Rescuing the Kidnapped Heiress (Preview)

Chapter One

Raymond

“Time waits for no one. He’s in the parlor, you say? Tell him I’ll be there directly.” 

Raymond spoke as he rose from his chair with a grunt and a groan. He put his hand on his back once he stood up straight, and his butler, Hanes, gave him a singular nod before stepping back out of his office. 

Hanes had just informed Raymond of a visitor who’d stopped by the ranch unexpectedly, and it would be the hospitable thing to do to go to the parlor and meet with the young man. But as Raymond straightened his shirt and checked himself over in the mirror he’d hung next to the door of his office, he was already dreading the conversation they’d be having. 

It was summer of the year 1855, marking the fourth summer Warren Flemming had gone to the ranch personally to call on Raymond. Raymond already knew the answer he had for Warren would be the same answer it was the last time Warren came by. And that was the same answer he’d been given the many times he’d come that previous summer.

But Raymond wasn’t the kind of man to turn anyone away. If Warren had come to pay Raymond a visit, then regardless of the circumstances, Raymond was going to treat him as a guest in the house. He might not give Warren everything he asked for, but he’d still show him the best hospitality he could offer. 

Raymond stepped through the door to his personal study and into the narrow hallway. His shoes echoed on the wooden floorboards, sounding much louder in the upstairs of the large ranch house where he was the only person present that afternoon. 

He passed his own bedroom door, and farther down the hall, he passed Hazel’s. She wasn’t inside. She’d told him earlier that afternoon that she was going to take one of the horses and go riding out on the ranch. He didn’t mind her doing that. In fact, if it kept her happy at home on the ranch with him, he didn’t care if she was out riding all day, every day. 

The Texas summer was a hot one, but his ranch was the safest place for her. The sprawling acres went on and on, giving her more space than she could ever hope to cover in her hours in the saddle. Most importantly, no matter how far she went on the ranch, she was still safe and sound at home, as far as Warren was concerned. 

Ever since he lost his wife and his daughter—as well as his son-in-law—in that boating accident years before, he’d been incredibly cautious and even a bit overly protective of Hazel. She was his one and only granddaughter, and the only family he had left. 

She’d turned twenty years old just a couple of weeks prior, and she was the apple of his eye. Of course, he’d expected the gentlemen would come calling, but he was growing tired of Warren Flemming being the gentleman caller with the guts to ask him directly for her hand.

There were a variety of reasons why Raymond didn’t care for Warren as a potential match for her, with perhaps the biggest reason he had against the idea being that Warren was fifteen years older than Hazel, while being only thirty years younger than Raymond. 

To make matters worse, Warren was a popular man with many of the women in town. He was tall. He was handsome. He was what many women wanted, and he knew it. Warren had no qualms about pointing out his own good looks, too, only adding to the disdain Raymond felt toward him. 

He wouldn’t have minded the age gap so much, save for the fact he had meticulously kept Hazel sheltered from the real world since she was only three years old. 

He headed for the stairs, descending into the thrum of daily life that took place in the household. The servants were all happy working for Raymond, and their lively conversation filled the air as they went about their chores. His joints ached as he made his way down the stairs, and his body groaned when he reached the floor. Conversation started up again behind him as he walked from one room to the next until he reached the parlor. 

Warren Flemming was waiting for him, rising from one of the chairs and wiping both his hands on his pants before he extended one to Raymond. 

“My apologies for stopping in without warning like this,” he said. “But I was in the area, and I figured it would be a nice time to come by and pay a visit. It’s been quite some time now, hasn’t it?” 

“About four months since you were last here around Valentine’s Day,” he said briskly. He shook Warren’s hand a single time before releasing it and finding a seat among the four in the room. 

“Ah, yes,” Warren replied with an almost sad nod. “A day I remember feeling so very lonely. It’s amazing to me how it’s been four months already. That’s practically a lifetime, if you ask me.” 

Though he returned to his own seat, he remained sitting upright and almost stiff. He puffed out his chest in a way Raymond thought comical, as though he was able to inflate his own importance with how he carried himself. 

“Four months is four months. Nothing more or less,” Raymond replied cheerfully. “It’s a far cry from a lifetime, but I suppose you and I can agree to disagree on that front.” 

“There’s no right or wrong answer,” Warren agreed, and Raymond hoped the other man was joking despite the fact Warren didn’t laugh at what he’d stated. “Anyway, I saw Hazel out riding while I was on my way over.” 

“I’m not surprised,” Raymond replied. “She told me at lunch she was going to spend the afternoon riding. I’m sure she makes it all over the ranch.” 

“She knows what she’s doing on the back of a horse, I can tell you that right now,” Warren said with pure admiration in his voice. “I waved to her, but I don’t think she saw me. She didn’t wave back, so I’m assuming she didn’t. But then, I was riding as a passenger in my buggy rather than driving, so she may not have realized it was me.” 

“You know Hazel prefers to keep to herself as she’s riding,” Raymond replied. “I’m not surprised if she didn’t notice you while she was out there.” 

“Simply beautiful,” Warren continued, and Raymond wasn’t sure if Warren had even heard what he’d said. “Those long, fiery locks of curly hair on her shoulders. So red, I swear her hair was casting a light of its own. And she rides with such grace and elegance—I found it nearly impossible to do anything but stare. Not that I was intending to be rude by any means, but still.” 

“As you said, she didn’t seem to notice, so I’m sure there’s been no harm done,” Raymond replied, his tone as lighthearted as ever. “Now, Mr. Flemming, did you come calling on me for any particular reason? Or just to have a nice chat?” 

“Oh, am I keeping you from something?” the younger man asked, and Raymond could see the clear concern in Warren’s face. If he didn’t know how manipulative Warren could be, he might have believed the man truly was concerned that he was being a bother. 

“I’ve always got work waiting for me,” Raymond replied. “But not so pressing that I can’t have a cup of tea with a friend. Speaking of such things, let me ring for some to be brought to us now.” 

“No need, no need,” Warren said quickly as Raymond reached for the cord on the wall. He was proud of his bell system, and he loved pulling the cords when Warren was present. It was one of the only houses in Crestview that had been fully equipped with such a system, and that had everything to do with the money Raymond had to spend on it. 

He simply rang the bell from any room in the house, and no matter what, a servant would come by to see what was needed. He’d even gone so far as to have bells put in Hazel’s bedroom as well as his own, so neither of them would ever be without a way to reach the service in the household. 

“Are you sure?” he asked, disappointed that he didn’t get to show off the system yet again. 

“I’m sure,” Warren said quickly. “I know it’s rude to pop in like this and not give you any warning, and I feel that it’s only right to not stay long. I’m a busy man anyway, Raymond—you should know that better than anyone.” 

“I forgot,” Raymond said with a chuckle. “I guess I’m getting forgetful in my old age.” 

Warren chuckled too, but there was something forced and disingenuous about it. Raymond knew Warren was just trying to inflate himself, and as the owner of the most popular saloon in the area, he was often trying to make himself appear more important than he really was. 

Warren did indeed own a buggy that required a driver to sit separately from the passengers, and it wasn’t uncommon for him to hire a driver to take him from one place to another. But that was only an occasional driver, and Warren had no other servants keeping his home for him. 

Instead, he had a saloon and employed three saloon girls, all in their early twenties. They were the closest thing Warren had to hired staff, and that made Raymond chuckle. Warren truly tried to be a man of the same social status as Raymond himself, but he lacked both the funds and the means to get those funds. 

However, there was one stark difference between Warren and all of the other men who came to see Raymond on his ranch. And that was Warren’s interest in Hazel. 

It was the only reason Warren ever came out to see Raymond, and over the years, Raymond had grown weary of the way Warren was forever trying to trick him or bribe him into letting Warren court Hazel. Every time Warren came by for another visit, Raymond prepared himself mentally for the conversation the two of them would have. 

It wasn’t as easy with Warren dropping in unannounced, but Raymond was still ready for him. It wouldn’t take long before Warren got to the point for his visit, and if it was because of Hazel, then he’d have to tell Raymond straight that it was. 

“I’m sure with all the work you have to do yourself, you don’t pay much mind to what other people are doing around you,” Warren said quickly, and Raymond felt the younger man was trying too hard to be warm and friendly. He almost told Warren so but bit his tongue. It might be better to let the conversation unfold organically rather than being pointed about it. 

Once the topic took a turn toward Hazel, their discussion wouldn’t be lighthearted for long. Warren had a temper on him that was worse than any of the fire ants in the Texas heat, and Raymond wasn’t one to keep hostile company. 

Warren had already left his home angry on more than one occasion, and each time it happened, Raymond hoped against hope that it would be the last he’d see of the younger man. 

“Very true,” Raymond lied. “Can I at least tempt you with a refreshing glass of water before you go? You said you can’t stay long, but I’ll be damned if I don’t at least give you some kind of refreshment before you leave.”

“Alright, for the sake of being a well-received guest, I’ll take a glass of water,” Warren said. 

“Excellent!” Raymond exclaimed as he eagerly reached for the cords on the wall. He yanked on one, then gleefully turned to Warren. “Just you wait,” he said. “All one has to do is pull that cord, and no matter where you are in the house, someone will come to make sure you’re tended to.” 

“You don’t say,” Warren replied, and Raymond was certain he literally turned a shade green with envy. Of course, there was no such thing as people really turning colors like that, but with Warren, it was easy to imagine, and it made Raymond smile to think of it. 

Sure enough, a servant soon appeared in the doorway of the parlor. “You rang?” she asked. 

“Yes, Missy, would you be so kind as to fetch a cold glass of water for Mr. Flemming? He’s come an awful long way in this heat, and I’m afraid he must be parched.” 

“Right away, sir,” Missy replied, turning on her heels and leaving the two men alone once more. 

“It’s mechanics in fact but a miracle in principle,” Raymond commented after the young women had left. “You can even be upstairs in any of those rooms, and the same thing happens.” 

“Fascinating, it really is,” Warren commented. “I’m sure that’s rather convenient, especially when you’re feeling under the weather and may need something brought to you.” 

“Or when you simply don’t want to get out of bed because the floor’s cold!” Raymond said as he slapped his hand on his thigh and laughed. He calmed down and thanked Missy as she stepped quickly back into the room with two glasses of water in hand. 

She gave one to Warren and the other to Raymond before she returned to the doorway and paused. “Is there anything else I can get for you, sir?” 

“No, Missy, thank you,” Raymond said. “This will do for now. But I’ll ring again if we find the need.” 

“Yes sir,” Missy said with a smile and a nod. She disappeared into the hallway and Raymond turned back to Warren. 

“Now, my boy, what brings you out here today?” 

Warren sipped on the water before placing the glass on the table in front of him. For a brief moment, he appeared nervous, and Raymond could almost see him as the scared young man asking for his blessing that Warren tried to portray. 

But Raymond was sharp, and he knew the kind of man Warren really was. There wasn’t a thing the younger man could say or do that would change Raymond’s mind about him courting Hazel. He wanted nothing more than for his granddaughter to be happy, and she would never be anything but miserable if she were married to a man such as Warren Flemming. 

“It’s a little embarrassing how difficult it is for me to find the right words,” Warren said after a pause. He took another drink of the water, noisily putting the glass back on the table. He nearly spilled the cold liquid in his haste and had to use both hands to steady the glass on the tabletop. 

He cleared his throat, but Raymond sat silently, watching the entire display without a word. He gave Warren another bright smile when the younger man finally regained his composure and started talking once again. 

“It’s about Hazel,” he said. “I know you’ve expressed concern in the past about the idea of the two of us courting, and I’m here today to tell you that I’m so glad you did.” 

“You are?” Raymond asked, caught off guard by the statement. He never thought he’d hear Warren tell him he was right to refuse his requests to court Hazel. 

“I am,” Warren continued, “because you’re absolutely right. She was only sixteen when I first noticed her, and that’s a mite young to be married to someone fifteen years older. But these past four years, I’ve been patiently watching and waiting, and I’m proud to say she’s grown into quite the fine young woman.” 

“That she has,” Raymond said with a nod. “She’s the very light of my life. I’d tell that to anyone in a heartbeat.” 

“As you should,” Warren said with a nod. “I can’t imagine if I were in your position I’d think anything but the world of Hazel, and I’d do everything in my power to make sure she was protected and cherished.” 

“Good, then you see where I’m coming from,” Raymond said with a nod. 

“I see now where you were coming from, yes,” Warren continued. “And I’m telling you now that you were an older and wiser man than I was to have told me no.” 

“Thank you, Warren,” Raymond said. “It shows a lot of growth on your part to be man enough to come over here and tell me I was right and you were wrong.” 

“And I’ve done a fair amount of personal growth in the past few… months,” Warren said, and Raymond realized that Warren was simply trying to flatter him. He wasn’t at the ranch to simply apologize and tell Raymond he was right about the match being a poor one. No, there was clearly more to the visit than that. 

And it wasn’t long before Warren got down to the real reason he had come to the ranch that afternoon. 

“So, I was hoping now that she’s twenty—a grown woman, you can see for yourself—that you’ll be more willing to let me court her?” Warren asked. “There’s a picnic in town this coming Saturday; the women in church are putting on the quilt sale if you recall. I’d love to take Hazel with me.” 

“Do you have an interest in quilts?” Raymond asked with raised eyebrows. “To my knowledge, Hazel didn’t make one herself to try to sell, and in this heat, I’m not sure how many quilts a man really needs for his bed.”

“Very good point, sir,” Warren said with a nod. “Very good indeed, and no, I’m not overly fond of quilts, but I would like the chance to spend time with Hazel, and it seems to me that it’s quite the wholesome event.” 

“If you mean compared to your saloon, I’ll agree,” Raymond said. “I’m sure it’s no secret to you I wouldn’t want her anywhere near that vile place.” 

The smile Warren gave Raymond was one he couldn’t quite read. There was something hateful, almost cruel about the corners of his lips curving slightly upward. The only word that came to Raymond’s mind was sinister. 

“Oh, certainly not,” Warren said. “I would never dream of taking sweet Hazel to the saloon. That’s just not the place for a proper young woman to be spending her time.” 

“But don’t you employ three young women yourself?” 

“Yes, I provide work to three women in need,” he said with a nod. “And it’s a good thing I do, too. Women such as those three, without any family or any education or any way to support themselves, wind up in bad situations. I take great pride in that I never ask anything of my girls but their service with a smile toward the patrons. Harmless flirting, maybe, but nothing more.” 

Raymond wasn’t impressed with Warren’s explanation of his personal choices, and he wanted to say so, but the two were interrupted by the sound of Hazel walking into the house. 

Both men instinctively rose to their feet at the sound of her walking up the hallway, but neither had the chance to speak further before Hazel’s voice came floating into the room. 

“Grandfather! I’m home!” she called out. “I know I was gone a little longer than I meant to, but—oh! I’m sorry, I didn’t know you had company.” 

“I knew you must not have seen me when I waved to you earlier!” Warren cried out, relief in his tone. “Miss Spencer, how are you?” 

“I’m well. How are you, Mr. Flemming?” she asked, and Raymond immediately noticed the way she’d seemingly put up a wall around herself. Gone was the outgoing, carefree girl who had walked through the front door. Here instead was a young woman who appeared to be almost scared of the man standing in the parlor in front of her. 

“My day is always made perfect when I get to see your beautiful face,” Warren said, and Hazel looked to Raymond for support. 

“How was your ride, darling?” he asked. 

“Lovely,” she replied, the cheerfulness returning. “It really was quite lovely, but I’m afraid I’m exhausted now.” 

“You should go up to your room and get some rest before dinner,” Raymond told her. “And make sure you get a glass of water before you do. Too much sun isn’t good for a body.” 

“I’ll get one on my way up,” Hazel promised. “Good day, Mr. Flemming.” 

“Good day,” Warren called out, but Hazel had already left. 

If the choice was left to her, she would never want to court someone like Warren, so Raymond didn’t even need to ask her what she wanted in the situation. 

“So, what do you say?” Warren pressed, turning back to Raymond. 

“No.” 

“No?” 

“My answer is no,” Raymond replied. “You do not have my permission to court my granddaughter.” 

“But she’s—” Warren started but Raymond held up his hand. 

“I don’t care what your thoughts are on the matter,” he said. “You came here to ask me permission, and I have not given it. If that’s all you needed from me, then I, too, must bid you a good day and get back to the work that’s waiting for me upstairs.” 

“You can’t keep her here forever,” Warren snarled, angrily snatching the hat he’d left on the seat of another parlor chair. “You don’t have the right.” 

“You have no right to come in here and ask me yet again for the hand of the girl I’ve told you you’ll never have,” Raymond replied. “It’s simply not to be, Warren, and I’m not changing my mind about that.” 

“You’ll be sorry!” Warren snapped, but then, almost instantly, his expression changed. 

“Are you threatening me?” Raymond growled, but the hostility had vanished from Warren’s demeanor, and he patted his face with the handkerchief he kept in his pocket. 

“Not at all,” he said. “Nor would I ever dream of doing such a thing. I’m merely saying that she’s a grown woman, and she’s going to make the decision for herself one of these days—and you won’t be able to stop it when she does.” 

“I trust her judgment, and when she finds a young man worthy of her, then I’ll trust he’s right for her,” Raymond said. The look Warren gave him was filled with rage, but he didn’t push the argument further. 

“This isn’t over,” he said as he stepped out into the hallway. “I will have Hazel yet. I will.” 

With that, he showed himself out of the house, closing the door behind him with a resounding bang. Raymond, however, merely chuckled to himself. He had faith in the safety of his ranch and the men he hired to run it. Both he and his granddaughter were safe. 

No matter how much Warren threatened.

 

Chapter Two

Hazel

“I was thinking about riding Beauty into town today,” Hazel said at breakfast the following morning. “I was hoping you wouldn’t mind?”

Grandfather took a long drink of his coffee. He didn’t reply right away, but Hazel saw his mustache twitching. That was always a strong indication he was thinking over something, and he wasn’t very happy about what it was he had to think about. 

Hazel’s grandfather was incredibly protective. She didn’t mind. Losing her parents and grandmother in that accident so long ago had affected him deeply, and she didn’t blame him for it. He often spoke of his late wife and Hazel’s parents, and it was clear to her how much he missed all of them. So, she didn’t complain when he kept her on the ranch. 

He felt she was safest there, and she could easily admit that she felt most at home on the ranch, anyway. She’d learned from the tutors he’d hired, and she’d grown close to many of the hired hands who kept the home neat and clean. But even with all that she loved about the sprawling ranch house and the acres upon acres at her disposal, there were days when she wanted the freedom to ride into town. 

“What do you need in town?” Grandfather asked. He hadn’t given her permission to go, nor had he forbidden it. She had to choose her words carefully, convincing him it was a good idea to allow her to leave the ranch for a few hours.

“Well, there are a few things I was hoping to look at in the mercantile, and perhaps I might stop by and pay a visit to Mrs. Clark,” she said. “It’s been a couple of weeks since her wedding and I’d love to hear how she’s getting on.” 

Grandfather nodded along with what she was saying, and she knew bringing up the person she felt closest to calling a friend might help her case. Mrs. Mary Clark, while more than ten years Hazel’s senior, was the woman Hazel spoke with most whenever she and Grandfather went to church. 

As he wasn’t an overly religious man, he only took her one or two Sundays out of the month, and Hazel greatly looked forward to the weeks when they’d go. She could surely have gone on her own if she really wanted to, but Hazel didn’t want to leave her grandfather at home alone every week, nor did she want to drag him along to church with her if it wasn’t what he was already planning to do. 

“I suppose there’s no harm in you going,” Grandfather said at last. “But mind you don’t waste time doing things you don’t need to be doing. You can go into town, but I would prefer you come home fairly quickly as well.” 

“I will,” she promised. “Thank you, Grandfather.” 

He nodded and turned his attention back to his breakfast, but Hazel was already planning her trip into town. She sent word out to the barn to have her horse saddled and ready for her directly after breakfast. Then she took the time to go back into her room and check herself to ensure she was ready to be seen by the public’s eye. 

As her grandfather, Raymond Spencer, was the richest man in the territory, Hazel dressed nicely whenever she was going into town. She wanted to uphold the refined and classy image her grandfather portrayed to the town, though she was far from snobby about anything. 

After breakfast and getting dressed up for her outing, Hazel stopped by her grandfather’s study to bid him goodbye. 

“I’ll be back home in a few hours,” she told him, kissing him on the cheek. 

“See that you are,” he replied. “And be careful. Conduct yourself just as you would if I were right there with you.” 

“I will,” Hazel promised. “Goodbye!” 

She walked quickly through the hall, her shoes making a click-click-click on the floorboards with each step she took. Then, in an instant, she was through the front door and out in the sunshine. 

It was a warm day with a cool breeze floating over the desert landscape. The heat of the sun threatened to grow stronger every time the air was still, and it was bound to get hot before too long. If she wanted to get into town and make it back home before Beauty had to be walking in the heat of midday, she had better hurry. 

She rode easily into town. The road leading from the ranch and into the bustling hub of people was well-used, as it was also the main road leading to the next town north of Crestview. 

Grasshoppers hissed in the air, and a lonely hawk screamed far above her, looking for its next meal as it floated easily on the wind. 

To Hazel, all the sights and smells that came with leaving the ranch filled her heart with excitement. It wasn’t that she wanted to live anywhere but the ranch, but she enjoyed the change of scenery any time she got to venture into town and join the throng of people going about their daily lives. 

She pulled Beauty back to a walk as she entered the town, and as always, she smiled and waved to those she met along the street. Travelers passing through the place didn’t know who she was, but anyone who lived in Crestview did. 

Grandfather was the wealthiest man in the entire state, and as far as she knew, in this part of the country. The news of the accident had spread through town years ago, but ever since, everyone had an eye on the one heir to that ranch. Not only that, but with her long, red hair framing her face and making her green eyes even brighter, Hazel knew she caught the attention of many eligible young men in town. 

Hazel made sure the attention never went to her head nor made her arrogant by any means, she still made an effort to behave as any proper young woman should. She was sweet and quiet, and she never made herself out to be more important than anyone. 

Hazel stopped when she arrived at the mercantile. After tying Beauty to one of the rails on the fence next to the little store, she quickly climbed the stairs and headed inside. 

The bell rang, announcing her entrance to the room, and a few of the shoppers looked over to see who had just walked inside. She smiled and gave a small wave to a couple of them as she walked over to the counter to speak with Mr. Davis directly. 

“Good morning, Miss Spencer,” he cried. “It’s been a while since I’ve last seen you. How are you?” 

“Well, thank you,” she said with a warm smile in return. “And how have you been? I do try to come in more frequently than I manage, but I’m sure you understand.” 

“Ah, yes, a young woman such as yourself is bound to have many things requiring your time and attention, so I don’t take it personally when I don’t see you for a while. I see someone who works for your grandfather at least a few times a week, and I always ask how you’re doing and send my regards.” 

“How well I know!” she said with a giggle. “They’re all so good about telling me when you ask about me, and I often try to remind them to tell you hello when they’re leaving. But nothing beats coming in and seeing you myself.” 

She loved stopping in to see Mr. Davis. He’d been a good friend of her father’s before the accident, and he would often tell Hazel how much she looked like her father now that she was grown. Talking to him helped her feel closer to her parents, even when neither of them spoke about them directly. 

“Yes, indeed! Is there anything in particular you’re looking for today?” he asked. 

“I’m hoping to find a new chain for Grandfather’s pocket watch,” Hazel explained. “His birthday is coming up, and I want to make sure I have that before it gets too close. I never know for sure whether I’m going to make it into town, and I don’t want to miss the chance to get a gift while I have it.” 

“Let me pull them out for you to look over,” Mr. Davis said, rummaging around in the drawers behind the counter. He withdrew the box and opened it, revealing the watch chains that had carefully been laid out inside. 

The gold and silver chains sparkled against the black velvet, and Hazel’s breath caught in her throat. Grandfather had a gold watch, so it would only make sense that she purchased a gold chain to go with it. But she didn’t know whether she ought to go with one that was shorter or longer. 

“Which do you recommend?” she asked as she pulled two out. One was longer than the other by nearly six inches, but she did like how thick the chain was. The other was shorter, but the chain also wasn’t as thick, and she worried it might break more easily as a result. 

“Well, which pocket does your grandfather typically use for his watch?” Mr. Davis asked. 

Hazel thought for a moment, then took a step back from the counter. 

“If I were my grandfather,” she mused out loud, “and I wanted my watch, I would reach into this pocket here.” 

She put her hand to her side where Grandfather would pull out the watch when he wore it and looked back to Mr. Davis. 

“I guess the shorter one will do then, right?” she asked. “Forgive me, but I’m worried that with how thin the chain is, it may break easily.” 

“Don’t worry about that,” Mr. Davis said with a wave of his hand. “It might not look sturdy, but it’s strong. I buy these from a watchmaker in New York City, and he swears by them. Haven’t had a complaint yet from anyone who’s bought one, either.” 

“Then I’ll take it,” Hazel said with a bright smile and far more confidence in her voice. “Can’t argue with the best, right?” 

“Amen to that,” he said as he wrapped up the chain. “Is there anything else I can get for you?” 

“Not today, thank you,” Hazel said, pulling the money out of her purse and placing it on the counter. She was about to ask him how his wife was doing when something caught her eye. 

Warren Flemming was across the street, and he had evidently noticed her horse tied out in front of the mercantile. He was crossing between two wagons, his eyes focused on Beauty. Hazel knew she’d best leave quickly, and with any luck, he’d come into the mercantile looking for her just as she was going, making it impossible to justify standing and having a conversation with him. 

“Well, have a good rest of your day, then,” Mr. Davis said, breaking into her thoughts. “And I’ll see you soon.” 

“Yes,” Hazel told him with another smile, “I’ll make an effort to be in again soon. Take care.” 

“You as well,” he told her, and she quickly exited the building. 

Hazel knew she wasn’t going to make it to her horse in time to untie Beauty and leave before Mr. Flemming reached her, but she didn’t expect him to already be waiting for her as she walked out of the mercantile. She realized then how innocent she’d been, thinking that he’d go into the store rather than waiting for her. Perhaps her escape wouldn’t be as simple as she’d assumed. 

“Good day, Miss Spencer!” Warren called out as soon as she was outside the store. 

“Good day, Mr. Flemming,” she replied simply. She said nothing more, as she had no intention of having a conversation with the man. Her grandfather had told her to conduct herself as though he were there with her, and she would have done the same thing if he had been. 

At that moment, Hazel wished that her grandfather was with her so he could be the one to tell Warren to leave her alone. But as she was on her own, she would have to take care of this, and she braced herself for the potentially uncomfortable conversation the two would have. 

“It’s not often I get to see you here in town,” Warren continued. “I wasn’t sure your grandfather even allowed you to come alone.” 

“Every now and then I decide to take a ride,” Hazel told him. 

“Of course, but he didn’t make you stay on the ranch?” 

Hazel was annoyed with the question, and she wasn’t sure how to tell him so. She didn’t want him to talk poorly of her grandfather, and she didn’t agree with what he was saying. Her grandfather was only trying to protect her, that was all. She wasn’t a prisoner on the ranch by any means, yet she felt that Warren was implying she somehow wasn’t able to come and go as she pleased. 

“He never requires me to do anything I don’t want to do,” she said simply. 

“He doesn’t?” Warren asked, and Hazel wasn’t sure what to make of his tone. He was condescending, though not entirely. There was almost surprise in his voice, but when she met his gaze, there wasn’t anything in his look to indicate that. 

“No, he doesn’t,” she said, turning away from Warren to climb into the saddle. She’d untied her horse as she spoke to him, and she was ready to leave. The idea of going to see her married friend had been dismissed from her mind—all she wanted to do was get back out to the ranch and away from Warren. 

The way he looked at her made her uncomfortable, almost as though he was a wolf and she was a helpless lamb. He looked like he might wish to devour her if he got the chance, and it scared her. 

“Then perhaps I was mistaken,” Warren said. 

Hazel stopped. She had one hand on the saddle horn and the other on the back of the seat. One foot was in the stirrup, but she placed it back on the ground as she turned to look at Warren. 

“What do you mean?” she asked. 

There were always rumors in town, and she knew not everyone agreed with the way her grandfather did things. But she didn’t wish there to be any suggestion floating about that she was being held against her will, or that she somehow wasn’t happy with how her grandfather had raised her. 

“Well, I’d mistakenly assumed that he was the one who gave you permission to do things, but now I’m realizing certainly not. You’re a grown woman, and you have the freedom to choose what you do and don’t wish to do, don’t you?” he asked. 

“Of course I do,” Hazel said. 

“Perhaps I shouldn’t have gone out to the ranch yesterday to ask your grandfather’s permission for you to come to the social with me,” Warren said. “I should have come directly to you, of course.” 

By now, there were several people around. Some had stopped to say hello to Hazel, others were simply going in and out of the mercantile. But with the way three men had stopped to look at her after hearing what Warren said, she knew she had to speak up for herself. 

“I actually think you did the right thing going to him rather than me,” she said shortly. “That was the gentleman thing to do.” 

“But perhaps if you were the one to ask his permission to go with me, he would be more willing to give it to you,” Warren prompted. “He must not realize how good you and I would be together.” 

“Together?” Hazel asked, feeling the color drain from her face. The idea of being married to such an awful man made her stomach churn, and she worried she may even become sick right there in front of the mercantile. 

“Yes,” Warren said with an enthusiastic nod. “I could make you so happy, Hazel, if you would only give me the chance to court you. I’ll ask you myself, can I please have the honor of taking you to the social this weekend? Nothing would make me happier than having you by my side.” 

“Thank you,” Hazel said, picking her words carefully, “but no.” 

“No?” Warren asked, and something changed in his face. 

Hazel wasn’t able to place exactly what it was that had changed, but there was suddenly something hard about him. Something sinister crept into his features, so subtle that she had a feeling she’d have missed it if she hadn’t been watching him carefully as he spoke. 

“No,” Hazel said with a weak smile and a shake of her head. “Thank you for the invitation, but my answer is no.” 

“You must be joking,” Warren said, though the laugh he gave was barking and sharp, entirely without humor. “Surely you wouldn’t refuse me yourself?” 

“I apologize, but that’s exactly what I’m doing,” she said. “No thank you.” 

She turned and climbed into the saddle, and she glanced back at him before leaving. She almost felt guilty, as she hated telling anyone no, but Hazel remained firm in her decision. She bit her tongue, however, when she saw how red his face had turned. 

She could see the rage inside him that he fought to control as they were in the middle of the busy street, and every part of her screamed to get as far away from him as she possibly could. 

“Good day, Mr. Flemming,” she said, kicking Beauty’s flanks. She turned the horse and urged the animal into a trot through the street, then to a gallop as soon as she was free to do so. 

Only when she was nearly halfway back to the ranch did she have the courage to turn and look over her shoulder. Her heart was in her throat, and there was a knot in the pit of her stomach. It made her uncomfortable to do anything to anger anyone, but that didn’t mean she was afraid to stand up for herself when she had to. 

She was relieved to see there was no one coming after her, and she slowed Beauty to a trot, not wanting to push her horse too much in the rising heat. But she couldn’t shake the feeling that there was someone watching her, no matter how hard she tried to ignore the nagging thought. She kept looking around, checking and rechecking to ensure she was truly alone on the road. 

Her eyes told her she was, and there was nothing for her to be worried about, but her gut told her otherwise. 

She kept Beauty moving, only slowing the horse to a walk when she was in sight of the house. 

Warren made her feel uncomfortable, scared even. She didn’t want anything to do with the man, and the fact he would come to her and ask her directly to go with him after her grandfather had told him no bothered her. It showed that he had no respect for her grandfather or his wishes, and that worried her. 

She gave her horse to one of the hired hands to put away and slipped into the house. 

“Missy, Missy!” Hazel called out. 

The servant girl appeared with a smile. Then she saw the look on Hazel’s face.

“Are you okay, Miss Hazel?” Missy asked. 

“I’m okay,” she said. “I just saw a snake on the way home, and the vile creature made my blood run cold.” 

“Oh, Miss Hazel,” Missy said. “You poor thing!” 

“I’m alright,” Hazel said quickly. “But I’ve purchased a gift for my grandfather for his birthday, and I don’t want to spoil the surprise. Will you please let him know that I’ve come home and I’m in my room should he need something?” 

“Yes, miss,” Missy said, and Hazel smiled. 

“Thank you,” she said. “Let him know I’ll see him at lunch.” 

The other girl said she would, and Hazel headed to her bedroom. 

She was glad to have come up with such a story so easily, and she felt she hadn’t really lied, anyway. Warren really was a snake, and he did leave her feeling shaken. 

She had half an hour before it would be time for lunch, and that was plenty of time for her to calm herself before she saw her grandfather. She didn’t want to worry him by telling him what had happened, especially since she was sure telling Warren himself that she had no interest in him would lay his plans to rest. 

Still, as she looked at herself in the little mirror that hung above the washbasin in her bedroom, she shuddered. 

She was safe out here on the ranch. That was what mattered. Warren couldn’t get to her out here. She knew that. 

Perhaps it was better if she stayed on the ranch except for the times when she was able to take her grandfather with her into town. But she didn’t like the idea of not being able to leave because of Warren. She didn’t want him to make her into the prisoner he’d implied she already was. 

But she didn’t know what to do. He was a snake. She was sure of it. And the more distance she could put between herself and him, the better. After all, her grandfather wouldn’t let anything bad happen to her. 

She trusted that. 


“Rescuing the Kidnapped Heiress” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Hazel, a young, radiant soul and heir of a wealthy rancher, suddenly finds herself at the center of a perilous deception. Despite her grandfather’s efforts to protect her, Hazel is kidnapped by the sinister Warren Flemming, a man with a dark agenda who is obsessed with marrying her. While her life is at stake, Isaac, a mysterious gunslinger with a past shrouded in shadows, becomes determined to return her safely home.

Will he manage to find her before it’s too late?

With a gleaming badge and his belongings strapped to his horse, Isaac sets off on his mission. When tense encounters appear on his way though, he will have to quickly uncover Warren’s hideout to secure Hazel’s safety, while Waren employs cunning tactics against them. With each step closer to Hazel, the thought of failing her becomes unbearable…

Evil runs deeper than anyone could have imagined…

In a race against time, Isaac needs to outwit Warren’s nefarious plans, and save Hazel before the forced marriage becomes an irreversible reality. Will true love prevail in the face of darkness and unforeseeable betrayals, or will Hazel be condemned to a life she abhors to save the only family she has left? As the line between good and evil blurs, will the courage of one gunslinger be the key to rewriting Hazel’s destiny?

“Rescuing the Kidnapped Heiress” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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