Read an Excerpt
The rain pelted the roof of the cabin like rapid, hostile gunfire shooting across a battlefield. Pulling the wool shawl tighter around her shoulders, Maggie McKean picked up a stumpy log and tossed it on the fire burning in the hearth. A slash of lightning lit up the small cabin, followed by a loud boom of thunder. The flames of the candles and kerosene lanterns scattered about the one-room cabin danced in response to the rumbling thunder.
Brownie’s fur ruffled while his upper lip bared sharp canine teeth. “Brownie boy? What is it?” Maggie hurried to the door and grabbed the shotgun leaning next to it. “How can you hear a thing in this awful storm?”
The dog leaped up and bounded to the door, a full snarl now on his shaggy face. Maggie’s finger hovered over the trigger. Who, but a silly fool, would be out in a storm like this?
Padding lightly to the small window near the door, she pushed aside the bright calico curtain. The rumble of her heartbeat matched the thunder blasting overhead. A dark figure dismounted from a coal-black horse.
The nights were the hardest because she was a widow without a husband to protect her. After Caleb had died, the relentless fear had seized her in its deadly talons each and every night. She was easy prey for thieves or ornery men looking to steal valuables and the virtue of a woman alone. Once the sun rose, she felt safer and less defenceless. The man walked up to the wooden porch and stopped. Perhaps she should have blown out the candles, but there had been no time. The loud spring storm had prevented Brownie from hearing the stranger’s approach until it was too late.
With such long legs, he was at the door in two long strides. When he raised his fist and banged on it, a cold shiver slid down her spine. Maggie hoisted the gun higher.
“Hello?” the stranger called out in a booming voice.
Travellers often sought shelter from the country folk who lived in Montana Territory. In the two years since Caleb’s passing, not one stranger had approached the cabin after dark.
“I need a place to sleep for the night.”
The man’s deep voice was drowned out by another loud crack of thunder. The door rattled. With clammy palms, she lifted the gun another notch. She brought the gun to her shoulder, while Brownie barked in protest.
“I can be trusted,” he hollered over the storm’s noise and Brownie’s barking. “I need shelter. I would be much obliged if you could put me up for the night.”
Not all strangers were mean and ornery or murderers and thieves. Several weeks ago, she had put up a young couple for a few days on their way to Oregon. She had enjoyed the young woman’s company while her husband had fixed the leaky barn roof.
“Who are you?” Maggie called.
“My name is Jacob, ma’am.”
Jacob was a good Christian name. She took a step towards the door but immediately stopped when the man said, “Rafe Jacob.”
Rafe? The man’s name didn’t sound Christian to her. Not that she was a practicing Christian any more. She had been soured on Sunday meetings after the senseless death of her husband.