DURING THE 1860s LAND
RUSH ABOUT THE POWER
To provide a better life for her young daughter, Clarissa Graham joins a wagon train headed West. But as the trail turns increasingly dangerous, Clarissa fears her decision could cost them their lives. Help comes in the unlikely form of a jaded ex-soldier—Dawson Clements—who knows nothing of grace, forgiveness or even love. Now Clarissa is about to face an even greater challenge. Can she convince Dawson to remain by her side for a journey that will last a lifetime?
Related collections and offers
About the Author
Rosanne Bittner is the author of over 50 published novels set in 1800s America, including many stories about America's Old West and Native Americans. Writing since 1979 and published since 1983, Rosanne has a love for America's magnificent history that comes through in her books
She has covered such eras as the building of the Union Pacific railroad; the age of the Pony Express and the stagecoach; gold rushes in California, Nevada, the Dakotas, Colorado and Alaska; outlaws and the men who hunted them; the Civil war; various Indian wars and tribes; pre-Civil war border wars; the Mexican war and the era of the mountain men. Recently her topics have expanded into the 1700s, the French and Indian war and the Revolutionary war.
Rosanne has traveled the American West for research, and she keeps a library of over 500 books about this period. Many of her books come from the publishing houses of the University of Oklahoma, the University of Nebraska and through book search facilities. She has traveled the country giving writing workshops, public speeches and book signings.
Rosanne lives in southwest Michigan where she helps out with a family business, a mold-making/tool & die service, where her office is also located. She feels lucky that her two sons live in the same town and help run the business, because this means that she gets to spend a lot of time with her grandchildren
She is a member of the Oregon-California Trails Association, Romance Writers of America, Novelists, Inc., the Outlaw/Lawmen History Association, Nebraska and Montana Historical Societies, Western Writers of America, Women Writing the West, and locally, the Coloma Lioness Club. She is also a past president of her local Mid-Michigan Romance Writers of America.
Rosanne's web site is www.rosannebittner.com and her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org. She welcomes comments from her readers and answers all email and written fan mail. She has written for several different publishers and is the recipient of numerous writing awards.
Read an Excerpt
March 16, 1862, St. Louis, Missouri
Clarissa was not sure where she'd found the strength to get dressed and open Seaforth's Dry Goods this morning. She felt numb with worry, not for her husband's safety, but for where he might be and what he might be doing. She set items on the counter to fill the last of a customer's order.
"There you are, Mrs. Shelby. I think that's everything. That's two dollars."
"Oh, my!" The older woman put a wrinkled hand to her chin. "Put it on my bill, Clare dear, will you? My husband will be by to pay it.And can you wrap it for me?"
"Certainly." Clarissa wrote the woman's name on the tab and added "Owed." Like her father had always done, she extended credit to most hometown customers.
Until his sudden death three years ago, Henry Seaforth ran this store most of his life. Then Clarissa married Chad Graham, who took over the store and had run it ever since so that she could stay home with their precious little girl, Sophie.
She pulled a length of brown paper from its roll and tore it off to wrap Mrs. Shelby's items, resentment toward Chad growing as she silently packed the order. It was because Chad was her baby's father that Clarissa had struggled to ignore rumors of her husband's infidelity over the past two years. Now, this morning, the reality of those rumors was burrowing deeply into her mind and heart.Apparently she could no longer avoid the awful truth, though she still did not want to believe it.
Chad was gone. So were all his clothes. Where was the man to whom she'd given all her love, her faith, her trust, her virginity, her heart? Where was the man who was now the legal owner of Seaforth's? That's how much she'd trusted him. This business that was her father's life now belonged to the man her father warned her before he died not to marry. Now that man was missing.
She'd even given up a nursing career for Chad. Getting into Washington University here in St. Louis had not been an easy task for a woman. She'd had to settle for nursing rather than becoming a doctor, but at least she'd made it that far. Then she gave up her nursing job at St. Louis City Hospital when she learned she was expecting Sophie.
The terrible unrest and sometimes-violent street fighting that occurred almost daily now over the war between North and South was enough to worry about. How could Chad disappear at such a dangerous time, with Federal troops swarming the streets and guarding the St. Louis Arsenal, and with Missouri Confederate militia still hiding in the southern part of the state and attacking northern sympathizers at every opportunity? St. Louis was filling up with families who'd fled battlegrounds or who'd been routed out by rebel raiders. And the hospital was becoming crowded with wounded men, from both North and South. She wished sometimes that she could help them out with her nursing experience, but Chad wanted her to stay home with Sophie.
A lot that helps now, she thought. She tied string around Mrs. Shelby's wrapped items, yanking on them with secret anger. With Chad gone and this store their only means of income, she had to handle things alone until she found out what had happened to her husband.
She handed her customer the package. "Thank you, Mrs. Shelby."
"And where is that precious little girl of yours?" the woman asked. "Chad is usually the one who waits on me, you know." She put a hand to her chest. "My, what a handsome man you married! It's a good thing you are so exceptionally beautiful, young lady, or half the women in this town would be trying to steal that man from you," she teased. The aging woman chuckled. "If I'd been younger, I certainly would have tried for him myself before he up and married you."
Her heart aching inside, Clarissa managed a smile. "Thank you. Chad is on a business trip," she lied.
"Well, you shouldn't have to watch this store. That young man should have found someone else to do it. You're a mother now. Little Sophie needs you more than this store does. And with those Home Guardsmen prancing around out there, threatening any person who dares to talk of secession, who knows what will happen next in this city. It's no longer safe for woman or child."
"We're fine, Mrs. Shelby. Sophie is with the Harveys. Carolyn Harvey agreed to watch her so I could work today. Sophie likes to play with their little girl, Lena. And I'm not about to let this senseless war force me to close down and lose business, especially now that it belongs to me and my husband."
"Oh, of course, dear, but it just doesn't seem right for a mother to work. I hope Chad will be home soon."
Clarissa turned away. "So do I."
"What's that, Clare?"
"Oh." Clarissa turned. "I just meant Chad wasn't sure how long he'd be. He took a train to Chicago to see about getting more stock for cheaper prices."
"Well, wouldn't you know? I was in here just two days ago, and that man never said a word about taking a trip."
He never said a word to me either, Clarissa thought.
Mrs. Shelby smiled. "I'll see you in church tomorrow?"
Clarissa nodded. "Yes, ma'am."
Mrs. Shelby left, and Clarissa breathed a sigh of relief, glad she wouldn't have to come up with any more explanations. The ominous sight of Chad's empty wardrobe hit her again like a knife in her heart. For months he'd not shown as great an interest in her as when they'd first married. She'd blamed it on the time she needed for Sophie after she was born, and the weight she'd gained. Still, she'd soon lost all that weight. When she looked in the mirror she saw the same slender woman Chad Graham had married. There was no premature gray in her deep red hair. Nothing about her had changed, and she'd given Chad such a beautiful, charming, red-haired little girl of whom he could be so proud.
But something was wrong something she'd refused to face in spite of the warning a few months ago from old Rachael Grimes, a founding member of the Light of Christ Church, where Clarissa had attended since she'd been a young girl. She'd even met Chad there, when he was new in town and began attending in order to meet people.
Rachael Grimes was also one of the town's biggest gossips. Your husband has been unfaithful, dear. You must be doing something wrong that has driven him from you. Don't you let that man get away and don't let him wrong you. You talk to him and find out what you need to do to keep him in your own bed.
The words still stung. She'd loved Chad with her whole being, falling head over heels when he began teaching the young-adult Sunday school class. Chad was strikingly handsome, with his sandy hair and green eyes, solid build and sparkling smile. He was smart, had a good job at the bank, dressed impeccably and was a social hit with everyone. Half the young women in church had vied for his attention, but it was Clarissa who'd won it.
Chad had been so attentive and sympathetic when her father suddenly died of a heart attack. It was a dark time for her. Her mother died years earlier, and Henry Seaforth had been Clarissa's whole world. Chad stepped in and comforted her, reading scripture to her, consoling herattention that led to something much more. He'd sworn his love for her, asked her to marry him. She'd barely had time to recover from her father's death before she was walking down the aisle of the Light of Christ Church as Chad Graham's bride, in spite of her father's distrust of the man.
Her wedding night with Chad, and many nights thereafter, had been blushingly passionate, and her whole world became Chad Graham. Within just ten months she'd added little Sophie to that world. Chad had taken over running the store, and because of his friendly, social nature and his knowledge of accounting, he ran it well.
Everyone liked Chad, but her father had thought Chad's background was too obscure. So did her good friend Carolyn Harvey. But Carolyn and her husband, Michael, were wonderful Christian people who were willing to give Chad the benefit of the doubt, since Clarissa was so much in love and Chad had become so active in the church. Chad claimed to be an orphan from Chicago, who'd struggled and worked to make something of himself and whose faith in Christ had helped him through the bad times. He'd seemed so sincere and dedicated.
Now her father's and Carolyn's warnings haunted Clarissa, as did old Mrs. Grimes's hurtful words. If the woman was right, why did she think that whatever Chad might have done was Clarissa's fault? The thought of somehow being responsible hurt deeply and made her feel painfully inadequate as a woman. She'd married Chad blindly, her heart so full of love and passion that nothing else mattered. In her mind she'd been the best wife and mother she could be. Why on earth would Chad ever want to leave her?
The bell above the front door jingled as someone came inside then, and Clarissa turned to see Margaret Baker, one of the founders of the Light of Christ Church. The woman's dark eyes drilled into Clarissa as though she'd done something terrible.
"Hello, Margaret." Clarissa greeted the woman with a smile. She and Margaret's daughter, Susan, had attended school together and were often involved in the same activities at school and church. "What can I help you with today?"
Margaret came closer, looking so angry that it changed her whole countenance into a stern, stiff, almost witchy air. She raised her chin as she spoke.
"You can bring back my Susan!"
Clarissa frowned. "What do you mean?"
"I mean that you can straighten up and be a proper wife so that you don't drive your husband into another woman's arms and drive my daughter to sin in the eyes of God!"
A horrible picture began to take form in Clarissa's thoughts. She felt as though her blood was draining from her brain down and out through her feet. "I have no idea what you're talking about," she answered.
"Don't you? Where is Chad, Clare? Do you know where he's gone?"
"He's on a business trip."
Margaret sniffed back tears and handed her a folded piece of paper. "Wake up!" she seethed. "This is from Susan."
With now-shaking hands Clarissa took the paper and opened it.
Please forgive me, but I am totally in love with Chad Graham. Chad loves me, too, and now I am carrying his child.
We have left St. Louis to share our lives together. As soon as Chad can get a divorce, we will be married. I have loved Chad since before he married Clare. Chad will sell the store, and with that money we will start a wonderful new life together.
I know this is right, Mother. I feel it in my heart. Chad has never been happy with Clare, but I make him happy. After we are married and the baby is born, I will let you know where we are. I hope you will come and visit.
All my love, Susan
Stunned, Clarissa felt faint. She handed back the letter. "Why on earth are you angry with me?" she asked Margaret. "Your daughter and my husband have committed adultery! Susan is pregnant by a married man who is currently still married to a woman who used to call Susan her friend!"
"Surely you knew my Susan loved Chad when you turned around and married him yourself!"
"No, I didn't know!"
"I don't believe you! And it serves you right to learn
that Chad only married you because he needed this store! You threw yourself at him and used this store as a way to catch him, and now he will profit from it!"
A lump began to form in Clarissa's throat and she turned away. The reality of the kind of man Chad really was hit her like a club slammed into her stomach.
Divorce! Susan said Chad was going to get a divorce! Had he already sold the store out from under her? How could she face anyone in town or at church if she was a divorced woman? What would people think of her?
Such shame! Such utter betrayal! Such deep, deep hurt she'd never known.
"Get out," she told Margaret.
"Gladly! And I hope you're proud of yourself, hurting my poor Susan by marrying the love of her life!"
The woman stormed out. Clarissa realized Margaret was defending Susan as a mother would, not wanting to face the sin of what her daughter had done. Still, Clarissa could hardly believe the woman could stand there and spout her daughter's innocence in the ugly affair. And ugly it was. The realization of what Chad had done even made him seem ugly now! Behind that handsome face and those fetching green eyes lay pure evil, an evil that had cost her her trust, her pride, her means of living and maybe even her faith. Right now she felt God had abandoned her.
She managed to walk to the front door, close and lock it. She turned the Closed sign toward the street and pulled down the shade. She could not face one more customer today. How could she face anyone ever again?