Falling for the Outlaw’s Eyes (Preview)

Chapter One

Her hand was poised over the plain sheet, with the ink waiting for her. But her heart thumped wildly and deterred her thinking process.

She bit the corner of her lip and readjusted in her chair.

She waited a second more till her excitement simmered down and then she just scrawled ink over paper, writing fast like both her wits and her words would be stolen from her any minute.

Her letter read:

Dearest Charles,

It pleases me so greatly to write back to you this time around. I have enjoyed our correspondence these past months, of course, but this letter you have sent is the best of all. You do not know what you have done for me…and for us, indeed, by this proposal. But you shall understand by and by as we become man and wife.

Therefore, by this note, I agree to be your wife, to leave this stifling, war-torn place called Atlanta, and to come to Whitehall to have a wedding. I cannot wait to leave this gossip-ridden, classist place           behind where I have become the topic at dinner tables just because I choose knowledge over early marriage. 

Anyway, I do not regret anything; Neither do I hold anything against them. I just want to start a new life where I can be free to be me. I will be three decades on this earth in the next 3 years, after all. I think I deserve to be rid of many nuisances that seek to be chains.

therefore, I will be yours wholeheartedly, Charles. I do not know the means by which my parents will send me to you, but to you I shall come.

Till then, keep me in mind always, as I do you.

Love,

Your soon-to-be wife.

With a satisfied smile, she read over what she had just written. And satisfied she was indeed. She gave herself a nod to that effect.

She was standing up from her reading chair when her mother knocked on the open door and walked in.

She stood a second, as though lost for words, at the side of the table and looked down at her daughter’s note. The daughter, in turn, looked at her without uttering a word.

Finally, the older woman looked at the younger. “Penelope Churchill”—Penelope hated being called that—“you will finally become somebody’s wife. It pleases your father and me more than you know it. Let us not forget the fact that the man in question has such charm and grace. He is of good breeding and will bring honor to this home.”

Penelope touched the tip of her fingers to her letter and tried not to let her annoyance show. “I should expect the happiness to be mine since I am the bride and the gentleman is my groom.”

“Oh,” her mother said and was quiet for a while. None regarded the other but occupied their eyes elsewhere and the room began to feel very stifling all of a sudden. But it was an atmosphere that mother and child were very used to. “Well, your father is pleased with how the young man wrote to him first to seek his consent before this proposal to you. Your father approves of him as a choice for a son-in-law. He has made it so easy for the young man and you. You should be glad. I know of many parents who give their children hard times over giving their blessing, though it is sought with tears.” The prim Priscilla Churchill put her fingers to her green pearl earrings and pouted her mouth.

Penelope stood and moved away from her chair with her letter. She went to sit on her bed instead. “When there is an over-aged spinster involved, there is not much weeping or begging required. Everyone is already tired of her being in the same place she was born, just as much as she is tired of herself. Such a woman does herself a favor to finally be hitched with anybody. Her folks think so the most and so there is no resistance. Or don’t you think so, Mother?” She watched her mother’s cheeks begin to turn red and she was happy to have struck a chord, however so humbly.

The woman couldn’t gather her thoughts enough to speak for a while. And Penelope used the time to carefully fold her letter and find herself an envelope in her bedside drawer.

Her mother cleared her throat finally. Penelope didn’t need to look to know that the woman was still fingering her earrings or wringing her hands, as if she was a victim of some mishap.

“Well, for whatever it is worth, the high-society gossip will finally have no choice but to release you from its mouth. You will no longer be the woman who has wasted her years on irrelevant learning when she should have been married ages ago.”

“No.” Penelope patted down her skirt with her palms and kept her eyes downwards. “I will no longer be that woman.”

Another pause reigned in the room, in which Penelope could hear the distinct busyness of servants outside, preparing a cart. She wondered if she would be delivered that way to her fiancé, her waist all sore and shifted from the long, tiring ride to Whitehall. She wouldn’t like to arrive at her matrimonial home looking like the mess that Atlanta had turned her into emotionally.

“He is a good match,” Priscilla continued. Her voice sounded hurried and directionless. “He should be perfect for repairing your reputation. The mail-order service did you a great favor. Charles is more than a good fit.”

“Yes, he is.”

The pause this time stood impatiently, shifting from one leg to the other, and wanting so much to vacate the room.

“Well…”

“Well?” Penelope looked up at her mother then. There were no giggly smiles between them, or any shared gossip about what living with a man would look like, or any passionate, teary hugs to communicate how much they would miss each other. There was nothing but a taut silence.

“You should enjoy married life…on some days…”

“I bet you that I will every day.” She didn’t bat an eyelid even once. She knew that anywhere away from this confined place where she was being treated like a child with silly wits would be heaven. Anywhere away from her parents would be her paradise—even if it were the worst of places. At least, she would think and live freely there, independent of their constant differing opinions.

“Well, you can write when you need to speak to us.”

Short of saying something biting, she pressed her lips together for a second and just nodded.

“You should leave tomorrow. Your father is away on business, so I will have the arrangements done. He wants you to know he is sorry he has to be away on an important eve like this, but the work he must do is pressing.”

Again, Penelope nodded her head. She didn’t care at all whether either of them were here or not but of course, she couldn’t say that.

“I will take charge of things in his absence, as usual, so you have nothing to worry about.  You will be delivered promptly and comfortably to your husband tomorrow.”

Penelope forced a smile. “I am not worried.” She knew she would walk there, dragging her luggage with her, if she had to, so much did she long to be gone.

“Well…”

“Well?”

She heard her mother sigh. “Atlanta will miss you, as will we.”

Penelope stood up from the bed. “I will not miss Atlanta.” Or you…

***

Penelope stood at the door of her childhood home, watching quietly as her mother gave instructions to the servant meant to escort her. She had never seen this particular servant before and amused herself with looking at his upturned shoes as he stood humbly before her mother and her gesticulating hands. She had never seen such funny shoes before, and thinking about it took her mind off the journey ahead and the new life she was entering into.

Rightfully, it should have been her parents or at least her mother escorting her to her new residence but her father couldn’t find the time. His business was, as it had always been, too important to be left to someone else. His daughter, however, could be put “in the care of” a manly stranger since he couldn’t afford for his wife to leave the home front too while he was away. She was the able matriarch who took command when he was unavailable. She represented him well too, appearing rich and capable to the places she had to be rich and capable to…which was everywhere.

Penelope looked at her mother’s dress for the day. She was not going anywhere, but the dress, white with blue embroidery, spoke highly of the money and manual labor that had gone into it. And this was an everyday dress, complete with a set of gold jewelry that clang and sang when she moved in certain ways.

The church services and official balls she attended saw more expensive dresses and pearls. It was all now a part of her person, so that it announced her coming before she actually came.

It gave her and her husband so much pride that she spent what he worked hard for. It pleased them both that she made statements just by being in a place. It gave them joy that she was on people’s lips long after she had left a place. One’s reputation never dropped a bar that way. You didn’t even need to talk in such places; showing up was more than enough because you showed more than everyone in the room. And, goodness gracious, did her mother know how to put on a great show! From wringing her hands, changing her voice, and executing occasional, professional faints and fits when she needed to get her way, the theaters needed to have her as an A-list dramatist. But her husband was her personal, unapologetic encourager. He catered to that drama, happy to fund and do its bidding, basking in her need for him and the tons of money he made.

But Penelope wasn’t her mother. The thought struck her again as she stood watching the woman give final instructions. Her mother was content to be in and of this house, doing the same things every day, year in and year out, having no ambition whatsoever save to spend money and look expensive. It was a life she was satisfied to live and benefit from till the end of her days. Being married to one of the richest southern businessmen in town was more than enough honor for her—she sought none of her own. There was nothing to look forward to or seek to have as hers only. She did not desire to see anything else except this world she knew. She was satisfied with being the woman who had married well and married rich. Nothing else mattered, save pulling out her dramatic skills when needed.

But Penelope dreamed much bigger than the path set out for her female kind. It was a path grossly misunderstood by the environment in which she lived.

She sought education and knowledge with the entirety of her being, doing it beyond the measure that was societally accepted for her class. For her class, marriage was the ultimate goal, but she kept her eyes, perpetually, on bigger things. She knew beyond a doubt that she had many things to see and do. She knew that she had to be free of the shackles she had been kept in by her controlling parents and her small-minded environment. She had to leave in order to begin to live, so this proposal couldn’t be more important to her.

She was ready to begin the adventurous life she so much wanted.

Thinking about how great it would be made her smile and she found it hard to wipe the smile off her face even as she saw her mother leave the servant and begin walking towards her.

She saw her mother’s mouth curve upwards too in response.

“Someone is happy,” her mother said in a hearty voice. Her lean face was stretched in a big grin that didn’t reach her eyes. “You surely realize how much good your father did you by picking Charles out of the lot the agency suggested. It is almost as if he could tell just what was right for you.”

Penelope kept her smile, looking sweet all the while. “His eligibility and wealth did not miss Father’s scrutiny, for sure.”

She watched her mother’s smile disappear immediately. A scowl settled on her brows. That too looked like it had been ordered there by the director of some play she was acting in. “Your father had to look out for your interests.”

“And his name and gain.” Since she was leaving the house, it wouldn’t do her any harm to say the things she thought in her head just how she thought them.

Her mother’s eyes were steely as she regarded her. A hiss escaped the corner of her mouth. “If your father didn’t choose the wealthiest and best of the lot for you, what kind of a protective and providing father would he be then?”

Ah…the perpetually absent, always correct kind? 

But Penelope was soon tired of the back and forth. Maybe, truly, it was the best thing for children to remain silent in the face of the shenanigans their parents put up, because there never could be any winning with such parents. Nothing they did could be faulted as wrong, so it was a constantly lost battle trying to make them see.

Sighing in a tired manner, she picked up her handbag from beside her feet. “Yes, Mother. Father did a good thing by ensuring he went through the correspondences from the agency himself and not letting me see any of the other suitors’ letters. How else would he have found such a charming, rich man like Charles for me?” She ended her talk with another sweet smile, so that her mother was at a loss whether to approve of her statement with a smiling nod, or castigate her with a scowling shake of the head. After a second or two of thought, she went for the former and stretched out her arms to her daughter for a brief hug, smiling widely.

Penelope went into those arms as stiff as a board. But she melted against her mother’s body at contact. Her mother had fawned over her, after all, spoiling and sheltering her all her life, in the way she had thought best…as did her father.

Penelope knew how much her parents cared for her and her well-being; she just was, most times, frustrated by their methods and the fact that they cared about their reputation and appearances more.

“Oh, my darling,” her mother said, rubbing her back in the same way she had done whenever she had a coughing fit as a child. “You will be fine in Oregon, surely.”

Penelope closed her eyes and inhaled her mother’s scent. Well, she would miss how good she always smelled, definitely; her smell announced her before she entered a place. And it was the same fragrance every day, every year. Nothing spoke of wealth like a constant, announcing fragrance, she usually said.

“I will be.” She broke off the hug and smoothed down her white gown.

“Make us proud over there,” Priscilla said, adjusting a lock of her daughter’s light brown hair. “Remember that your father has arranged all of this so that you can have a good life. Do not disappoint him by tarnishing the image of this home.”

Penelope bit the side of her cheek and quickly moved away from the subject before annoyance could show on her face. “And why exactly is Father not here now?” She swung a bit on her feet, keeping her bag clutched tightly with two hands.

Priscilla brushed down her brow with a finger. A pleased smile came over her mouth. It was the smile that appeared whenever she had cause to glorify the money-making deeds of her darling husband. “Oh, your father had to begin making arrangements to have his company benefit from the new patent office and patent laws. I would go with you, of course, but you see how things are. I need to be here to oversee affairs or this home will fall to the ground before I get back again.”

Penelope knew that sort of thing wouldn’t have cause to happen, but she didn’t push it. “I understand. I am twenty-seven, Mother. I can make trips on my own.”

Her mother blinked rapidly, maybe to hold back tears. “I know that, but it’s just that it is all so strange. You have never been away from us like this. I don’t think we will ever get used to it.”

“Maybe not you, but Father is mighty used to it by now. He is away all the time.”

“For good reason.” She put up a finger in correction.

Penelope nodded and bent her head. She looked convincingly contrite and heartbroken like that. “It will be hard for everyone, especially with you both not having my life to preside over anymore, but it is for the best. It had to happen sooner or later. For many of my peers, their sooner already started eons ago. I have to go, Mother, you know that. You and Father can face your lives now.”

Again, her mother couldn’t quickly think whether what she had heard was a positive remark or a negative speech. Her expression changed from a scowl to a smile many times in just three seconds. Finally, as before, she settled on smiling. Her ears and brain chose to pick out only positivity.

“Yes, dear. Your father and I will definitely have too much time on our hands now and less worries. I guess this is one of the joys of parenting: when a child finally begins to grow up.” Penelope inwardly rolled her eyes at this. “It felt just like yesterday when we had to do everything for you.”

Unable to take any more talk, Penelope stepped away and put a foot forward. “I really should get going before the day advances, Mother.” She put her eyes ahead like she could see her destiny calling. “I go with that man?” She nodded towards the servant who had just finished loading her belongings onto a cart drawn by her father’s two favorite stallions. Samuel, whom she knew well, was already holding the reins of the animals.

Her mother nodded, answering the unnecessary question. She fell into step with her daughter and they both walked towards the ride. “John will accompany you on your journey for as far as he can go. We hired him because he knows the lands well. He is also a skilled guard. Your father would be assured of your safety only this way. John has been instructed on what to do. You both will take the train to San Francisco. You will then ride with a wagon train up the coast and into the forested hills of Oregon. John will leave you there to go on on your own. You will arrive at your husband’s property as a well-groomed and capable bride.” The explanation was finished with another smile.

By this time, they were at the cart.

“Good day, madam,” the servant with his funny shoes said to Penelope, tipping his sun hat.

“Good day.” She adjusted her bonnet on her head and kept her eyes from wandering down to his feet. Giving her his hand, he helped her up to the high seat and then swung himself up. She took a quick look at his face and saw that he couldn’t be more than nineteen or twenty. He didn’t even look like he had ever grown a single strand of hair on his chin. And this…this boy who was not even fully an adult had passed her parents’ mark to shield her when she was almost thirty years old and still treated like a child? Ha! It must be good to be male and have muscles from doing heavy work!

A sound came to Penelope’s ears and she looked sideways to see her mother tearing up, chest heaving and hands wringing. Penelope blinked, not knowing what to make of the sight. Where was this coming from and which script director had called for it so suddenly?

She wasn’t her father. She didn’t know how to handle such a show. It didn’t matter that it looked so genuine and could, in fact, be a real expression of her inward feelings; it looked largely unnecessary to Penelope, who couldn’t wait to be away from there.

Still, she couldn’t afford to be insensitive. “Mother?” She reached over and touched her mother’s hand that grasped the edge of the vehicle. “It will be okay. I will try to write to you every month. If anything more than the usual happens, I will write twice that month. Is this fair enough?”

Despite herself, her mother started to wipe her eyes and nod. “We will all miss you so much, Penelope. We will. Your father mostly.”

Penelope bit the side of her mouth and sat up again in her seat. “I wish you both a happy life as I go to get the same for myself.”

Her mother stopped crying. “Yes. Yes.” She made a gesture with her hand. “Happiness.”

Penelope did not turn her head to her anymore. “And freedom…”

While her mother was still searching for what to say, the driver yanked at the reins. He looked back at Penelope, asking permission.

“Let’s go,” she said calmly.

She didn’t look back at her childhood home with the high, brick walls.

***

When John eventually put her in a cart when they arrived in the hills of Oregon, the sun was beginning to go down.

“Godspeed,” he said to her, tipping his hat again, like she wasn’t at her destination already.

She nodded to him and stopped herself from looking after him as he crossed the road and set to finding himself transport back from whence they came.

She wondered if he wouldn’t just find lodgings for the night instead of making the trip back in darkness. Not knowing what he wanted to do made her realize just how little they had spoken that day, if at all.

She only made her desires known to him as they journeyed and he responded to her by getting them done. She had traveled with him and didn’t even know his surname or what his favorite food was. The man—or boy—had only eaten green apples all the way, like he was on some sort of diet. He didn’t take the meals she offered him while she ate. The driver did though, before he dropped them off at the station and wanted to be chatty. But she was in no mood for talk. The man had to learn to keep his mouth shut and just guide the horses. She hadn’t been in the mood for doing anything else but watch as one location changed to the other, some populated and noisy, others deserted and too quiet to not be scary. It made her happy to have John, no matter how young and ruddy he looked.

But her mind was so bent on Whitehall that she didn’t even know they had gotten to Oregon until they got off the train and John put her in this new cart and bade her farewell. Suddenly, she felt like halting the ride and running back home.

Now that she was faced with these hills, the full reality of the new life she was about to encounter dawned on her and she didn’t know anymore if she was truly ready.

She didn’t fancy Atlanta, but it was the familiar, large place she knew well. This place meant a new beginning, but it was as strange as “new” could get. Trepidation began to boggle her mind. What if she ended up not liking the town? What if, worse still, she hated this life she was going to build with Charles? What if he clipped her wings and wasn’t any different from her parents? What if her life continued to be the same monotonous, frustrated, boring circle, with the only difference being that she was now with a husband?

What if?

The “what ifs” stayed with her and punched her mind until the noise hit her.

That was the first thing that reached into her subconscious and pulled her out from that semi-absent state she had fallen into because of her worries—the noise. It was boisterous and uncanny, and it made her come to, as if she had been sleeping all the while.

The air was different too, she noticed, as she looked around about her and tried to think of just where she was and how she had gotten to be in this place where someone was calling for her head, most definitely, or that of the driver, or those of the horses, so he or she could make some kind of strange stew.

Finally, her brain came awake and she could retrace the memory of the day back to its beginning and onward still, till it came to join her, again, where she was.

She was presently in a cart and she was on her way to her husband’s residence, which John had told the driver. The residence, according to him, was somewhere in the heart of Whitehall.

Whitehall…

She sat up straighter and looked about her with wide eyes, her heart thumping fast. She was indeed in the city and, to her utmost disappointment, it wasn’t what she had envisioned in her mind.

She had thought the place would be a saner, calmer, more beautiful replica of Atlanta’s sophistication and elegance, but what she could see and hear around her quickly negated that fact.

All around her, as if pressing in to grab her, businesses and people were lined up.

It wasn’t quite a cosmopolitan place, at least not to the extent she had imagined it would be. It seemed to flow too excessively with things and people that should be elsewhere.

The roads were normal, the houses were normal, and the shops were normal.

She looked up and down as the horses moved leisurely along the cobbled road. Here and there, the driver greeted familiar people who waved at him and those people, in turn, stared at her with such open boldness and without shame. It made her cheeks flush and her heart flutter. She grabbed her purse tighter and prayed they would get to her abode much quicker. She couldn’t stand one more look with those brazen eyes they all seemed to have, as if challenging her to do her worst.

And, she soon saw “worst” being done.

At a stall she passed, she saw a boy of about ten quickly grab some items and begin to run before the shop owner could notice. The latter later began a pursuit, but it was too late. The boy’s feet were fast.

“Goodness! What a little thief!” she exclaimed.

The driver laughed and glanced back at her. She saw his crooked teeth before he faced forward again. “New in town, are you? Aye, you will get used to seeing this by and by. This place has its fair share of hustlers in mighty extreme forms.” He laughed again, something sounding like the braying from the horses he led.

She wanted to ask him what he meant by “hustlers,” but she didn’t. She could see a fair picture in her mind already, from how swift and professional that little boy was.

She held her bag more firmly.

“We should be at your place soon,” he told her without looking at her. “You must be going to stay with someone wealthy. That part of town is put away from all this rubbish you see here. Not like any place is safe from the rubbish though; it is just more dignified in some places than others.” He chuckled, like he had made the joke of the century.

To Penelope, “dignified rubbish” sounded even scarier than normal rubbish, so Whitehall was losing its last rays of fantasized glimmer in her mind.

“So you mean this place teems with criminals?” she asked to occupy her mind and keep it from thinking more negative thoughts.

The man gave a laugh again, this time throwing back his head. Penelope felt like knocking it so he would not do that again. “Miss, Whitehall is a place for outlaws. Here, those who suffer are people who aren’t wealthy or criminals. You can just imagine how much of a frenzy that leaves everyone in. It is a survive or be eaten system here, ma’am.

“We have just a few rich, well-bred folks. But they are often very keen on segregation and racist. I wish them all a terrible flu, no offense. Because…you know who they are?” He didn’t wait for an answer; not like she had one to give anyway. “They are the children and grandchildren of the same people who outlawed free nonwhites’ entry into Oregon at the same time that Oregon outlawed slavery! Very bloody, greedy set of people, miss. They say that they have stopped slavery but they have brought in a new kind.”

“What kind?” she asked so she could be part of his tale.

He was more than ready to give an answer. “Well, instead of keeping slaves, they now exploit the local poor. They have become predatory landlords, employers, and lawmakers. They lord it all over people like us. The lower classes are their modern slaves, and they excuse it all by throwing out money they say is for the growth and support of the community and the businesses in it. Yes, truly, they have done a few good things, like bringing this city out of the darkness it used to be in—via the created electricity industries—but what is all that when they install darkness into the lives of everyone else instead? At the expense of our hard work and misery, the city—just a place—develops. But what happens to the people? What happens to their robbed, discontented minds that no amount of geographical development can pacify?”

Shuddering, Penelope looked about her again, digesting the man’s words. It was her first history and ethics lesson about this place that was to become her new home. Why, then, did it have to be so somber and distasteful?

“You speak well,” she said, as a form of appreciation to the man, or as a means to focus her mind on other things—she couldn’t pick which.

Surprisingly, he chuckled again and didn’t take offense to what some other person would take personally and read as an insult. “Oh, if it is education you want and are keen about, this city can give it to you. That’s for sure. There is always room to strive for more here, if that’s what you really want. Maybe that is the only good part of this city. Even women are beginning to fight for rights here. Something about sausagefees or something. And, frankly, whatever it is, I support them. A breakdown of walls and levels in this city will surely do us all some good. We all need to understand that we are all human beings from dust, at the end of the day, no matter what our financial or racial statuses are.”

For the first time since she had left home, Penelope smiled. Oh, she wanted education all right. She wanted it so much that she could actually begin to like Whitehall…as long as the criminality stayed miles away from her.

She smiled her way down to a large, beautiful compound, outside of which they parked some minutes later.

She didn’t even have the time to fully stand up after getting down before feeling the presence of someone beside her.

She looked to see a tall, lean man standing there. He towered over her but had the softest brown eyes she had ever seen. Those eyes gave light to his entire face and the lovely house looked very ugly and dirty in comparison to him. He was smiling down at her and she just wanted to put her fingers in his black hair to see how soft it would be too.

In simple attire, he looked and smelled so good that she instantly began to doubt whether she’d had a bath or brushed her hair that morning. Involuntarily, she put a hand up there to check. That was when he stretched out his, grinning at her with the whitest set of teeth ever.

“My lady, I am Charles.” He put his lips to her hand. “I am so glad that you are here.”

She forgot how to speak completely.


“Falling for the Outlaw’s Eyes” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!

As a rich Atlanta girl, Penelope Christchurch is more educated than most women. Her dedication to studies has made her appear as a spinster among high-society gossip, although she deeply wants to get married. When she finds a partner through a mail-order bride service, she gets to finally experience an adventure. To her surprise, Charles, her soon-to-be husband makes her feel from the very first moment more valued than ever before. However, the Wild West proves to be no place for town girls…

Can she finally find a love to free her?

Despite being kind-hearted and very smart, Charles Steele is prone to loneliness due to his upbringing. Under his aunt’s constant pressure to marry a gracious woman, he reluctantly agrees although he actually longs for a loving partner. As soon as he meets Penelope, he feels he has finally met his fated companion. Is this love capable of surviving the revelation of a horrible secret?

The shadows of his past haunt him…

Penelope and Charles love each other more than anything. When a dark enemy conspires against them, they will have to stand together to protect one another. Can they find the key to salvation in their mutual bond? Or will this storm destroy everything they have built together like a house of cards?

“Falling for the Outlaw’s Eyes” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.

Get your copy from Amazon!

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