The Wilderness Is a Great Place to Hide Jacqueline Rivers manages a Pony Express station in 1860 Utah territory after her father’s death. There are daily stresses placed on her in this unconventional role—and now a government official is asking her to sniff out counterfeiters. When Elijah Johnson passes through on the stage while on an exhausting quest to find his boss’s heir, he doesn’t want to leave the beguiling station manager. In fact, he may never leave when caught in the crossfire of the territory’s criminal activities. Jackie can’t decide if Elijah is friend or foe. Can she remain strong when secrets of the past and present are finally unearthed? Join the adventure as the Daughters of the Mayflower series continues with The Express Bride by Kimberley Woodhouse. More in the Daughters of the Mayflower series:The Mayflower Bride by Kimberley Woodhouse – set 1620 Atlantic Ocean (February 2018)The Pirate Bride by Kathleen Y’Barbo – set 1725 New Orleans (April 2018)The Captured Bride by Michelle Griep – set 1760 during the French and Indian War (June 2018)The Patriot Bride by Kimberley Woodhouse – set 1774 Philadelphia (August 2018)The Cumberland Bride by Shannon McNear – set 1794 on the Wilderness Road (October 2018)The Liberty Bride by MaryLu Tyndall – set 1814 Baltimore (December 2018)The Alamo Bride by Kathleen Y’Barbo – set 1836 Texas (February 2019)The Golden Bride by Kimberley Woodhouse – set 1849 San Francisco (April 2019)The Express Bride by Kimberley Woodhouse – set 1860 Utah territory (July 2019)
About the Author
Kimberley Woodhouse is an award-winning and bestselling author of more than twenty fiction and nonfiction books. A popular speaker and teacher, she’s shared her theme of “Joy Through Trials” with more than half a million people across the country at more than 2,000 events. Kim and her incredible husband of twenty-five-plus years have two adult children. She’s passionate about music and Bible study and loves the gift of story.
You can connect with Kimberley at: www.kimberleywoodhouse.com and www.facebook.com/KimberleyWoodhouseAuthor
Read an Excerpt
Kansas City Twenty-six years later May 6, 1860
Elijah Johnson watched his employer struggle from the chair to the window. He reached out a hand to assist. He was saddened to see the man who had always been brimming with life appear weak and sickly all of a sudden.
"No. Don't even think about helping me. I can do it." Even though Charles Vines's health was in decline, most of the time he refused Elijah's help. The doctor had already been to visit twice this week. It was no wonder. His boss had been running ragged for far too long. "At least my mind is still telling me I can." The older man chuckled.
"Yes, sir." Elijah smiled along and shook his head.
"I see you smirking at me, young man. This stubborn ol' coot knows he's being a cantankerous fool, but under it all, I still want to be my own man. It's hard to give up independence and swallow pride to ask for help." Pulling back the lace curtain, he let out a sigh as he looked out the window. "So forgive my gruff manner. I just need a few minutes to think. I have something to share with you that may come as a shock."
"Understood, sir." May come as a shock? That was a phrase he hadn't anticipated. He'd been asked to come for an important conversation, and he had no trouble waiting. But what could be shocking? They'd been doing the same kind of business for as long as he'd known him.
Taking a seat across from his employer, he studied Charles, who'd taken him under his wing more than a decade before when Elijah was a mere eighteen years old. It was hard to see the man he respected most not be his normal robust self.
At fifty years old, Charles Vines was a self-made millionaire. For years Elijah had followed him around the country as they looked into each latest and greatest business venture. They'd expanded Vines's vast empire in every way possible. Charles's love of business deals and seeming obsession with bigger and better made him a force to be reckoned with. Elijah admired the man's work ethic. And Mr. Vines was wise. Oftentimes he would speak about how he'd gained that wisdom — through great loss — but he never went into details. Then he also spoke of his mistakes. Again, never in great detail, but enough for Elijah to glean that Charles Vines was a respectable and profitable man now because he'd learned from his past.
Wasn't that what the Lord wanted from them all? To learn from their sinful mistakes and repent? While he and Vines had discussed God and faith on many occasions, Elijah was positive that there was something in his boss's life that kept him from truly forgiving himself. So the need to fill the hole inside him was assuaged with the accumulation of business successes. Why? Elijah wasn't sure. And even as close as they were, some subjects had never been broached. He began to feel a niggle of concern. This was very unlike his boss.
After a few more excruciating moments of stillness, Mr. Vines turned from the window and took slow steps back to his chair. "Elijah, my boy. We've accomplished a lot these past few years, haven't we?"
Normally, that was his boss's prelude statement to a new and exciting business venture he wanted to try. Which normally meant a good deal of traveling and negotiating. "Yes, sir. That we have. And I'm grateful for all you've taught me." He leaned forward and placed his elbows on his knees. Was the man up for more of the same? Elijah couldn't imagine that he was. How was that shocking? How could he politely convince his boss to pay attention to his health and cut back on work? Let Elijah handle things?
"I know this will sound a bit unlike me, but I've decided to go a different direction than usual."
Elijah couldn't help it — his eyebrows shot up. "Oh?" What could the old man be getting himself into now?
"As difficult as the rest will be for me to say, I think of you as a son, so I'm hoping you'll hear me out."
"Of course." This was not one of their normal let's-head-out-onanother-grand-adventure-and-buy-every-company-we-can talks.
"As you've undoubtedly noticed, my health is deteriorating. The doctor says it's gotten worse the past few months because I've refused to slow down. In my own mind, I thought if I ignored it, it would go away, but I was wrong. Apparently just because I thought I could outlive all of my contemporaries doesn't make it so." Mr. Vines wiped a hand down his scruffy face that had always been clean-shaven until the past week. "So I'm ordered to rest and see if I can regain some strength."
"That sounds like a good plan." Certainly that wasn't all of the story. What was so difficult and shocking about all that? But Elijah knew his employer. Something else was motivating the man. Something other than his normal business frame of mind.
The older man took several deep breaths and looked away toward the window again. "In light of all this, I have a very important job for you. Probably the most difficult and challenging I've ever put before you." He tapped the arm of the chair with his bony forefinger. "I need you to find someone for me. And you'll have to do it alone." He sighed again. "I'm afraid to tell you there's a lot more to my past than I've let on."
Finding someone in this vast country could prove to be challenging. But before he jumped to conclusions, he needed to hear the man out. "I believe we all have more to our pasts, sir."
Vines's wry chuckle crackled in the air. "Yes, I'm guessing you're probably correct. Before I get to my request, there's something else I need to say. Something I've been needing to say for a long time."
"All right." Elijah just smiled at his employer. Charles loved to keep people on the edge of their seats, making them wait for whatever it was he wanted to share, building up the anticipation. Because of that, patience was something Elijah had learned early on with his employer. Vines's eccentric and full-steam-ahead ways made for very interesting conversation. But something in his boss's manner made Elijah feel ... unsettled.
"Forgive me for overstepping my bounds, but peering death in theface will do that to a man."
Elijah raised his brows. While the man was sick, yes, he didn't think he was knocking on death's door. At least not yet.
"You're special to me, my boy. And I'm sorry I haven't always shown you the way I should. I know you stand to inherit a good deal from your father, yet you have worked for me in a humble manner for more than a decade. You're a good man, Elijah. And I've watched the last couple of years take their toll on you. How you've searched for the meaning in life — thinking it should be coming from your great success."
Elijah swallowed. Had he really been that transparent?
"When you shared about how horrible your parents' marriage had been when you were a child, I kept my mouth shut, but now I'm beginning to believe that I should have spoken up then." He leaned forward in his chair and pointed a finger in Elijah's face. "Don't you dare waste your life as I have mine. You don't want to end up a lonely old man like me." His voice cracked on the last word, and he paused, looked away, and put a hand over his lips.
Elijah wasn't sure what to think. Charles Vines had always been a godly example to him. Such a hard worker — he poured himself into his businesses and took a hands-on approach. Always making sure that he had the right men in place for the jobs and that they weren't overworked. Every Christmas, he took care that every man had a bonus and presents for his family. Vines was wealthy and smart, but above all he loved the Lord.
In fact, ever since Elijah had met him, he'd wanted to be like him. Generous, wealthy, and self-reliant. So what was Charles talking about? It didn't add up in his mind.
Vines lowered his hand while he took a shaky breath. "I know you've endured great pain when it comes to love. Remember, you told me all about Miss Martha Smith and Miss Laura Winslow — now Mrs. Manchester. And while I applaud you for wanting to marry for love and for standing your ground for what you believe, I can't say that I support the stance you now take. You can't run away and hide forever. Pretending you have no feelings. I should have said something long ago ... but it was tooeasy not to. We got along just fine the way things were, and it was to my benefit to keep you running ragged right along with me."
Heat filled Elijah's face. Bringing up the past brought up all the emotions with it. "Mr. Vines, I'd prefer —"
"I'm going to interrupt you right there. I'm sorry for bringing it up. You shared that in confidence and I didn't mean to embarrass you, but again, I'm just trying to be honest. God saw that it wasn't good for man to be alone, Elijah. I think it's high time you thought about that. Frankly, with the knowledge of both of our pasts, I've used it for my — yes, our — gain. But we've been chasing the wrong things. Now, God in His infinite wisdom saw fit to bless us through it, but it's high time I got my priorities straight."
What could he possibly say? Charles knew him better than anyone. And he was right. They'd both been guilty of using whatever had shaped them in the past to drive them forward. Even if it meant ignoring and shoving down their feelings.
"You need to get yours straight too, son. I'm sorry for how I've failed you in that area of a mentor. You've actually done a great deal to mentor this old coot when it comes to spiritual things. You've made me more of a godly man. Challenged me. Respected me. Honored me. And I need to thank you. While I'm at it, I need to ask your forgiveness because I feel like I've used you. You don't need to stay single to continue working with me, because things are going to change. In fact, I'd like to bring you on as a partner, if you'll have me."
Elijah's heart picked up its pace. He'd dreamed of this day. "Partner? Sir, I'm honored, and truly, there's nothing to forgive —"
"You've been my right hand for too long and I'm sorry I didn't do it sooner. The papers are already drawn up. It's time we stopped working ourselves to the bone and put a little more focus on other areas. Like family ..." He looked away toward the window and let out a long sigh.
The word family made Elijah's chest sting in a way he wasn't expecting.
"That brings me back to my request." The older man leaned back in his chair and just stared toward the window. "There are a few horrible things I've kept to myself for much too long." A haunted look came overhis face. "I kept it quiet, but I'm tired of hiding. And I don't know how much time the good Lord will give me. The doctor has told me that if I don't rest and recover, I may only have a few months left — but if I do as he says, there may still be some time for me to rectify some of my failings. That's why I need you to go on this search — I desperately need to see this through. It's very important to me."
"If it's that important, I will do whatever I can." Elijah wasn't sure what to make of all of it. Embarrassment, fear, excitement, and shock had all moved through his mind in the past few moments. He shook his head for a moment to clear his muddied emotions. Thinking through everything the man had said before, he tried to steer the conversation back to the reason he was here. "Didn't you say it was a difficult and challenging job? In addition to finding this someone? Hopefully you know I would do anything within my power to help you." And he would. He would give his life for the man in front of him. "What do you need me to do?"
"I'll get to that in a minute. But first I need to show you something."
Grief! The man could be infuriating. Always drawing out and dangling the crux of the matter like a carrot until he struck with his point. Elijah had witnessed it in negotiations for years; he just hadn't expected to be on the receiving end of it.
Charles reached into his pocket and pulled out a handkerchief-wrapped bundle. With slow, methodical movements, he unfolded the square.
When the last corner of cloth was lifted, light from the window made the object sparkle. Once again, Elijah's eyebrows shot up. He stood and walked closer to Mr. Vines. Rubies, sapphires, and diamonds covered the gold brooch. Each catching the light and sending brilliant refractions around the room. He tilted his head to see the design. "That's an incredible piece, Mr. Vines. Don't you think it should be locked up in the safe?"
"Oh, it has been, my boy. For many, many years."
Funny, Elijah had never seen it and he'd helped his employer catalog all of his valuables on multiple occasions. Where had it come from? And what did it have to do with whatever new job Elijah was to do? And whoever it was he needed to find. The questions in his mind grew. "It musthave some special meaning to you?"
"Yes. And no." The older man took a ragged breath and shook his head. "I gave it as a gift, with the best of intentions ... but it brings me great grief. Guilt. Shame." A tear slipped down the man's weathered cheek.
A sight Elijah had never seen in his strong, take-charge employer. "When did you purchase it?"
"The first time? Thirty years ago ..." His voice trailed off.
The first time? What did that mean? Elijah couldn't fit the pieces of the puzzle together.
"It is my most prized possession, yet it haunts me. I have nightmares. I love it and hate it at the same time."
Maybe the man's sickness was worse than he thought, because now he wasn't making sense. Elijah shook his head. "I'm sorry, sir. I'm afraid I don't understand."
Mr. Vines looked up at him, the sheen of tears making his eyes shine brighter. There was no confusion or doubt in them. "I had a wife. I gave it to her. But then I did some terrible things."CHAPTER 2
Utah Territory, forty miles From the Virginia City October 2, 1860
Wadding up the piece of paper in her hand, Jacqueline Rivers scolded herself for once again being too feminine in her language. That wouldn't do. Not for a letter of this magnitude. She had to be convincing.
Her conscience pricked. Honesty had always been her way of life. That's why she was struggling so much with this letter. But her station was at stake. What else could she do? What would Dad want her to do?
A new idea struck as she thought of her father. Perhaps it was the length of her missive. Short and to the point would be better. More manlike. Just like Dad.
With a clean sheet in front of her, she dipped the quill back into the ink and pondered her words. A drop of the black liquid made an unseemly splat on the paper. Gracious, now she would have to start again.
She let out a huff and reached for another clean sheet.
Shaking her head, she stopped herself in mid-grab and determined that men wouldn't worry about a blot of ink on the page. It was wasteful. Station managers didn't waste.
New resolve squaring her shoulders, she set back to the task of writing and tried to ignore the blob.
October 2, 1860
Mr. William Russell Mr. William Waddell Mr. Alexander Majors
It is with a heavy heart that I tell you of my father's passing. Marshall Rivers was the best of men as I'm sure you are well aware. In his absence, I will continue to run the station for the Central Overland California and Pikes Peak Express Company.
On the loop of her last y she chided herself. She should have used the initials COC&PP rather than the long and tedious name. Or better yet just used the familiar-sounding Pony Express. Did she sound too formal by naming the company? Would they guess?
The clock struck the hour. There wasn't time for yet another draft or for her to keep second-guessing herself. The next rider was expected within the quarter hour. Best to keep it short and to the point. It needed to go out on the Express today.
I have worked by my father's side since the beginning of the Express Route and I consider it an honor to serve in his stead. I will keep to the highest standards of the Pony Express and vow my allegiance just like my father before me.
Your humble servant, Jack Rivers
The twinge of guilt she felt as she signed her name lasted only a second. It would have to do. It was the truth. Marshall Rivers was her father, and he was dead. All the riders liked to call her Jack — like her father had — even though she insisted she preferred Jackie. Tears pricked the corners of her eyes. She hadn't really preferred it. It had just been her way of arguing the point. In her small world surrounded by mostly men, she liked to make sure everyone knew that she liked being a girl.
Jack. Jackie. Jacqueline.
She'd never get to hear him call her name again. Perhaps from now on, she'd take on the beloved nickname with pride. At least it would always bring a smile.
Using the blotter to keep the ink from smearing as it dried, she felt the rumble under her chair. The rider would be here any moment, and it was her job to greet him.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "The Express Bride"
Copyright © 2019 Kimberley Woodhouse.
Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing, Inc.
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