and bag. “Here you go, lad. And remember to be careful. Being in a new place, especially dressed as you are, will make you a target. We try to control crime, but everyone can tell when someone is new.”

“Dressed as I am?” Ethan looked down at himself. “What’s wrong with it?”

“Nothing. It’s certainly worth a pretty penny. But that’s the point. You stink of money.” Jericho rubbed a finger under his nose. “If you want to look less like someone to pickpocket, I suggest getting clothes that don’t look like the best fabrics the tailors could get their hands on. You know what I mean?”

“Of course,” Ethan murmured, wondering what he was going to do with the clothes he had packed in his luggage. “I’ll remember that.”

“Anyway, I need to head back to the saloon and make sure that my son is behaving himself. He’s a good boy, but I swear he’s sometimes more trouble than the patrons.” Jericho held out a hand. “Take care, Mr. Westwood. Welcome to Dodge City, and if you want a drink on the house at some point, our saloon is Dirty Betsy. Make sure you’re not a stranger.”

“I’ll make sure of that.” Ethan shook his hand. “Thank you, Mr. Carter. I do appreciate your help.”

“Jericho is just fine with me. Take care.”

Jericho walked away, heading toward the little building that must have been the station house. A porter rushed by Ethan, almost knocking him over, pushing a trolley piled high with suitcases. Jericho took his off the top before the trolley stopped, and he strode out of sight. The other passengers started getting the luggage off and selecting what they had brought. Ethan stood and watched for a moment, letting reality sink in.

He was here. In Dodge City. Away from everything and everyone he knew. Even though he was a stranger here, Ethan felt free for the first time.

This felt so good. He wanted to wrap it around him like a blanket and hold onto it for dear life. Never had he felt like the weight was off his shoulders.

His father would never understand.

Waiting until the crowd around the luggage had thinned, Ethan found his suitcase and carried it through the station house, straining as he lifted the huge thing off the ground. He hoped he could find a cart to take him to a hotel because lugging his belongings around would hurt his shoulders.

He wouldn’t get very far otherwise.

Setting it down on the dirt path outside the station house, Ethan looked around. The streets were bustling, and so much was going on. There were so many shops, and plenty of horses and carts were trotting around. He could see a hotel directly across the street, the sign ‘Stone Hotel’ printed neatly above the front door. At least he wouldn’t have to go far, but even crossing the street when it wasn’t clear would be fun.

“I was beginning to think you would never get here.”

Hearing a familiar voice, Ethan turned and grinned at the tall, lanky-looking young man with windswept dark hair walked toward him. It had been two years since they had last seen each other, and it was like barely any time had passed, except the other man looked even taller than Ethan remembered.


Sam Cooper grinned back and embraced him, clapping him on the back.

“Good to see you … what name do you want me to use?” He pulled back and raised his eyebrows. “Even here, gossip spreads so fast it’s impossible to stop.”

“Ethan. Thanks for that.”

“No problem. When you wrote to me and said you wanted to start afresh somewhere, I said I was more than happy to accommodate. After all, you helped me yourself before, didn’t you?”

Ethan laughed.

“You were a tearaway, weren’t you? Always getting into trouble.”

“I know. And now I’m a clerk at a bank.” Sam chuckled and spread his hands. “That’s the thing about coming out here. You’re more likely to get a fresh start than you are back home.”

Ethan couldn’t agree more. He gestured at the hotel across the street.

“I was looking for somewhere to put my belongings. What’s that hotel like?”

“Stone Hotel? The best. It’s also very expensive.” Sam paused. “Do you want to flaunt your money around like that? The Stone family are discreet and lovely people, but it will be clear that you’re wealthy if you go in there.”

“I can just say I came into some money, and it’s only temporary until I find somewhere to live.”

That was partly true. Ethan had saved up his own money separate from everything and sold a lot of his belongings. They had brought in a lot of money, enough that he could get by for a short while until he got himself a job and a decent place to live. Hopefully, rent wouldn’t be expensive around here.

But it wasn’t Boston. If he were lucky, it would be incredibly cheap but comfortable. That was more important than anything.

“I’m sure that will work.” Sam picked up one end of the luggage, the muscles in his arms straining through his black coat. “Let’s get your things inside, and then we can get over to the bank and set you up there.”

“Thanks. I’ve got the money I was going to put into my account in my case, and I’ve been really uncomfortable carrying it around.” Ethan shuddered as he picked up the other side of the case. “I was worried that we were going to be robbed.”

“That has happened, but you came through on a good day.”

“In a place like this, that could go both ways.”

Sam laughed.

“Fair point. Anyway, let’s go. My arm’s starting to hurt, and I’m only holding half of it up. I can’t be away from the bank for too long, so we need to hurry up.”

Ethan wasn’t about to complain. The sooner he got his roots down, the better. As far as he was concerned, he wasn’t going anywhere.

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One thought on “Escaping her Gilded Cage (Preview)”

  1. Hello my dears, I hope you enjoyed the preview and that you are as excited as I am for this upcoming release! Make sure to leave your comments here. I’m so looking forward to read them 🙂

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