The daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Montgomery, Alexandra lives a life not by her own accord, but a life she willingly accepts for her secret quest to save the lives of slaves. Her ultimate sacrifice is to marry the town’s most eligible bachelor, Thomas Ludlow.
One afternoon, Alexandra comes face to face with handsome William Graysden. He captivates her, and her thoughts confuse her. Born a Creek Indian, not only is William forbidden because of his race, but also because Alexandra is a closely betrothed young woman.
William and Alexandra fascinate one another, finding in each other a bond they don’t wish to ignore. After a series of events; however, William is forced to face the choice to continue the dangerous pursuit of Alexandra’s affections or forget about her.
As a sweet, level one heat level, romance novel, THE WOMAN ON THE PAINTED HORSE weaves through the social disparity in Deep South 1861. A time where blackmail, money, and greed could be more powerful than love.
The mind thinks.
It schemes, plots ideas for rebellion, winning a war, or committing crimes. It organizes, planning for crops, arranging parties, or entertaining guests. It speculates, questioning the reasons of why, where, who what, and how. It comprehends answers, understands ramifications, and finds solutions. It develops through experience, and becomes intrigues with finding the answers it seeks—soaking up information like dry soil soaks up water.
The mind thinks.
But the heart feels.
It feels love, happiness, sadness, and loss. The heart does not think. It does not question or reason. It senses emotion, experiences pleasure, suffers pain, and bears heartache. It fights with the mind in a constant agonizing war endured every day between emotion and logic, a battle over what lies at one’s own feet, the unknown or the known, the chance or the risk. The heart dwells only in emotion, an emotion with unbridled motivation, and it stirs within people a vastness the mind could never grasp.
Shielded in my arms, the newborn infant slept, his warm, bundled little body pressed tight against my chest. As I ran, tree branches ripped at my arms, shredding the lace on my dress. Unrelenting cold chilled through to my bones, and the Alabama mist soaked my clothes as I fought to find our way. Even with my lantern, the murky, early–spring, midnight fog, so thick, obscured the trees and the footpath.
Negroes—three men, a woman, and a young girl barely out of childhood—stolen from their Master followed me. With teeth chattering, their heavy breaths told of their terror and their footsteps pounded the ground in fierce thuds.
Light from another lantern bounced and swayed toward us in the dark distance, carried by a hooded stranger and striking instant fear, stopping me dead in my tracks. My knees hit the mud. Peter had mentioned a few days ago that Governor Moore had ordered agents to scour the state and seize any weapons they could find to help with the war, a war fought to preserve laws I broke this very second as I smuggled the slaves north.
“Shhh,” I whispered, motioning the Negroes to huddle behind me. “Don’t make a sound.”
We waited in silence, crouched in the thick Privet bushes. In another place and time, the soft, white flowers with their sugar scent would comfort me, bringing memories of warm, spring days frolicking around the manor, but tonight the smell combined with the faint scent of sweat and blood made my stomach turn.
Mustering my courage, I whistled and waited. The lantern stopped swaying, floating motionless and petrified amongst the trees. The stranger offered no response or showed any movement. My pulse deafened my ears and darkness closed in around me, circling me like wolves would their prey. Perhaps standing just yards from me wasn’t my partners’ lantern, perhaps it was a strangers’, and my actions had doomed us all to the punishment of a hanging.
Seconds felt like hours, but finally to my relief, the dark figure whistled in response and my fear vanished.
“We don’t have much time. The hounds and slave hands aren’t far behind me,” I shouted, running to Clive’s side.
“Sorry for my tardiness, Alexandra. The train attendant detained me for lack of proper paperwork,” he said, rolling his dark eyes. He twisted his long, blond hair in his hands, ringing out the dew and then tucked the curls behind his ears.
“Don’t concern yourself.” I handed him the baby, and fetched an envelope from my belt. “I’ve enclosed plenty of cash, along with any paperwork—”
“You didn’t tell me I’d be smuggling an infant, Alexandra, nor another girl,” he snapped, shoving the baby back into my arms. “We had an agreement for three men and a woman. That is all.”
“She begged for me to take her. I couldn’t say no because Mr. Cole plans to hang her at dawn, and who knows what he will do to the baby. I didn’t know what else to do.”
“She’s not our problem and neither is the boy.”
“He’s a fine boy, sir, a quiet boy,” the girl said, grabbing her son from me. “I won’t make trouble for ya. I swears I won’t, sir.” Her voice cracked.
“I’m not asking, Clive. You know Peter will approve of my decision.”
Clive exhaled deeply and crossed his arms. I loathed the disdain in his wide set eyes, but as long as he continued to pace, his verbal protest held no influence. Only when he stood rooted in his stance, did he not yield in an argument, which has only happened once in the last few years. For a hard spoken, gruff, burley man, Clive had a heart for the unfortunate.
“Don’t ever do this to me again,” he said through gritted teeth. “We don’t run children. They’re too much of a risk, and you of all people should know that.”
Of course, I knew. I’d lived for years with his constant reminder about a run with a child that turned deadly. The image of his blood stained clothing and the wound from a bullet in his arm would never allow me to forget.
“You have my word I won’t steal away another child.”
He snatched the envelope from my hands and stuffed it into his pocket. “Inform Peter I’ll return in a few weeks.”
I flinched as an edge of the paper nicked my finger, and I kissed away the sting. “I will. Travel safely.”
He nodded and without saying another word, guided our cargo into the darkness. I watched until they disappeared, hoping and praying for their safe travels. For them, freedom meant reaching the border of Alabama and Tennessee. Freedom from a life lived by the warrants of rich cotton plantation owners. Beaten, tortured, forced to breed, tied and chained, bought and paid for, and treated as if they were no more important than cattle. Could there be such a life worse than that of a slave?
Sincerely, doubtful in my opinion, though I suppose at times my own compared.
Bluetick hounds howled in the distance, interrupting my thoughts. They followed our scent, knowing the path we had traveled. They were coming for us all, bringing the slave hands with them. The animals could track Clive effortlessly, which wasn’t my desire, of course. Clive needed a chance to escape. The hounds must follow me.
Hysteria toyed with me, preying on the sickness swirling in my stomach. I picked up a large stick and waited. Two dark, low figures galloped toward me. Though hard to see in the dark mist, their bellowing barks became louder and louder as they drew near, tipping me off to their whereabouts. Mr. Cole’s slave hands shouted as they sprinted behind the beasts, yelling orders at one another to find the slaves and the thief at any cost and to shoot to kill.
Panting with long tongues, the hounds growled, the sound vibrated through my fear. In the last seconds, I dashed in the opposite direction that Clive traveled and the animals followed. I shielded my face from the clawing tree branches, but the unrelenting twigs cut and sliced my skin and blood dripped down my neck and arms. I needed to reach the creek over the hill in the distance. If the brutes attacked, they would tear me to shreds. Never had my safety been so uncertain during a slave run as tonight. Surely, Masters have taken their shots at me a few times, but guns fired from such long distances or through the trees rarely held any chance of success.
As I scrambled up the rocky hill, fanged teeth bit down on the skirt of my dress, and the large black hound yanked and jerked until I fell to the ground with a thud. The smell of this creature’s wet, tangled fur choked me. My feet kicked hard against his attack as I clawed at the rocks and swung the stick. With several swoops, I hit the beast repeatedly on the side of the head, managing my freedom as the scent hound stumbled, lost its balance, and slipped away, disappearing in the rocks below.
In an instant, the second animal lunged for me, climbing nearly on top of me. Drool dripped from his teeth while his mud soaked claws held my arms, pushing them into the mud. He grabbed the stick and tore it from my hand. With my lantern as my only defense, I swung it, cringing as the beast yelped in pain from the burning hot oil and shards of glass, and I breathed again when the last canine tumbled down the rocky hillside.
“He’s up there through the rocks,” one of the slave hands shouted as I struggled to my feet.
Water pounded the earth in the distance. The sound of the river grew as I scaled the rocks with broken nails full of dirt and blood. Reaching the top, I scrambled over a large boulder and ran to the edge of the cliff. Shivering with fear, I stared down upon the cold, dark water below, squinting at the faint pool. It felt as far off as the rose bushes below my second story bedroom window. With no diversion, and nowhere to hide, I glanced over my shoulder, inhaled deeply, and jumped.