Trapped in a Perilous Deception – Extended Epilogue

“Ferne, there you are!”

    Hurrying over to the fence, Audrey slipped off her horse. It was made easier since she wasn’t wearing her skirts. Her friend was right, after all. Pants made much more sense while one worked on a ranch.

    Ferne turned from where she was mending a pole and wiring. “Audrey? I thought you would be enjoying supper right now.”

    “Oh, we are wrapping up. Bi Lu set a plate aside for you,” Audrey added as she waved a hand to let the matter slide. “But I wanted to see how the new fencing is coming along. This wire is supposed to be the best on the market.”

    Following Ferne’s movements, she looked at the thread of wire stretched across the poles with the bundle resting on the ground. It was a dull silver that gleamed in the light of the setting sun. She thought it looked rather nice, albeit plain. But hopefully, it was as strong as they needed it to be.

    Her friend made a face as she bent it around the post, struggled with it for a minute, and then sighed as she got it wrapped around just the way she needed it. “It’s definitely a tricky one.”

    Audrey frowned. “You don’t like it?”

    “Not all of your good ideas can work out perfectly,” Ferne reassured her.

    “Or maybe you haven’t given it enough time,” she easily retorted, grinning widely when Ferne narrowed her eyes. “It’s supposed to be twice as thin but twice as strong. Cheaper, too.”

    “I’ll give it some time. But I can reassure you that it isn’t my favorite adjustment you’ve made,” Ferne informed her.

    “Noted.”

    With her hands on her hips, Audrey gazed around the ranch studiously. Spring had finally arrived again. Months had passed since her return home. And since Ferne had agreed to stay on.

    Although she had made her stay sound temporary, Audrey knew that Ferne had no plans for leaving. The ranch here thrived, and it was in no small part due to Ferne’s efforts. She enjoyed the physical labor as well as the company of the ranch hands, all of whom she got along with.

Especially Paddy.

Truthfully, Ferne had also become good friends with Hardy as well, Paddy’s cousin and the son of the foreman. Audrey was certain that the two of them would match well.

Then she reminded herself that there was no need to rush into such matters. Ferne was finally settled in her role at the ranch, and Audrey knew how much it meant to the woman to have a real home again.

She turned her gaze back to the wiring. “I do think it will hold,” she said finally. “And it will last. But it will be time that decides this, I suppose. Thank you,” she added, “for not refusing.”

Turning her chin up, Ferne winked. “I wouldn’t do that to you.”

“Most of the changes I have made here have been good,” Audrey noted with a nod. “It is rather unlikely that I would fail now.”

Ferne chuckled. “There is a first time for everything. And we can’t very well let you grow a big head here, can we?”

“I thought you liked my head,” Audrey teased her.

“Well enough to find you a doctor but little more than that.”

The reference to her ordeal from last year, the matter of how they had met, brought back a rush of strange emotions. Audrey had had months to recover. The dreams had stopped, and she no longer worried in the back of her mind that something else might happen to her. It had been a quiet sort of dread that came and went for weeks at a time until it finally resolved itself.

Glancing over her shoulder at the ranch, she had the thought again to wonder how Lenora was doing. Perhaps she should write again. 

Her stepsister was supposedly doing well up north. Although Audrey had written once or twice, and Sigrid wrote every couple of weeks, Lenora had yet to return a letter. They only knew she was alive from the sporadic correspondence from her aunt.

Audrey hoped Lenora was doing well. If not well, at least better.

“I will admit this.” Ferne grunted as she shifted the large post and gave Audrey a nod. “Most of your changes have been excellent. I went with your father and Hardy over to the cattle sales last week.”

“Oh?” Audrey perked up. “It went well, I heard. Sixty new head.”

Ferne nodded. “Thanks to Hardy’s negotiations. They tried to jump the price higher, realizing who wanted them.” Audrey tilted her head in confusion. “They know how well the ranch here runs. Your father wouldn’t stop bragging about you. Everyone wants your help on their land. And those who don’t want to come work here.”

Pride blossomed in Audrey’s chest. It was warm and tender. She bit her lip to try to keep the smile from growing too wide. But she couldn’t help it. Her cheeks hurt, and she loved it dearly.

“Really?” she asked. “Do you mean it?”

Pausing from her work, Ferne gave her a stern look. “Since when do I say what I don’t mean? When I first arrived, there were folks ready to criticize the operations here for letting a woman jump in. Especially since you’re young and unwed. But I can assure you everyone has changed their minds. And anyone who hasn’t…well, I wouldn’t want to get on their side,” she said with a chuckle. “They won’t last long in town. Probably even out of the state by now.”

A giddy laugh bubbled up from Audrey’s chest. “That’s absurd.”

She shook her head, yet that ridiculously happy smile remained on her face as she glanced around the ranch. So much had changed. Her father had been hesitant in the beginning with everything she wished to do. But bit by bit, she had negotiated her way through it all.

Not only was the ranch thriving, and they had purchased another hundred acres as well as more cattle, but the workers’ conditions had also been improved. Everyone made fair wages; those who didn’t wish to live in the bunkhouse were supported in the process of buying land and building their own homes. 

It had not been easy, Audrey knew. She had argued with her father and fought with some of the ranch hands. Not everyone had been thrilled that she was there with everyone and changing things.

But it had been worth it. Matthew was pleased, especially since he now had more free time to spend with his wife. The ranch’s reputation had continued to improve as well, clearly, if they were all wishing to work here.

“It really is a wonderful ranch,” Audrey noted with a happy sigh.

“Sure is.” Ferne cleared her throat. “I wouldn’t be surprised if James himself decides to sell the hotel to come work with me.”

“With you?” Audrey turned around with a frown.

Only to find Ferne winking at her. “Or maybe you, it’s hard to tell. He hasn’t asked for your hand yet, after all.”

“He has, too!”

The words spilled from Audrey’s mouth before she could help it, unable to ignore the jibe. Her heart thumped loudly in her chest as she opened her eyes wide in astonishment. This made her feel like she was five years old again, getting tricked by the silliest things. She clapped a hand over her mouth as her friend clapped and hollered with glee.

“I knew it! I knew he did! It took him long enough,” Ferne cried out.

Hurrying over, Audrey grabbed her friend and pulled her arms down. “Don’t! Shh! You can’t tell anyone. Ferne, I can’t believe you.”

“I can’t believe you,” Ferne said with a snort. “I’m your friend, aren’t I? I should know these sorts of things.”

“Well, yes,” Audrey allowed before chewing her lip. “But Father doesn’t know. James hasn’t asked him yet for permission,” she explained. “He said he will do it tomorrow after church when he comes over for supper.”

The memory of their conversation still brought a flush up to her cheeks. 

It had all happened just three nights ago. He’d picked her up to take her to the restaurant at his hotel. It was closed for everyone except for the two of them. Another reason she hadn’t told her father. All she could recall was the candlelight and how handsome James had looked. How good he was to her and how he encouraged her to be her best, no matter what it meant she was doing. He adored her and treated her like a queen.

Tugging herself free, Ferne tugged her close again in a tight hug where Audrey couldn’t move. “That’s wonderful! I’m very glad. I don’t think he would survive without you.”

“Don’t be rude,” Audrey said while trying to sound stern. “He is the man I am going to marry.”

“I meant it as a compliment to you,” her friend pointed out as she released her. “A springtime wedding, then? I’m sure your parents will be thrilled.”

“They better be. And I expect you to follow close behind.”

Ferne’s eyes widened. “Me? Whatever for?”

Tutting, Audrey put her hands on her hips. “I saw you growing rather cozy with Paddy the other day, didn’t I?”

“What? Oh, nonsense. That’s ridiculous, Audrey. He’s just a friend. We’re just friends. Paddy and I, we are just…just…you know, we’re friends,” Ferne stammered.

Which she never normally did. Audrey put her hands over her mouth to hide the smile. It was true then; she could see how much Ferne liked Paddy. There was even a blush creeping up her friend’s cheeks. It took all of Audrey’s self-control not to start squealing excitedly for her.

“My ears are burning. You pretty ladies aren’t talking about me, are you?”

“Oh!” Audrey jumped and whirled around to find Paddy. She jerked her head back to Ferne, who only turned redder. “Well, well. Paddy!” She felt a pinch on her arm but ignored it. “How good to see you.”

The young man pushed his curly dark, auburn hair from his face while glancing between the two of them. His smile remained as he nodded at Audrey, finally settling his gaze on Ferne.

“Good to see you, Audrey,” he murmured hesitantly. “Ferne? Can I…Can I talk to you?”

“Yes!” Audrey said louder than necessary. She beamed at Ferne, who threw her an annoyed look, then she scampered off at a distance.

Since she had ridden over on her horse, she returned to the sweet creature who was happily chomping away at some tall grass. Audrey patted Bluebell’s neck before looking back to where she had so readily left Fern and Paddy.

They were standing close. She beamed, watching as Ferne dropped her crossed arms down to her sides. That was a good sign, Audrey knew. Her friend crossed them when she was anxious but had to be feeling more confident now. Especially with what appeared to be a very earnest expression on Paddy’s face.

And then the young man motioned between the two of them, him and Ferne, and Audrey practically stopped breathing.

“Oh, he is…” she murmured. One hand on her horse’s mane, she let out a small laugh of disbelief. “Bluebell, can you believe it? He’s wishing to court her. I just know it. I don’t have to know the words, you know, but I can see it in his face. I’m certain, I tell you.”

She turned her gaze hopefully to Ferne, eager to see what her friend might do. But a loud shout suddenly pulled her attention away.

It was followed by the clanging of a bell by the barn that immediately put Audrey on alert. That was a heavy bell, one of four on the property, held secure unless it was picked up and rung to alert everyone of danger.

Looking around, Audrey found several ranch hands riding out of the barn. They pointed to the other side of the ranch, close to the river, and that was when she saw movement. Her heart constricted as she saw the bandanas over their faces.

“Rustlers!” she shouted.

She jumped into her saddle in the swift manner Ferne had taught her and glanced over to her friend and Paddy. The two of them were already racing to their horses.

“Go!” Ferne shouted once she was on her horse as well. She nodded to Audrey, and they all started off.

A shot rang through the air and more followed. Fear struck Audrey. She didn’t want to lose her men or her cattle. While she would rather lose her cattle instead of her men, she had to ensure they weren’t found to be a weak ranch, or they would surely lose everything.

Heart pounding, Audrey leaned in close on her horse’s neck as she pushed Bluebell to a gallop. They soared over the grass, rounding the grazing cattle to join the other ranch hands to fight off the rustlers.

“Get the cattle!” she could hear them shouting.

Her men were shouting as well, pulling out their whips and guns. It was chaos as everyone was trying to stop the cattle from going anywhere and trying to avoid getting hurt. Slowing down, Audrey found two of the rustlers had already been thrown off their horses and were trapped by her men. 

She pulled out the gun tied to her saddle, holding it close as she circled the fighting. 

“You can’t get us all!” one of the rustlers shouted, darting away from Hardy and his father. The man let out a string of curses as he threw his gun at someone, most likely having used up his bullets. Then he yanked at the three cows he had tied to a rope and tried to lead them away.

“Stop!” Audrey cried out. “Stop right now!”

“A girl?” The man paused to sneer at her. “You won’t stop me. Don’t let your skirts trip you up, sweetie.”

The disdainful manner and mocking words infuriated her. Spurring her horse forward, Audrey raised her gun with her free hand. “I told you to stop, thief!”

He swore at her and turned away, yanking at the cattle. She could hear shouts behind them––Ferne and Hardy and everyone else––which meant they were still caught in the mess.

Which meant she had to do this herself.

Inhaling deeply, Audrey recalled the first of many lessons that Ferne had given her nearly a year ago. She concentrated and squeezed the trigger.

The man ahead of her shouted before toppling off his horse.

She pulled her own horse up short.

All three cattle promptly stopped and turned back to grazing, ignoring the ropes at their necks. The riderless horse had been spurred into a gallop and continued in motion, not seemingly caring about the lack of the burden.

“You!” The man scrambled to his feet and grappled at his waist. The sun had set by now, but there was still enough sunlight to see that he had something else in hand. He raised it high, a large knife the size of his forearm. “I’ll get you for that!”

Before he could close the distance between them––at least five yards or so––Hardy and his father sped past Audrey. She hadn’t moved since making her shot, feeling the shock spread through her arm and the rest of her body. She watched as the rustler was taken down, his weapons removed from him, and then he was led with the other rustlers who had been rounded up.

She watched it come together before her. Part of her thought she should help, but she didn’t quite know how. Everyone knew what to do.

“Audrey? Audrey!”

Blinking, she looked down at Ferne, who nodded her head, motioning for her to get off her horse.

“You all right?” Ferne asked once she was on the ground. Ferne’s hands were all over her for a moment before she stepped back and nodded in satisfaction. “You did well. Good shot there, Audrey.”

“I…I can’t believe I did that,” she said and shook her head. The shock was finally wearing off. They had moved so quickly to stop the rustlers that there hadn’t been time to process the danger. “He had a knife!”

Her friend shrugged. “And you had a gun. One should always know what sort of fight they are getting themselves into.”

Overhearing them, Hardy came forward with a wide grin. He had a split lip but didn’t seem to notice. “Those rustlers never knew what hit them. But I do. Three cheers for Audrey, our fearless leader!”

“What? Oh, you don’t have to—”

But she was ignored as the men cheered loudly. Heat climbed up her cheeks while everyone rejoiced. By the time they had shouted her name the third time, she was laughing. 

“And here I thought it was a ranch effort,” Audrey teased everyone, warming up. “Thank you, everyone, for your support! Let’s get these men to the sheriff,” she said with a motion to the seven rustlers who had been stopped, “and I’ll see about having Bi Lu prepare us something special in the morning.”

More cheers abounded. Since she only worked for the immediate family, Bi Lu had to be hard convinced to help feed the entire ranch, but this was certainly a worthy time. All the men knew what a treat it would be to have any of her cooking.

It didn’t take long for everything to move into motion again. Five of her ranch hands volunteered to take the rustlers, tied together on their horses, into town. The others went to move the cows to another field and mend the old fence as well. While this meant more work on top of their usual schedule, all the men knew they would be well rewarded for such efforts.

“I’d best go tell my father,” Audrey noted as she grasped Bluebell’s bridle. Then she frowned and looked at Ferne, who still hovered close by. “I’m fine, I promise. It was just a moment of shock.”

Tilting her head, Ferne nodded. “Yes, but I still want to take you back to the house to be sure. Can’t have any other surprise head injuries, after all.”

The very thought made Audrey wrinkle her nose. 

“Fine. But this doesn’t get you out of talking to Paddy later,” she proclaimed as she stepped into the saddle. A grin spread across her face as Ferne rolled her eyes. “I saw enough, you know.”

“Saw what?” her friend asked vaguely once she was on her horse.

The two of them started moving along toward the house. Audrey looked at the lights before turning to Ferne. She left her mouth hanging open, however, when she saw her friend glance away in the direction of Paddy, who was already at work on the fence.

Then Ferne looked at Audrey and started when she realized she was being watched. “Hey!’

Giggling, Audrey nudged her horse a little closer. “You can’t distract me now. No rustlers and no head injuries. But a very handsome young man who clearly wishes to court you.”

“How did you know?” Ferne’s mouth dropped open.

Audrey straightened up with a smug smile. “You just told me.”

“Oh, blast!”

Another laugh rippled through Audrey. It was a warm night, and all was well again. She was more confident in her men now than ever. The ranch was strong, safe, and capable. And she was, too.

“Come now,” Audrey begged her friend. “You must tell me. He adores you. That much is clear. Will you court him? At least give him the chance.”

“Well, he is rather handsome,” Ferne admitted. But then she shrugged. “I don’t know. I don’t think I’m good at this sort of thing.”

“You don’t know because you haven’t tried it yet. You’re good at everything else you set your mind to, Ferne. And he is a good man. A handsome one. Just think, this could be your chance.”

Her friend echoed the words thoughtfully. “My chance?”

Audrey nodded. “You deserve a family, Ferne. Your own family. I am more than happy to be a part of it, and you have my parents as well. But you deserve more than that. I know how much you want something more, and you should get whatever you want.”

Looking over at her, Ferne squinted. “When did you become so wise?”

“Since I met a clever friend,” Audrey said nonchalantly.

That just made Ferne roll her eyes. “I didn’t teach you about men. I know that much. I hardly know what to do. Mostly laugh, I suppose. He knows how to make me laugh.”

“He probably knows more than just that. But it is definitely a step in the right direction,” Audrey added. “Go on. Talk to him, Ferne.”

“But I was taking you to the house.”

Audrey huffed. “I know where my house is. And I told you I’m fine. See? It’s straight ahead. Just go, Ferne. Then you can come check on me afterward and tell me all about it,” she added brightly.

“We’ll see about that,” Ferne huffed.

Still, it did the trick. Audrey threw her a stern look. Once Ferne rolled her eyes, she let out a sigh and turned her horse away. She might have looked annoyed, but it was clear that she didn’t feel that way. The act was shed as Ferne spurred her horse to go back to Paddy quickly.

This left Audrey on her own to ride back to the house and report everything that had happened. Well, some of what happened.

Riding Bluebell at a walk, Audrey slipped a free hand to the chain around her neck. It was hidden by her blouse, but she could still feel the warm metal giving her comfort. And hanging at the end of it was a small silver ring.

She smiled again. No, she wouldn’t tell her father everything just yet. Everything had its time and place.

But if the last week meant anything, she was doing well. The ranch hands respected her and followed through with their plans. Being prepared for rustlers was important, and they had proven themselves this evening. Now Ferne was finding someone special in her life, and Audrey would soon be making a promise to the man of her dreams.

    She was doing more than well, she decided. And the future was brighter than ever before. Audrey nudged her horse to go forward, eager for all the good things to come their way.

THE END


Readers who read this book also liked

23 thoughts on “Trapped in a Perilous Deception – Extended Epilogue”

  1. I loved this book and just finished reading it at 4:30 in the morning When i can’t sleep I read to get tired enough to go back to sleep. But I had to finish it before I went back to sleep I enjoyed it that much I like all your books keep up the good work.

  2. I enjoyed this book as well as the others I have read. It was hard to put down. Kept me trying to help the girls. I love that they were friends to the end.

  3. Shouldn’t of started reading it late in the day, couldn’t put it down until I finished it halfway through the night.

  4. Loved this book so many westerns are all about men—I just couldn’t put it down—I’m a women that likes to do for herself—a good read

  5. Really a great read! Even though it was written by a man it was a wonderful story. Keep the readers happy by writing more stories.

  6. Derek you are my favorite writer and story teller. You cannot put the book down until you read the next page.

    A great story how women help tame the west as well as men.
    Keep up the great stories and i will be looking toward the next book.

      1. I see I am one of many fans of Derek Levine. A spellbinding author of Western novels. This one was what I have come to expect on every Derek Levine book. Well planned, constructed, and with many memorable moments. I am glad I read it.

  7. What a thrilling story. Like someone said in an earlier reply, it was good to read a story that wasn’t all about men. Taking things from a woman’s perspective was a nice change of pace. Totaly enjoyed reading this book.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *