Trapped in a Perilous Deception (Preview)

Chapter One

Upon reaching the brightly lit barn, Audrey Madden paused to look behind her.

A smile spread across her lips at the sight of the Nevada sunset painting vibrant colors across her family’s ranch. The fading light added a touch of magic, especially with the cheerful music coming from the barn before her.

Feeling a thrill race through her bones, she couldn’t help but consider how blessed she was in this moment.

“Practically perfect,” she murmured to herself.

She spoke aloud like this on a regular basis, a habit that her stepmother found worrying but her father found amusing. Either way, Audrey couldn’t help herself. She always had so many thoughts in her head. They had to go somewhere. It was exciting to think up new ideas, new games, new dresses, and more.

Life really was quite perfect.

One only needed to look at the Green Hills Ranch that her grandfather had started when he was around her own age of twenty-one.

With his guidance, her father, Matthew Madden, had become quite an excellent rancher. The growth had been slow but steady over the years. Even when her grandfather passed, they didn’t falter. Audrey had cheerfully watched her father learn through his mistakes and find ways to improve their business.

The land was thriving. Their cattle were growing. They’d nearly doubled how many ranch hands they hired in just two years.

Pride blossomed in her chest at how far they had come. It had been a long wait, but finally, everything was going well. She had on a new dress, had spent over an hour on her hair, and had even borrowed her late mother’s pearl necklace. Everything was wonderful. And now, they could celebrate.

“There she is!”

Audrey turned back to the music and the lights and the people, easily spotting her father headed over to her. He was one of the tallest men around Heavensbrook, Nevada. He had thick blonde hair with a fine handlebar mustache sitting right above a wide toothy smile. Reaching out, he pulled her into the barn.

“Now the party can truly begin,” he boomed with a laugh.

Folks nearby cheered, laughing and nodding her way. Although a blush spread across her cheeks, Audrey accepted the attention with a wide smile. She gave her father’s hand a squeeze before letting go.

He hopped onto a hay bale used as one of many seats and waved his arms for attention. The music quieted as everyone turned. “Welcome, everyone!” Matthew cried out. “Thank you for joining us on this joyous occasion. When our ranch fares well, so does the town. Tonight’s dance is meant for us all to enjoy some food, some drink, and a good time. Please, help yourselves. Have a grand evening! Band, play on!”

Audrey’s eyes lit up at the energy around the room as several couples began to dance. Her heart pounded in delight as she watched her friends and neighbors gather for this merry celebration.

A good party was one of the best things she could enjoy in this world. She attended every one she could. Since her father had been so focused on working hard, they had not been able to host a good party of their own since she was young, and her mother was still alive.

Yes, others hosted their own parties. But Audrey had wanted one here. At her home.

And they finally had it.

She inhaled deeply, deciding to have a quick exploration of the barn to ensure everything was going according to plan. Knowing everyone there slowed her down, but she made certain to pause and speak with familiar faces as she made her circle around the large barn.

Her eyes landed on her father once more. He towered over the crowd, but his second wife, Audrey’s stepmother, Sigrid, did not. She was short, with thick red hair pinned back in a knot. Although rather plain with a ruddy expression, she made up for it in determination and heart.

The woman had come to America as a child with her parents, who had unfortunately passed on their wagon journey. After being taken in by an elderly couple who had survived, she married at just sixteen to a man twice her age. He gave her a child just before disappearing off to the mines. Five years had passed when she gave him up for dead.

It had been over ten years ago when Audrey first met her new mother two years after her own mother’s passing, a horrible accident when Audrey was barely eight years of age. Matthew had come home from a journey. Along with bringing her a new pony, he had introduced Audrey to her new stepmother and stepsister.

“You did a wonderful job,” Matthew was saying to Sigrid. “It was worth the wait indeed.”

“I only wish to do you proud. The mayor is here, you know. He’s close friends with the governor, and I wanted to make sure it was up to his standards. Have you tried the beef? I might have cooked it too long.”

Audrey watched her father laugh before tugging his wife toward the dance floor. “You have never cooked badly in your life. Stop worrying and have some fun. Let’s dance!”

Happiness grew within Audrey as she watched them go, thrilled to see the joy on their faces. They all deserved it after the pain and hardship they had endured throughout their lives.

Sigrid and Lenora especially. While Audrey had always had some sort of access to the finer things in life, used to always wearing the latest fashions, her stepmother Sigrid and stepsister Lenora had struggled for many years before joining them on the ranch and were still unused to this easier life of theirs.

“There she is, the belle of the ball,” sang a familiar voice with a strong Texan twang.

With a grin on her face, she turned to see the son of her father’s foreman, Hardy Price, with his arms crossed. “Where else would I be?” she asked him.

He chuckled. “In the center of the fun, of course. Have you danced with anyone yet? You will be saving me a dance, won’t you?”

“Only the shortest one of the night,” she retorted playfully.

That garnered a pout, but there was no chance for him to respond as four more people came around to talk. It was Edgar and Lila Richards, twins who lived on the homestead to the east with their large family. Then there was Perry O’Malley—he owned the general store in town and was her father’s age but unwed and was considered like an older brother to most. And lastly came the most handsome catch in town, James Michaels, the owner of the local hotel.

“You must be very busy,” Audrey said. She held a glass of punch as she admired the tall, attractive man. “I didn’t see you in church on Sunday.”

His eyes twinkled. “Not too busy to enjoy an evening with you.”

Heat flooded her cheeks. Already she had been caught admiring his strong physique beneath his finely tailored suit when she first joined their group moments ago. But she couldn’t help herself. Having been cursed with her father’s height, there were few men she might look up to. James was just tall enough––more than handsome enough––and he couldn’t seem to take his eyes off her either.

Although he had always been close, James had never been within reach. She had hardly dared to hope he might see her in the same way. Tonight, however, was making her wonder. It seemed he was looking at her more than anyone.

Other men flattered her, and she liked their attention. Except there was something about him that she couldn’t help admiring.

“You wouldn’t mind if I stole you away, would you?” he asked, leaning forward so no one else might hear.

She jerked in surprise at his words, catching his gaze. The idea was much too daring. What sort of man asked for something like that? “I beg your pardon?”

A slow grin made its way up to his face. “A dance, my dear.”

“Oh!” Laughing, Audrey nodded. She allowed him to take her glass so that the two of them might take each other’s hands. His was warm and firm, leading her to the dance floor.

They paused breathlessly before each other, grinning like fools, just as the music started. James closed the distance to wrap his arms around her so they might twirl around in the polka. Thrilled, Audrey laughed out of pure joy. This night was getting better and better.

When the dance ended, James fixed his grip on her before she could step away. She tilted her head at him and merely asked, “James?”

He offered an awkward grin that made him look ten. “I was wondering if you might honor me with another dance. Just one more?”

“People might talk,” she noted, trying to ignore the heat climbing up her cheeks.

“Maybe they should,” he suggested with a look in his eyes that made her heart skip a beat. “I must admit to a lie, Miss Madden.”

She raised an eyebrow. “It’s Audrey. When did you lie?”

“You noted earlier that I hadn’t been to church on Sunday, and I agreed. But that wasn’t right. However, I could not confess to attending because I couldn’t recall a single word said during the entire sermon. I only had eyes for you.” He went on even as she blushed, “I admire you, more than I can say.”

“Those are strong words for a man who has hardly given me the time of day,” she told him sternly. But she wavered when he gave her a look of his own. A look that impressed upon her that nothing else in the world mattered but the two of them.

He slipped a hand away to put it over his heart as the strains of the next song, a slow one, began. “You wound me.”

“Then let me mend it with a dance,” she said softly. Bringing her gaze back up to his eyes, Audrey gathered her courage to confess, “I believe, after all, that I…I feel the same for you.”

Together, they moved in accordance with the tune. Audrey couldn’t help but feel overjoyed as she smiled at him. His stature was strong, and he held her close, leading beautifully. It felt like they had always been meant to dance with one another. He closed his eyes for a long moment and then opened them, looking down to admire her.

They ignored the rest of the people nearby as they danced. Nothing could ruin this moment, Audrey told herself.

And yet she felt an itch between her shoulder blades that soon she could not ignore. When James glanced away, noting when the song was coming to an end, Audrey grudgingly looked over her shoulder to pinpoint where this sensation stemmed from.

“Is everything well?”

Audrey turned back, finding James leading her off the dance floor. “Yes, certainly. How can I complain with such a fine dance partner?”

“I learned just for you,” he teased her.

Giggling, she shook her head. She noted the way his arm draped perfectly over her shoulders and wished he wouldn’t let go. They went around to the table of drinks and food to refresh themselves. Several people nodded at them, and she did the same until she spotted Lenora.

The younger girl had been hiding all day, it seemed. While James had met Audrey’s parents a few times prior, she wanted to make sure that he also knew her sister. Her dreams were moving faster than a herd of horses at the thought of a future with James. Courtship, family suppers, and marriage. She liked the sound of it all.

“Sister!” Audrey tugged James along. She introduced the two of them before asking her stepsister, “I looked for you earlier. Have you been enjoying yourself?”

“It’s just a party,” Lenora mumbled. She was the very picture of her mother with a short, curvy stature and frizzy red hair that she rarely attempted to tame. Although she wore a new dress as well, she had picked something rather simple. It wasn’t the best shade of yellow, but she hadn’t wanted to listen to Audrey. And, of course, her usual pout was on her lips.

Audrey knew the younger woman, three years younger at eighteen, could be quite shy. Unfortunately, it came off as rudeness most of the time.

“Have you danced yet?” Audrey tried again, looking for a way to include her stepsister in the conversation. She wanted everyone to be having as much fun as she was.

“I don’t want to.”

James glanced between the two of them and scratched the back of his neck awkwardly. She tried yet again, but nothing worked. Soon, it had been over five minutes of lopsided conversation with nothing to show for it. Audrey wished she knew how to make her sister talk more.

When she mouthed a silent apology the moment Lenora looked away, he offered a sheepish wink and shrugged. “Perhaps I should give the two of you some time to talk. I’ll find something to amuse myself. Maybe even speak to your father, shall I?”

Hope fluttered in her heart. That sounded like he might intend to ask Matthew for permission to court her. “I send you with my luck.”

And then it was just her with Lenora.

Turning back to her stepsister, Audrey tilted her head. The younger girl frowned. “What?”

While they had never been close, she wished her stepsister would see how much she cared about their family. Most of the time, Lenora was off riding among the cattle or even spending her time with friends in town that their parents didn’t approve of.

“I know you were disappointed your friends could not come this evening, but I don’t think that they would have been respectable enough,” Audrey said delicately. “Still, it doesn’t mean you can’t have a grand time this evening. You should be dancing.”

“I didn’t want to be here. I don’t know how to dance.”

Audrey shook her head. “Of course you do. We’ve had lessons for years. I know you’re shy, but you must try harder. Be bolder. Dance with others. You scare people away.”

“What?”

“I don’t mean it like that. I only mean that…well, I’m sure you would have admirers and more friends if you tried harder. You could smile and dance. I could help you find other dresses and things to say,” Audrey offered.

Shaking her head, Lenora huffed. “I don’t want that. Any of that!” Her eyes darted about and narrowed on Audrey. “And I don’t want to be like you either.”

Audrey’s eyes widened in surprise. The words were blunt and came with no bandage or comfort. She felt her tongue thicken, no response in mind.

Hurt, she made a quick apology and scampered off to spend the rest of the evening with her friends. She didn’t know what to say to her stepsister, but she could sort it out later. In the meantime, she enjoyed the rest of the party with more dancing, food, and fun.

The evening came to a close much too soon.

“Come on,” Matthew groused with a dry chuckle when Audrey finished spinning around the empty dance floor. “You’ve done plenty helping make tonight a success. Let’s make our way to bed, shall we?”

“Must we?” she pouted.

Sigrid had an arm around her daughter and waved, taking Audrey’s hand. “Come along, my sweet. You can dance more in the morning if you can bear it.”

“I hope so,” she proclaimed, only making her parents laugh. “Tonight was absolutely wonderful. We deserved such a celebration for this ranch. Sigrid, the party was perfect. And Papa, the ranch is doing so well.”

He kissed her head as they all stepped out into the night. Lanterns guided the four of them back toward the house. Snuggled comfortably between the arms of her father and stepmother with their arms around her as they walked, Audrey sighed.

“The ranch is indeed doing very well,” Matthew remarked. “We will continue to thrive and to grow. I’ve begun making investments for the future. And I’m also working on a will,” he noted casually. “One that will make you, my dear, the heir to my ranch.”

Audrey jerked her head up in amazement. “Oh! Truly?

He winked. “How could I not? With a future this bright, I want you to be prepared. I know how much you love this ranch.”

“I do,” she assured him. “Oh, thank you! You won’t regret it, Papa.”

Though Audrey had already been overjoyed at the cheerful party and her flirting with James, her father’s announcement completed her strong belief that her life was now perfect.

Nothing could possibly go wrong.

 

Chapter Two

Humming, Audrey moved around her room.

It was late, very late. The party had ended over an hour ago. She’d stepped inside the large ranch house with her parents and enjoyed a toast to celebrate their success. She didn’t drink spirits often, but the occasion had called for it. Though she and her parents had struggled to convince Lenora to have a drink, the younger girl had refused.

“I don’t like drinking,” she had finally snapped, muttering something under her breath.

Sigrid had frowned, but it was Matthew who had spoken up. “Now, Lenora. We are just trying to enjoy this as a family. You are one of us. We’ve tried to make this clear through the years. Surely, you understand?”

“You really are my sister,” Audrey had reassured her.

But the younger woman just shook her head. “I’m going to bed.”

Her heavy footsteps sounded down the hall, echoing in the quiet. She kept her head bowed until she turned up the stairs and disappeared on the next landing. The only one with a bedroom on that level, she seemed to prefer the quiet and being alone.

Something Audrey feared she could not quite understand.

Finishing off her drink, she set down the glass and offered her parents a smile. “Perhaps I should try talking to her? I really thought she might have fun at the party since she usually refuses to attend. Should I talk to her?”

“Oh, I don’t know….” Her father scratched his head and glanced at Sigrid. “Dear?”

The woman glanced up at the stairs, then turned toward Audrey. “That is a nice thought, my sweet, but I’m not sure that would be wise. Lenora values her time alone these days.”

They talked a short while longer, but when Audrey tested them by asking for another drink, her parents laughed and told her to go to bed. They followed their own instructions, going off together toward their own room. Though she started toward hers in the other direction, she paused and hurried up the stairs she rarely climbed to go see her stepsister.

Maybe she could find the right words to tell Lenora that she should be happy and grateful for her life. They had been greatly blessed, after all. Being sour at such festivities would never endear her to the town.

She made it up the stairs and knocked on the door, hearing footsteps patter over.

“What are you doing here?” Lenora stared at her with wide eyes.

The surprise was warranted, Audrey knew. She never went up the stairs. It was silly, but she couldn’t help herself. Her mother had taken a terrible fall. Although it hadn’t killed her, the fall had ended up killing the babe growing within her. They hadn’t known this at the time, and it was ultimately that cause that had made her mother ill. The painful memories were hard to quash when she could still see the shadow of her mother when she turned the corner or looked over her shoulder in the house. Although she adored Sigrid, it was hard to forget one’s mother.

And for this reason, Audrey typically left the stairs alone.

She smiled at her younger stepsister. “Hello! I wanted to speak to you about tonight. I truly never meant to offend you, you know. It’s not that you must enjoy these parties. But we may have them more through the years, and I want you to be able to enjoy yourself. Don’t you want that as well?”

Glancing down the hall, Lenora pursed her lips. She had already changed into her nightgown. It was thick and rather outdated, but Audrey would never tell her that. “Don’t be ridiculous. I don’t care about parties, I never have, and you should know that by now. You should get to bed, Audrey.”

“But I know you care. You must. What can I do to make it easier, more enjoyable? Maybe refresh your dancing lessons. Oh! I can teach you how to flirt. There are many fine eligible gentlemen, you know. You may not have James, but surely there is another man that has caught your eye?”

Lenora’s mouth dropped open. Then she closed it and shook her head. “I am not talking about this with you!”

When she started to close the door, Audrey pouted. “But, Lenora!”

“Go to bed. It’s late,” Lenora huffed before finally closing it.

And so, she had done just that.

She went off to her room to retire, though it was difficult after such an exciting evening. She hummed the songs she and James had danced to so she might lift her spirits from her stepsister’s hard attitude.

They didn’t always get along, but Audrey still had high hopes for their future. Her father had often told her that it was her ability to hope for the best that had carried him through their hardships when she was younger. She always looked for a way to make things better for everyone around her. Although she wished to do the same for Lenora, the younger girl was making it rather difficult.

“She’ll listen eventually,” she told herself. “I’m sure of it. We’ll finally be good friends like Papa and Sigrid always promised. She’s just lonely, I think.”

Kicking her boots into the corner of her room, Audrey started on undressing. The fine hooped dress she wore was a soft pink color with gold trim, made to accent her coloring and figure.

There were several layers, but eventually, she got the best of it, leaving it all in a pile for later. She picked up her nightgown and paused at the looking glass to peer at her figure.

Tall, as expected. She towered over both Sigrid and Lenora, coming up to her father’s nose. And she knew her figure was striking. A sharp chin and fine cheekbones with a Grecian nose and plump lips. Her brown eyes were the same as her mother’s, just like the color of her hair. Carefully pulling out the pins, she loosened her hair so that the dark brown waves fell down to her waist.

She gave herself a wink before giggling, turning away to change into her nightgown at last. It was comfortable with a simple neckline and frilly bows she tied about her wrists. The ivory shade also complimented her skin; she had long since learned which shades to avoid and managed her wardrobe religiously.

For a few minutes, she hummed in the quiet and brushed through her hair before she put it in a loose braid to sleep in. Her heartbeat had calmed from the excitement of the evening at last.

“If only every night could be like tonight,” she mused.

Audrey blew out the candle on her nightstand before eagerly tumbling into her cozy bed. She smiled to herself as she hid beneath the blankets and settled down for a good sleep. Long, too, if she was lucky.

Closing her eyes, she murmured a soft prayer. Then she thought about all that she might do the next day. Already her father had assured her she would be able to sleep in.

Maybe after breakfast, she could go into town to have their laundry cleaned by the Henderson family as they did once a week. They couldn’t very well let her new dress stay dirty or too wrinkled. Then if she could find some sort of excuse to move west through Heavensbrook, she might stop by the hotel to see James.

Crack.

She peeked an eye open in the dark. Thinking she had heard something outside, she paused and listened.

Night winds. A wolf howling in the distance. Then another sound, but she easily wrote it off as tree branches moving in a strong gust.

Turning to face the wall, she exhaled. She truly was tired. The strong drink that her parents had allowed her to enjoy for the toast left a sweet taste on her tongue, and it was making her thoughts grow fuzzy with sleep.

But just as she thought she was finally drifting off to a blissful rest just hours shy of daybreak, Audrey was fairly certain she heard a nearby creaking sound.

She rubbed her eyes and sat up with a frown. This sound hadn’t come from outside, Audrey sensed, but inside. It made no sense because it was still dark, and she knew her family was still asleep.

Blinking in the dim lighting, she anxiously looked around her room and inhaled sharply when she saw a dark shape near her door.

The door was open.

And the shape moved.

“Oh!” Audrey cried out in surprise, jerking backward. She hit her skull on the headboard and winced. As cold fear struck her hard like she had been slapped, she opened her mouth to scream.

A gloved hand slapped across her mouth and chin, effectively silencing her.

Alarm rang loudly through Audrey’s body. This could not be her family. There was a strong smell of tobacco, something her father abhorred, and there was no reason for anyone to be up. The fear that forced her wide awake told her this was no friend.

“Be quiet,” the low voice of the intruder muttered.

She flinched at the unfamiliar voice. Hands clenching the blankets, she struggled to breathe through his grasp on her. When his grip––for this could only be a man from the wide stature––loosened for a moment, she quickly attempted her escape.

Tugging her face to the side, she swung her head around his hand and kicked off the blankets as she scurried to the other end of the bed. Her blankets did not help, however, and only made her clumsier. Just as she had one foot on the floor, a hand suddenly wrapped around her waist.

“Oh!” she grunted.

The hand was back over her mouth before she had a chance to open it.

“No, I––” Although Audrey tried to shout, scrambling in the large man’s grasp, she wasn’t half as strong as he was. All she managed to do in kicking and elbowing him was slide to the floor.

Panic enveloped her, freezing her muscles when she wound up on the floor, and he knelt over her.

Even though she opened her mouth to scream, her voice was muffled beneath his leather gloves. She tasted dirt and nearly gagged, giving up.

She reached out across the floor in the hopes of finding a weapon. Her breath was short, and she was running out of ideas. Fearful of the worst, she knew she had to find a way out of this at once. She had to at least scream and let her parents know what was happening. Surely, they would save her.

The man hovering over her had his face hidden. He swung a leg over her right one, keeping her where she was. There was a low cap over his head along with a dark handkerchief covering the rest of his face below his eyes. Every part of him seemed to be hidden away, so she could not learn who he was.

Although the darkness swallowed his eyes, she looked into the void and knew at once that she could not win.

Panic threatened to overwhelm her. She didn’t like to think about what it meant to lose to this man, this monster, whoever he might be.

He grunted, not saying anything, as he kept a hand over her mouth. The other one holding her hands let up with a jerk. Then he reached behind him on his belt for something, only scaring Audrey all the more.

Afraid this was her last chance, she swung her elbow up and whirled around to lie on her stomach. She gasped for air, frantically trying to escape the man.

But the only thing ahead of her was a corner.

Audrey thought her heart might give out. What was she to do? She didn’t know how to defend herself. There was no way for her to get out of there. She was trapped in her very own bedroom, the one place in the world meant to provide her with some sense of safety and refuge.

Wiggling free of the man, she panted and struggled to get on her hands and knees. She could hear the intruder grunt, shuffling around, right behind her. Too close, Audrey feared.

She tried to get herself to stand up but was still on her hands and knees when she felt a touch on her leg. She jumped and started to turn. However, the next thing Audrey knew, there was a sharp pain in the back of her head.

With that, the world went dark.


“Trapped in a Perilous Deception” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

Audrey Madden, the wealthy heiress of her father’s successful ranch, has life going her way. With the eyes of the most handsome man in the town on her, everything seems perfect, until the night a mysterious intruder knocks her unconscious. Audrey wakes up in the wilderness realizing she has been kidnapped and left for dead. Panicked and alone, she knows she must survive and find her way back home.

Will she manage to stay alive to learn the truth of what happened to her, and at what cost?

After a long sleepless night, Audrey comes across a man chasing a woman thief named Ferne, who soon becomes her loyal ally in the wild. After Ferne saves Audrey’s life, their unexpected quest in the endless desert awakens their need for redemption. Ferne swears to help Audrey find what really happened to her that night, and Audrey comes one step closer to her revenge.

A vicious deceit behind her back…

As they both traverse the perilous paths of the wilderness, danger lurks in every corner. They say the wild west is no place for a woman, but maybe Audrey and Ferne will prove everyone wrong. As Audrey’s return to her beloved ones approaches, will she still be finally safe, or will something even more wicked be waiting for her back home? Will she find the strength to face reality and fight against a long-lasting menace?

“Trapped in a Perilous Deception” is a historical adventure novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cliffhangers, only pure unadulterated action.

Get your copy from Amazon!

One thought on “Trapped in a Perilous Deception (Preview)”

Leave a Reply

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