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The American Conquest: Christian Western Historical (Window to the Heart Saga Book 3)

By Jenna Brandt

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Window to the Heart Saga:
The American Conquest

Jenna Brandt




Chapter 1

1865 Port of New York, America


Margaret Learingam held on to the ship’s rail with one hand and her toddler son with the other. As her family approached the New England shoreline, fear filled the pit of her stomach. Forced to flee to America, Margaret had no experience outside of Europe, where she had grown up in England and spent a year in France. She left everything behind, including her last name and titles, to keep her son from being taken away. And now, in just a few moments, she would be stepping foot into a new world that held the potential to offer her and her family a way to stay alive and together. It meant leaving behind her title, and the privileges that went with it, but she would do anything to protect her son.
Still haunted by the painful memories of losing the two men she loved, Margaret could not help but feel guilt over their deaths. Her late husband and fiancé were both killed by the invidious hand of the Duke of Witherton.
Her heart was broken when her husband, Henry, the Viscount of Rolantry, was killed in a duel over her “ruined” honor. She had wanted to die with him, but when she realized she was pregnant, she knew she had to force herself to live for her child’s sake. Fearful either the duke or her vengeful sister-in-law would take her son from her, Margaret fled from England to hide in France while she searched for her long-lost twin brother, Randall, whom she eventually found.
She thought she would never be happy after the tremendous loss of her husband, but she eventually found a way to live with the pain. When she met Michel, the Marquis de Badour, he showed her she could love again. But Witherton was not content to destroy her life only once; he had to do it again by killing Michel. In a cruel twist of fate, both men she loved were killed by the monster who had destroyed her life. After the second loss, Margaret shut her heart to the idea of finding love again, knowing the pain would be too crushing to warrant a third attempt. She had her son and brother, and they were the only two men she would need in her life.
The duke was still under the misguided assumption that her son, Henry, was his child, and he was determined to take him for himself. Knowing he would not stop until he got what he wanted, Margaret chose to leave behind her life in Europe and flee to America.
The trip across the Atlantic Ocean had been long and grueling, as they had encountered several storms in the process, lengthening their journey and causing sickness to run rampant on board. In addition, due to Margaret’s appearance, she had been receiving constant unsolicited attention from the single men on the ship, which made her uncomfortable. Her dark violet eyes and long raven locks contrasted against her smooth white skin, and her petite frame had adjusted admirably into shapely proportions after childbirth. But she knew her attractiveness was not going to be able to save her when they reached the new land. In fact, she had the type of appearance that could get her into trouble.
Fortunately, she had a brother who gave up his life in France to keep her safe. Randall was her twin and, in some ways, the most important person in her life. Margaret had gone to France to search for him after he had been lost at sea eight years prior. The twins’ physical features were similar in almost every way, but it was where their identicalness ended. Randall was outspoken and a reformed philander, while Margaret was more reserved.
Accompanying them was Jacquelyn, or Jackie, as her family called her. She would argue that she alone could claim to be Margaret’s closest confidant. She was also Randall’s newlywed wife. Jackie was a fiery strawberry blonde with golden-green eyes, whose second nature was to use her voluptuous body and personality to her benefit. Margaret still marveled at how their relationship was the catalyst for both of them to change their noncommittal ways. They made a fierce partnership.
Two loyal servants, Margaret’s elderly butler, Albert, and personal servant, Sarah, chose to come with them. They were like family and had no ties to keep them in Europe. Together, all of them were going to forge a new life in the Colorado Territory with the land Margaret’s deceased father secretly left her.
Many people had done it before them, had left their homes and lives behind to escape the law, poverty, or oppression. But she was fleeing to the new frontier in hopes of finding a place she could hide and never be found. Once and for all, she was going to leave behind all the hurt, humiliation, and horrible things that had happened to her in Europe.
During their oceanic journey, something amazing happened to Margaret’s family. They met a preacher and his wife who were moving to America and wanted to start a church out west. And since the boat was mostly filled with young, unwed men moving to America to make quick and easy money, Pastor Nathan Thompson and his wife, Laura, decided it would be best to eat and socialize with Margaret and her family. Through their talks with them, Randall and Jackie came to know God, something Margaret had been praying for since she met Jackie and found Randall.
Margaret had accepted the Lord as her savior a couple years prior and wanted nothing more than to have the rest of her family feel the love, peace, and acceptance God offered. As Margaret watched the transformation in Randall and Jackie, it was incredible to see the changes in their lives. They hungered to read the Bible, to ask Pastor Thompson questions about God, and to embrace everything entailing being a Christian. Margaret was pleased and excited as she realized that their entire family was truly starting a new life as they approached the New World. As an added bonus, Randall and Jackie's thirst to learn more about God kindled Margaret's faith in a new way, giving her a desire to become close to God like never before.
Margaret smiled as she looked out at the approaching shoreline. This was going to be the start of their adventure to find their new home.
“Look at those docks. It is disgusting how they keep them. I cannot believe I followed you here.”
Margaret rolled her eyes as she listened to her brother go on about how primitive the New World seemed to be. Personally, she found it fascinating. It was going to be so different than Europe. She had heard no one really paid attention to a person’s class or their station in life here. It was as if everyone was equal. It was disturbing while intriguing.
“Oh, Rand, sometimes you are such a baby. You should be excited, like I am, about all the possibilities that this new place holds for us. Do you realize that here there are no titles or nobility? We are just like everyone else.”
“You forget I only came into my title a few months ago. I barely got to use mine before I gave it up.”
As they made their way down the gangplank, Jackie said, “Margaret is right, Randy. This place has charm.” Jackie sniffed in distaste as a cart carrying dead fish was pulled by them. “Even if it is masked by repugnant, disagreeable bits and pieces.”
“Well, Mags, what do we do from here?”
“Yes, Maggie”—Jackie had picked up Randall’s habit of calling her by the nickname—“what is on the agenda?” she said in her noticeably thick French accent.
Margaret opened her parasol and placed it on her shoulder, saying, “We are going to get the supplies and men we need in order to join the wagons going west to the Colorado Territory.”
“All right, but how are we going to afford that? Have you forgotten that we have no money?”
“I have a little bit left from what I saved up in France, and I have this.” She pulled out the key that she had placed around her neck and hidden under her dress.
“Fetching necklace, my lovely sister, but what will that get us?”
She smiled slyly. “A few men who are willing to take the risk to see what is in our safety deposit box in Boulder.”
“You have a safety deposit box there? How?”
“Father left it to me along with the deed to our land and new home.”
“Well, what is in it?”
She shrugged. “I have no idea, but no one else knows that.”
“We are going to promise American profiteers, who are just looking for an excuse to shoot up anything or anyone, money that we do not even know we have? I think the heat has gotten to you, because that is completely insane.”
She tensed her lips. “No, it is completely brilliant. If nothing else, we can sell some of my dresses and jewelry in order to pay them.”
He frowned. “You do not have any left. You sold the majority of your possessions to pay for our passage over here, as did we all.”
“I still have Charlie.” She thought of her expensive and precious mare that she had raised since she was a colt. The thought of selling Charlotte’s Pride made her inwardly cringe, since she had staked her plans for a horse ranch in Boulder on the mare. “She could fetch a nice sum, I think.”
She glanced down at her left hand and looked at the engagement ring her fiancé, Michel, had given her, then over at her other hand where she wore her wedding ring from Henry. “And I have my rings. They should help enough to get us to Colorado.”
Randall shook his head. “No, I will not let it come to that. You will never have to part with your rings or your horse. It is all you have left. Not over my dead body.”
“Then we have to go with my idea.” She looked up from staring at her hands. “Besides, admit it. What really bothers you is that I came up with the plan, not you. You have always been the one to get us out of a tough spot, and it hurts your pride that I am going to do it this time.”
“No, that is not it. I only—”
Tucking a piece of her curly strawberry blonde hair behind her ear, Jackie interrupted their argument. “All right siblings, quit squabbling. I think we need to move on now.” She turned to Randall and said, “Unless you have a better idea, I suggest you be quiet. Now, let us go find a way to barter for our supplies.”
As they made their way down the docks, Randall decided the best place to recruit men for their expedition would be at the nearest tavern.
“We are only going to have one shot at this, so let me do the talking. They will receive everything better from a man, and they will probably feel more comfortable striking a deal with me.”
Margaret bit back her sharp reply that she was as good as any man and it was her money that he would be bargaining with, opting to say nothing instead. Even though she hated to admit it, it was true that Yankee men would receive the offer better from him. In the end, it might be the deciding factor.
“As you wish, Rand. But please, do not do anything that will compromise our position.”
He winked at her. “I would not dream of it.”
Margaret said a silent prayer. Lord, please help my brother not to wreck our chances at gaining the help we need to reach the Colorado Territory. He has a way of making things more difficult than they need to be, so please help him to handle this situation in a productive manner.
***
She could not believe things had come to this. She was standing in a Yankee tavern surrounded by harlots and scoundrels, and her own brother had deserted her in order to gamble away the last of their money.
She winced as she saw Randall lose another hand. No wonder her brother had owed so much money to so many hooligans back in France. He was a horrible poker player. Margaret, who was a woman and had played the game only a handful of times in her youth, could have had a better chance at winning than her brother.
She sighed heavily. What were they going to do? If he lost all their money, which it seemed he was bound and determine to do, then they were going to be worse off than they already were. It was time for her to intervene.
Margaret walked over from where she quietly had been watching to stand behind her brother. She put her hand on his shoulder and whispered firmly, “Rand, I think we should address the issue as to why we came in here.”
He leaned his head back and glanced at his sister. He then returned his attention back to his hand. “Maggie, dear, I think that our luck is about to change.”
She glanced at his cards and frowned in puzzlement. It had been such a long time since she had played cards. She had been seven and the stable boy had been teaching her how to play five-card draw. At least, until her tutor found out and put an end to it, saying it was “improper” for a well-bred young lady to play games of chance.
She struggled to remember what beat what. She knew that four of anything was good, as well as sequenced numbers, especially if they were all the same color, but all her brother had was two pairs, both not being high numbers. She was quite sure that her brother did not possess a winning hand. She had to help him.
Margaret stared at her brother’s cards and raised her eyebrows as if she were pleased with what she saw. Then she asked with an innocent voice, “Rand, are two kings and three queens good?”
There were murmurs around the table followed by several curses and shouts of anger. Then Margaret watched as four piles of cards were dropped to the table. They had all folded.
Randall smirked as he raked in the money that his sister had just helped him win. He stood up and grinned at the other men at the table. “I think we will take our leave from you.”
Randall, holding the newly acquired bag of American gold coins in his hand, turned around and started to walk away, but a hand grabbed his arm before they could make their escape.
“Not with my money, you’re not. You suckered us, boy, and that little gal of yours helped. I’m thinkin’ I’m goin’ to take my money back and then take out my anger on the both of ya.”
Margaret watched as Randall tensed for a fight. She had not expected these rough Americans to take defeat so poorly. Poker could have only one winner, and tonight was not their night.
But now, it seemed her brother had won at the most inopportune time with a group that did not seem to take to outsiders, especially ones that beat them “at their own game” and took their money.
“I am sorry that you lost, but I need this money just as much as you do, if not more. Now, I will be leaving with both my money and the lady.” Gradually, he pulled his arm free from the other man’s grasp and pulled at the bottom of his jacket. “If you will excuse us, we must be on our way.”
He turned and held out his arm for Margaret, but before she knew what was happening, she felt her brother fall away. She looked to the side and saw her brother grabbing his head. Someone must have hit him.
Randall quickly regained his balance and turned around, holding up his arms in defense. Margaret knew her brother was not about to go down without a fight. He would not want to be known for being taken down by a bunch of crazy Yanks.
He swung quick and hard, and the crack of his fist connecting with the other man’s jaw resounded throughout the overcrowded tavern. The man staggered back but quickly recovered, showing he most probably had been in drunken poker fights before.
Just as the loudmouthed Yank pulled back to take another swing, a voice interrupted the fight. “Bobby Budley, quit fightin’ with the new fella. He won that money fair an’ square an’ ya know it. Let ’em be.”
Bobby shuffled his feet, spit on the ground between them, and glared at Randall several seconds before stepping back. “Yer lucky that Johnny took a liken to ya, ’cause if he hadn’t….” He let the thought finish itself. Everyone knew what he meant.
Randall wiped his brow with relief and turned around to face the man who had most probably saved their lives.
A burly man with shaggy brown hair and brown eyes, who looked like he had seen better times, greeted him. He smiled, showing a mouth with several teeth missing and an ugly gash that jaunted across his cheek.
“Name’s Johnny Goodrich, an’ I heard that yer looking fer a guide to the Colorado terr’tory. Seems lot o’ people been wantin’ to go there to get in on the s’posed ‘Silver Rush.’ Ya foreigners goin’ fer that?”
“Yes, we need to go to Boulder, but not for the…,” Randall answered, pausing awkwardly at the unknown phrase, “‘Silver Rush.’ We have some land there. Are you interested in taking the position as our head scout?”
The old Yank scratched his straggly beard and said, “’Pends.”
“On what?”
“On how much ya payin’.”
“Enough to make you exceedingly happy.”
“How much might’n that be?”
“If you can get me a half dozen men, two wagons, oxen to pull the wagons, two additional horses and supplies, I will give you the winnings I just won.”
The other man snorted and kicked the dust on the ground.
“That ain’t enough to cover what me an’ the boys cost, let alone supplies too.”
“That, my fine fellow, is only a down payment. You will receive the rest when we all reach Boulder safely. And I can purchase the supplies, I suppose. Those winnings will be the down payment for ‘you and the boys.’ How does that sound?”
When Johnny frowned, Margaret started to worry until a smile crept across his face. “Now that sounds like a deal, partner. Be ready to move out in three days’ time.” He started to walk away, then turned back around. “Oh, an’ be prepared for a heckuva trip. I hear the Cheyenne are on the warpath and are killin’ up and down the Oregon Trail. It’s gonna be a doozy of a time.”
Margaret cautiously looked Johnny up and down, noting he did not look like one of the American cowboys she had heard about, but rather just the opposite. His round belly was an indication that he was extremely out of shape, which made her wonder how he had any chance of protecting them from highwaymen, much less Indians. But then, they did not have much choice in who to hire. They would have to take what they could get. She began to pray immediately. God, please place a hedge of protection around us. We need you to keep us shielded during the long journey ahead. Only you can guard and keep us safe.
Looking at her brother, Margaret saw her own worry reflected back in his matching violet eyes. Their faith in God would surely be tested in the months to come.

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