Excerpt for Lizzi Tremayne Sampler of Books: An Historical Fiction First Chapter Collection from The Long Trails Series: Old West, New Zealand, and Russia by , available in its entirety at Smashwords

Lizzi Tremayne


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Lizzi Tremayne Sampler

of Books

An Historical Fiction First Chapter

Collection from The Long Trails Series:

Old West, New Zealand, and Russia


Lizzi Tremayne

Blue Mist Publishing

Waihi, New Zealand

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To The Bluestocking Belles…

Amy, Caroline, Elizabeth, Jess, Jude,

Nicole, Sherry, Susana and Rue.

Thank you for all the love and encouragement,


Can’t wait to see where we’ll all go from here, together.

With all my love,


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My profound thanks to...

~The Bluestocking Belles for offering me the opportunity to work with their team of seasoned authors, every one of them with a big heart... and they aren’t afraid to use them.

~Jude Knight, for your constant enthusiasm and encouragement... and believing in me enough to make it happen.

Lots of love,


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Lizzi Tremayne Sampler




A Long Trail Rolling

Awards for A Long Trail Rolling

The Hills of Gold Unchanging

A Sea of Green Unfolding


Find Books

Books by Lizzi Tremayne

The Long Trails Series

The Once Upon a Vet School Series

The Understanding Modern Vet Med for Owners Series

Boxed Sets with Bluestocking Belles

Boxed Sets with Authors of Main Street

Connect with Lizzi

About the Author

Lizzi Tremayne Sampler

of Books

First Chapter Collection of

The Long Trails

Historical Fiction Series

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New Zealand and United States Copyright © 2017 by Lizzi Tremayne

All rights reserved.

Smashwords Edition, License Notes

Thank you for downloading this ebook. You are welcome to share it with your friends. This book may be reproduced, copied and distributed for non-commercial purposes, provided the book remains in its complete original form. If you enjoyed this book, please return to your favorite ebook retailer to discover other works by this author. Thank you for your support.

Lizzi Tremayne / Blue Mist Publishing

Franklin Road, RD 2

Waihi, New Zealand 3682

For more information, go to Lizzi’s Website here

Publisher’s Note: This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are a product of the author’s imagination. Locales and public names are sometimes used for atmospheric purposes. Any resemblance to actual people, living or dead, or to businesses, companies, events, institutions, or locales is completely coincidental.

Formatting, cover design and photos by Lizzi Tremayne

Author photos by Kajai Lang ~ Photos By Kajai@gmail.com

Lizzi Tremayne Sampler of Books: An Historical Fiction First Chapter Collection from The Long Trails Series: Old West, New Zealand, and Russia / Lizzi Tremayne 1st Edition February 2018 V.3.4

Smashwords eBook ISBN 978-0-9941447-9-9

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A Long Trail Rolling

She didn’t expect to become a target…

but she is one now....

In the Old West’s Utah Territory of 1860, Aleksandra is trained by her father in the Cossack arts. She finds herself alone, disguised as a Pony Express rider, running to keep her pa’s killer from finding their family’s secret. And that was before she galloped full speed into the middle of the Paiute Indian War.

Xavier isn’t about to let anyone get too close, especially a woman, while he bides his time as a Pony Express Station Manager in the middle of a desert, evading his heritage as the eldest son of an old Spanish Californio family. His history taught him women are not to be trusted. Letting this slip of a stroppy, yet alluring, girl get under his skin is not on the cards.

The villain is coming closer, with his sights set on Aleksandra. Thrown together in an ever-worsening situation, despite their own agendas, can Aleksandra and Xavier overcome their differences before the ever-increasing odds overtake them?

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Chapter One

April 1860

Echo Canyon, Utah Territory, U.S.A.

She smelled blood. Its metallic tang assailed her senses, before it was overshadowed by the stench of death. Stepping back to scan the sheer wall of the bluff rising before her, her breath caught in her throat and a sob escaped.

Finally, she’d found him.

A scuffed black boot and fur coat showed through the snow, his body wedged into the bottom of a crevice three feet above her head. She looked up to the top of the cliff, from which he must have fallen, but saw no one.

Finding handholds where there were none, Aleksandra Lekarski scrambled up the wall as her heart constricted in her chest. She tugged her father’s cold, stiff body free and down onto level ground, giving thanks he’d been out of reach of the wolves, whose tracks abounded in the snow where she now stood. Her world blurred as she dropped to her knees and cradled his lifeless head in her lap, rocking him. Ceaseless tears flowed down her doeskin tunic.

With a numbing pain in her mind, she ran shaking hands over him, seeking answers. What could have made an experienced trapper like Krzysztof Lekarski fall off a bluff and succumb to a death more suited to a greenhorn?

This couldn’t really be happening.

Just seven days ago, he’d kissed her goodbye with glowing eyes.

‘Keep the fire going in the smokehouse this time, will you, Aleks?’

‘Of course, Papa, my promise. Be back soon, I’ll miss you.’

‘I’ll return before you’ve missed me, then we’ll go sell last winter’s furs at the trading post.’

We’ll never go to town together again.

Aleksandra sat back on her heels and gripped her swimming head in her hands, fingers pulling her hair until it hurt, then whimpered and returned her attention to her papa.

She shrank from what was left of his eyes…and was glad he’d been in the narrow gap, too small for large predators. Beetles had been there, or some rodent, maybe even a hawk. The scent of decay was a sharp contrast to the clean bite of fresh snow. Trying not to breathe through her nose, she swallowed hard, stomach rolling.

Aleksandra’s hands froze as hard-crusted blood met her fingertips. Her heart stopped altogether at the sight of the inch-long, bloodied cut in his buckskin jerkin, repeating into his chest wall. She turned him over. A laceration of the same size exited the soft leather covering his back.

Papa hadn’t simply fallen off the bluff. Nothing but a sword made such a wound.

Aleksandra’s ears began to ring, her world narrowing to a small gap, as she fought the rising panic.

It couldn’t be…Vladimir couldn’t have found us. Not over two decades, two continents and the Atlantic Ocean.

The ground swayed as she hunched over her father’s still form. Squeezing her eyes shut to stop the motion, she recalled the words Papa had endlessly repeated, so she would always remember:

‘He will seek us out. Vladimir will come for the secret and we must be prepared to keep it from him—at all costs—always.’

But what a cost.

Despite her entire being screaming to fall apart for the loss of her only remaining family, years of Papa’s training to protect their secret stopped her in her tracks. Struggling to draw air into her lungs, she looked around the bottom of the cliff. Her clearing vision now showed more wolf sign: scrapings on the wall below his body and white snow darkened by blood beside stinking yellow patches.

Leaving his body here, knowing the scavengers would return, would be the hardest thing she’d ever done—but Aleksandra knew what Papa would have required of her.

Heart sinking, she slumped to the forest floor beside him and took a deep breath of the wind whistling cold up the valley. Closing her eyes, she touched her lips to the top of his head. With shaking hands and tears flowing anew, Aleksandra lifted the leather thong of the beaded Shoshone medicine bag from about his neck and pulled the signet ring from his finger. Kissing her papa once more, she covered him with dead leaves and snow, beseeching the forest spirits to care for him with love, if she couldn’t return.

She rose and turned to leave, but through the brain-fogging misery, she remembered to check for the tools of Papa’s trade. The trapper’s scabbard was empty and his rifle missing. The firearm was nearby, half covered by a snowy branch, but even after searching for precious minutes, his shashka was nowhere to be found. With a twinge of regret, she gave up seeking her father’s Cossack sword. She shouldered the rifle and stared back at the man she loved beyond life, her heart in a vise, with a promise and a prayer for his soul. Tears dried cold and tight on her face as she stood gazing past the putrefying corpse to the heart of her papa. She returned once more to brush back the frozen leaves and kiss him goodbye.

Her eyes scanned the aspen glade in the brilliant morning light. No one watched. With the silence and speed of the kwahaten, the antelope, her name with the Shoshone people who had welcomed her family into their own, she ran for her pony.

‘It’s you and me now, Dzień,’ she choked out as she untied him and slung the rifle on her back. Vaulting on as he struck off into a lope, they flew back toward the cabin, the Indian pony seeming to sense the urgency and single-mindedness of his mistress. Slowing him to a stealthy walk as they neared the cabin, she slid from Dzień’s back, signaling him to wait. She crept closer to the cabin. Before its open door, papers lay scattered beneath a light dusting of snow, fluttering in the chill breeze. The open barn doors slowly swung back and forth.

By now Papa’s stallion should have been tearing up the stable and his field, but Rogan was gone. She waited, straining every muscle for any sound, but only silence met her ears, save the creaking hinges. She tiptoed around the perimeter of the yard in soft deerskin moccasins, keeping to the tree shadows as she’d done with her Shoshone friends in play. Hidden in shadow, Aleksandra stole to the window at the back of the cabin and peered in.

Her breath caught at the destruction. An intruder had turned the cabin upside down and must have set to the place with a sword. The white softness of sliced feather-tick mattresses covered every surface and bedclothes were ribboned and strewn over the floorboards, but there was no movement. She eased the door open and slid inside, hand on the hilt of her own shashka.

The doors of the oak secretary, Krzysztof’s gift to Aleksandra’s mother just before her death two winters ago, lay open. She nearly cried to see its drawers flung helter-skelter and papers scattered.

Utensils danced amongst broken crockery and cast-iron pans. In some dim recess of her mind, she noticed the zakwas and sourdough pots still stood on their shelf behind the cook stove, high above the chaos.

She broke into a sweat at the sight of the stove lids lying in deep, black grooves in the wooden floor of the cabin. Lids hot enough to burn themselves into the cedar planks meant she’d narrowly missed the visit of the intruder when she left the cabin to find her pa.

She froze. Nothing of value seemed to be missing. This was only a search. Her heart sank further at the sight of the sun-bleached muslin dress on its peg in the corner by her bed, doubtless informing the unwelcome visitor, by now almost certainly the Russian Vladimir, that someone besides Krzysztof lived here.

Aleksandra climbed onto the table and peered up into the eaves. Papa’s velvet-lined boxes were still in their places. She lifted the lids and nearly smiled, then hopped down and slipped out the door. Skirting the yard again, she noiselessly opened the back door of the barn and peeked in. The summer smell of new hay assailed her nostrils as she entered and surveyed the damage. The trespasser had been busy here too.

Harnesses and building tools were scattered about the dirt floor, the contents of the feed room and hay pile scattered.

Well, that accounts for the scent.

The buckboard wagon and dogcart were still there, but the gate rails of Rogan’s loosebox lay where they’d been dropped. The manure in the stall was dry, several days old.

She glanced around the darkened corners of the barn and the yard outside once more before returning to squeeze her hand into the secret cache behind the colt’s feed bin. As her fingers felt the chill of the dozen or so glass vials, and the box next to it, her lips twisted into a bittersweet smile. For the first time in days, the leaden melancholy lifted from her shoulders, if only a little. Despite the destruction, Vladimir had missed what he came for.

What now? Aleksandra ruminated, shaking her head, then took a great lungful of air.

Dzień trotted up at her whistle and she resolutely wiped her tears onto his mane, then hugged him around the neck with the hint of a smile.

‘Papa’s secret is safe, Dzień. We can bring him home,’ she murmured, pressing her face into his furry neck. Reaching around, he nuzzled her derriere in reply and Aleksandra twisted to kiss him on his white star. She pulled the bedroll and bags from her saddle, then led him to the travois just inside the barn. She adjusted the two long poles, bound together with woven rawhide strips, then covered the widest part of the litter with a buffalo rug. Her papa’s conveyance was complete.

On the long walk back to the bluff, she thought of her father’s loving touch, his constant presence in her life, his sweet smile, his twinkling eyes. She would have them no more. Spiraling downward again, the thought of drowning in the emptiness was almost welcome, but she gritted her teeth and mentally shook herself. The focus was now on survival. Aleksandra suspected Vladimir didn’t know the exact nature of what he sought, but nonetheless, he would return. She needed to be ready, or better yet, gone.

Aleksandra didn’t fool herself. Although her father, a survivor of Austro-Hungarian-occupied Poland and spent countless hours teaching his children self-defense, Aleksandra’s skills with a shashka were a fraction of her papa’s, much less those of his own teacher, Vladimir, who was unsurpassed with the short Russian Cossack sword.

‘You’re a good swordsman, Aleks, but your impetuosity gets you into trouble,’ Papa always said, shaking his head as he disarmed her, yet again. The last time, he’d added: ‘whether you’re sparring at shashkas or trying to knit for the memory of your mama, God rest her soul, who tried to reconcile you to your femaleness.’

She grinned, despite herself. Knitting that always ended up as a wad of uneven and dropped stitches—inevitably thrown in fit of temper onto a set of antlers high upon the sitting room wall.

Rounding the bottom of the bluff, Dzień picked up his head and pricked his ears, sniffing the breeze, then headed for the pile of leaves covering Krzysztof. He stopped dead six feet away.

Aleksandra gave him a pat on the neck and tried to smile but failed. She left the pony’s head to adjust the travois. Breathing deeply through flared nostrils, Dzień stepped towards Krzysztof. He shook his mane, then nuzzled the lifeless body, knocking off the leaves as he checked the man’s full length. Dzień tapped him with a front hoof, then snorted and turned away, showing the whites of his eyes as he stared at the motionless man from the corner of one eye. Aleksandra’s gut wrenched.

Blood pounded in her head as she struggled to drag Krzysztof’s six-foot frame onto the makeshift stretcher. Dzień craned his neck around to watch, his muzzle and the skin about his eyes tensed and strained.

The pony responded to Aleksandra’s gentle urging and took Krzysztof home one last time. She would bury him with his beloved wife and sons in their overpopulated graveyard, then determine how to elude Vladimir and survive.

‘Can’t protect our secret if you’re dead, moje drogie córki.’ Papa’s words came back to her, in his thickly accented but precise English.

“My darling daughter.” Gulping, she clutched her father’s medicine bag and choked back more tears, realizing she’d never hear those words again.

Her body strung tight as a bowstring, Aleksandra kept a close lookout of the woods around them as they neared home, and their burial ground. Gritting her teeth, she tugged her father from the litter, then begging her papa’s forbearance, followed Dzień to the barn and stripped off the travois. In his stall, she slipped the bridle from his head, then rubbed the tired horse down as he relished his oats and tore into last summer’s sweet meadow hay. He’d worked hard for five solid days in search of Krzysztof. Halfway through his meal, he threw up his head, looked towards Rogan’s stall and whickered softly before shaking his head and returning to his feed. Aleksandra left him to his rest and strode to the house, snow crunching beneath her feet, to assuage her own hunger for food and solace.

The meat, suet and berry mixture the Indians called pemmican had kept her alive on the trail this past week, but she gave thanks the corn pones were still where she’d left them when she left to find Papa. Dry and stale after five days on the cooling rack, they were ambrosia with maple syrup and sliced kielbasa. Hunger sated, Aleksandra stared with longing at the woodstove, but the thought of lighting a fire in daylight with a killer somewhere near sent a shiver up her spine. Night would fall soon enough. She rubbed her icy hands together until they began to thaw. Taking Pa’s rifle, pick and spade, she left to bury him with an aching heart.

Hacking at the frozen ground, memories of her papa, mama and brothers flooded her mind, but she kept her head down and went on digging.

There’s something I’m forgetting, something important.

The thought recurred as she added a rough cross to the mounded earth and slumped beside it, tears, sweat and unbound hair flowing over her father’s last resting place.

I’m sorry there are no flowers for you, Papa. They’ve returned to the earth, too.

She sat motionless, barely noticing the drifting flakes of snow until her nose and hands were too cold for her to remain.

Entering the barn to check on Dzień, Aleksandra’s mind rolled on, inexorably…water and feed Dzień…take the skins to the trading post soon…

But for what?

As long as she could remember, every year’s work culminated in a wagon full of exquisitely soft, tanned skins to trade for tools and seed, stock feed, dry goods, fabric, thread for clothes and harness as well as treats for the family. Things were different now.

No kin.

She hugged herself tightly, shoulders hunched, as the bands around her heart tightened further. Drawing a ragged breath, she glanced around the barn at the furs on their elevated platform and stopped in her tracks.

Oh, my dear Lord, the furs.’

Covering her face with blistered hands, she rubbed her eyes. Struggling to remember the date, she counted the days while her heart plummeted. The Hudson’s Bay Company Agent on his annual purchasing trip would have already left the trading post. If by Providence he’d been delayed, she might still catch him. Running to the house, she shed her filthy buckskins and dragged on her muslin dress, a woolen everyday over that, then her long fur coat. She bolted for the barn, remembering at the last minute to yank her bonnet from its peg.

‘I’m sorry Dzień,’ her murmur almost a caress, ‘but we need to get to the ‘post, now, my darling.’

Wrinkling his muzzle and tilting his head, he gazed at her as she threw the harness saddle over his back and nimbly did up the bellyband and the crupper. The pony obliged when she offered the bit, though he scrunched up his eyes at her, then looked back at his supper when she led him between the shafts of the hastily-loaded wagon, full of furs and a nosebag of feed for the beleaguered pony.

The sound of hoofbeats and creaking wagon wheels brought Xavier Arguello to his feet. He reached for his rifle, braced for an attack. Running feet sounded on the porch and the door flew open, slamming against the wall as a golden-haired girl flew into the trading post. She stopped like she’d been shot, then wildly glanced around the room.

‘Is he gone?’ she blurted out.

Xavier released a breath as he lowered the muzzle of his gun and set it on the counter, watching the girl as tears rolled down her reddened and dirt-smeared face.

‘Have I missed the agent?’ She was all big eyes and trembling mouth, wisps of unruly curls escaping her long braid. A crumpled bonnet hung by its ties down her back.

She bolted past him into Scotty’s embrace and clung to the trading post’s proprietor like she’d never let go.

Nay lass, dinna fash.’ The big Scotsman chuckled, giving her a fatherly hug, then held her at arm’s length. ‘He’s out back harnessin’ his horse, but what’s the matter, a nighean, my darlin’?’

She mutely shook her head and stepped away a few paces, eyes wild, breast rapidly rising and falling.

‘Why the tears, mo nighean bhan?’ He reached out a hand to wipe them from her dusty cheek, then looked behind her and frowned. ‘Where’s yer da?’ At that, the color drained from her face and she grew white as death. Scotty and Xavier reached for her as she slumped towards the floor.

‘I’ve got her, Scotty.’ Xavier lifted the unconscious girl and considered her pale visage as the older man threw a buffalo robe over the countertop. He lay her down on the thick pelt and placed his fingers over the rapid and thready pulse at her throat. His brows narrowed. ‘Does she normally faint?’

‘Wouldn’t have thought it possible. She’s usually a tough little hellion,’ he called over his shoulder as he walked out the door. He returned, shaking his head, lips pursed. ‘Her da’s not here, she’s alone.’ Scotty’s eyebrows nearly touched.

‘Who is she?’ Xavier glanced sideways briefly at Scotty from the girl’s side.

‘Name’s Aleksandra. Her da’s a trapper ‘bout an hour into the Wasatch Mountains. They’ve lived out there fer years.’ Scotty’s brows were lowered, his lips tight beneath his moustache, as he absently wiped up the whisky he’d spilled on the counter when the blonde whirlwind blew in the door.

Xavier felt her pulse again and reached for an Indian rug to cover her. ‘Whatever could’ve happened to her pa?’

Both men fell silent, looking down at Aleksandra. Plenty could’ve happened to a trapper on the Weber River in Utah Territory. If an accident or sickness didn’t get him, hostile Indians or a highwayman could.

‘Yer guess is good as mine, Xavier. Her pony’s nigh exhausted and I’ve never seen Dzień ever break a sweat.’ He closed his eyes and rubbed a forearm against his sweating brow. ‘I don’t like the look of this.’

‘When did you last see them?’ Xavier slid his gaze off Aleksandra’s face.

‘They were here ‘bout a month ago, fer supper,’ he said, returning his attention to the girl’s still form. ‘Ain’t she a sight?’

‘Shall I take care of her horse, what did you say his name was?’

‘It’s “Dzień”, something between “gin” and “jean”. It means “day” in Polish.’

‘Polish, got it.’ Xavier raised a brow and started towards the door.

‘Thanks, Xavier, I’ll do it.’ Scotty took a deep breath and walked out the door, shaking his head. ‘Not like ‘er to push a horse like this. Ain’t never seen the likes,’ he muttered, clomping down the steps to where the fur buyer stood staring at the wagon with its stacks of furs, steam rising from the pony’s dripping body.

The tension in Xavier’s jaw subsided as Aleksandra’s pulse slowed and strengthened beneath his fingers, her color returning to a healthy pink. Shaking his head, he took a deep breath. He kept his distance from people for a reason and this girl, for all her charms, was not going to change that. He brushed his hair back with his fingers as his thoughts spun.

Xavier sat nearby to keep her from falling off her perch if she should awaken. As the hour passed, the wall around his heart began to crack open just a little. She looked like she’d been through hell. Her face and neck were sunburned and when he turned over her grubby hand, its underside was reddened and blistered. Young, too. Couldn’t be more than seventeen, five years his junior and her curves were ripe, her lips full. He breathed out hard. He’d stayed far away from women for a long time. Maybe too long.

Get a grip, hombre! She’s out cold!

Closing his eyes, he shook his head as he kicked himself.

I have no need for this girl, nor any other, in my life.

Still, something about her tugged at his heart.

Scotty returned after seeing the agent off and putting Dzień away. Raising his eyebrows, he smiled to see Xavier still sitting on a barstool near her, oiling his rifle while he sang under his breath in Spanish, his muscular torso dwarfing her. Waking up to Xavier might be just what the doctor ordered for the wild young Aleksandra.

When this quietly confident young Californio rode in last week from the west on his magnificent gray Spanish horse, Scotty gratefully accepted his offer of work, fortuitously coinciding with the Hudson’s Bay Company agent’s visit. Trappers from miles around converged upon the trading post for this yearly event, bearing great stacks of furs to trade for next year’s supplies.

Normally run off his feet, Scotty enjoyed the agent’s visit for once. Six-foot-plus Xavier did his share, and then some, handling the heaviest sacks of coal like they were stuffed with cotton. Scotty wondered about the courteous young Spaniard, who spoke a cultured English rarely heard in these parts, but seemed to lack a history or plan. It didn’t take long for the Scotsman to learn that sharing confidences wasn’t in Xavier’s vocabulary.

No matter. Ever’body’s got secrets. Least out West, here, folk let people keep ‘em!

Vladimir Chabardine looked up from the mesmerizing nod of his chestnut mare’s ears.

There was someone else living there.

Perhaps I should have waited longer—Krzysztof’s secret yet eludes me.

The letter in the secretary addressed to Mr. K Lekarski said he was in the right cabin, but for three days he’d waited there and ransacked the place, finding nothing. He sighed deeply and ground his teeth.

A smaller horse’s hoofprints showed in the barn. They could be from a mount of Krzysztof’s, still tied in the forest somewhere, or they could belong to a woman’s horse, by the tattered dress hanging in the cabin and the general tone of the place. There were three graves behind the orchard, so who knew if she were still alive in this God-forsaken wilderness.

Death—it seems to be all around me.

Finally finding Krzysztof after nearly two decades, and then killing him, was something a Cossack arms master should have managed to avoid. He squeezed his eyes shut and forced his jaw to relax.

After having come so far, it was unconscionable to lose his life’s goal, and everyone he loved along with it, by the slip of a foot.

A few hours later, Xavier’s patience was rewarded as Aleksandra stirred, slowly opening eyes the color of a clear, blue sky. Too soon, they clouded over and flashed as she reached toward her hip. Thinking she would fall off the bench, Xavier dropped his rifle and grabbed her, speaking to her as he would a frightened filly. ‘Steady, mi querida, steady.’

He stilled as cold metal, sharp and glittering in the sunlight from the window, indented the skin of his neck.

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Praise for A Long Trail Rolling:

“vivid, light and fast-paced…it will appeal in particular to anyone interested in American…history, and in general to those looking for a ripping good read. I’m looking forward to reading The Hills of Gold Unchanging, the next volume in the Aleksandra and Xavier saga”

Deborah Challinor, number one bestselling author and historian

“The mystery, adventure, and danger of life in Utah in the 1860s is beautifully described…an authentic, emotional story of one woman’s fight for survival in an unforgiving landscape. I couldn’t put Lizzi Tremayne’s book down.”

Leeanna Morgan, USA Today bestselling author

“An impressive debut from a New Zealand (ex-American) author…a romance, a western, and an adventure story, all rolled up into a compelling read…I devoured this one and am hungry for more.”

Booksellers NZ

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Awards for A Long Trail Rolling

With this debut novel, Lizzi was:

Finalist 2013 RWNZ Great Beginnings;

Winner 2014 RWNZ Pacific Hearts Award

Winner 2015 RWNZ Koru Award for Best First Novel

Third 2015 RWNZ Koru Long Novel

Finalist 2015 Best Indie Book Award

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The Hills of Gold Unchanging

The Long Trails

Book Two

No one will stand in their way—and live.

As the Civil War rages, secessionists menace California.

Aleksandra and Xavier are trying to get back home—through the oncoming Civil War, the mining camps of 1860’s Nevada and California, the Great Flood of Sacramento—to Xavier’s Californio Rancho de las Pulgas.

Embroiled in the Confederates’ fight to drag the new state from the Union and make it their own, can Aleks and Xavier survive?

The secessionists mean business.

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Chapter One

June 1860

Echo Canyon, Wasatch Mountains, Utah Territory

His blade glinted in the sunlight as he lunged toward her, but she ducked and spun, her own sword flashing in figure eights while she retreated, and his strike met with only air. He recovered and set himself up for the onslaught he knew would come, coughing in the thickening dust kicked up by their boots.

Blade up, he parried the blows she rained down upon him. He managed to get in one of his own and retreated for a moment, breathing hard. She stepped back as well, her breasts heaving beneath the thin linen. Blue eyes glittered below brows narrowed with concentration, before her sword returned to action with a vengeance. They circled, dodging and striking in turn. Though her skill was far greater, the girl’s injuries from her last fight, combined with his greater reach and fitness, were beginning to tell. He glanced up from her sword as a movement tugged at the edge of his vision—it was her hat tumbling off. Her hair cascaded down in a tangle to her thighs and his heart surged.

She’s mine now.

He offered the ghost of a smile as he moved in to disarm her with a passing lunge and struck at her sword arm.

The air left his lungs and he tasted dirt in his mouth as he hit the unforgiving ground face-first. He groaned and rolled over, expecting the worst.

Above him, her laughing visage met his eyes. Her glorious curls, molten gold, fell around his face like a veil as she bent to wipe his face and kiss his lips. She slid the hilt of his sword from his hand.

“All right, halte, hold, you two,” their instructor said, in his heavy Russian accent. “There’s still work to be done, Xavier, but you’ve done well.”

Xavier Argüello took the hand his opponent offered, hopped to his feet and dusted off his clothes.

“Well done, Querido,” said his intended, Aleksandra Lekarski, as she returned his sword.

“Xavier, come here, please,” Vladimir Chabardine said, from the doorway of the cabin, where he was propped up in his sickbed. “You have worked hard. I am impressed, and it is rare that I am compelled to say that. That shashka now belongs to you. Use it in good health.”

Xavier stared at him, then at the Don Cossack saber in his hand, its leather grip smooth with years of use. He was silent for long moments. “But it’s yours, Vladimir,” he finally said.

“It was one of mine, yes. Now it is yours. Tatiana brought my other two shashkas with her from Russia. One is for Nikolai, when he is ready, and this one is for you. It’s the least I can do, after my part in,” he looked at Aleksandra and grimaced, “your papa’s death.”

She nodded, her face grim, in acknowledgement.

“Thank you, from the bottom of my heart,” Xavier said, shaking his head at the Russian, as he ran a finger from the tooled embellishment on the pommel through to the rawhide bouton and strip they used for their practice sessions. He slid the protectors off and his new shashka whispered into its scabbard. He turned to face Aleksandra and bowed to her. “Thank you,” he said, then turned to Vladimir, “and again, to you.”

She returned the bow and smiled at them both.

“You’re not quite done,” Vladimir said. “Xavier, replace the guard.”

“What would you like?” Aleksandra asked.

“One more bout. En garde,” he said, and they prepared.

They nodded.

Allez,” Vladimir snapped, and they began.

Aleksandra feinted, then moved to strike, but Xavier saw a hole in her defense and lunged. She twirled way with a laugh, then drew back, looking frightened, her body twisted strangely to the right.

Was she injured?

His gaze lifted to her face, but no pain resided there, though her brow was furrowed. What a chance! Her whole left side was unguarded, and he went for the opening.

Before he could alter his course, she unwound and her shashka flashed toward him. For the second time in his life, he froze as he found her blade across his throat.

¿Recuerdas? Remember this?” she said, her eyes merry.

“How could I forget, Querida,” he spoke for her ears alone, “our first meeting?”

Hands clapped behind them and they spun as one, hands tight on their sword hilts.

“No need fer that, no need fer that,” said a man, mounted on a chestnut horse. Beside the horse walked a black man, tied by the wrists to the rope in the rider’s hands.

“What do you wan—” Xavier began, then clamped his jaw, as his breath came short. Blood pounded in his ears and his face heated. “What can I help you with,” he finally managed, past gritted teeth, as he walked away from the house door, toward their callers.

“Well, hello theah,” the rider said, his Southern accent heavy. “Good fightin’, and fer a girl, too.” He looked sideways at Aleksandra.

“Aleks,” Xavier hissed, as he felt, rather than saw, her bristle beside him. He glanced at her knuckles showing white on the pommel of her saber. He reached out and covered her sword hand with his own and she took a deep breath and stilled.

“We’re yer new neighbors down th’road. Y’all wanna buy a slave? We’ve jus’ done come West ‘n now we’ve done finished buildin’ the house, he’s,” he nodded at the man at the end of his tether, “jus’ ‘noth’r mouth t’feed. Ca’int use ‘im to grow nuthin’ in this rock y’call dirt around heah.” He stopped and looked at the yard and cabin. “Nice place y’all got here.”

Xavier nodded, silent.

The man’s brows narrowed, then he continued. “Well, ah wondered if y’all had a breedin—ah, a woman slave I could trade fer him. The missus wants help in t’house, an’ I could use a little…too.” The glint in his beady eyes turned his grin into a leer.

Xavier closed his eyes and clenched his fists. “This territory may allow slavery, but nobody holds with it around here.”

The Southerner was silent for a moment, then answered with a voice dripping with sarcasm. “Now that’s mahty neighborly of ya. Are y’all some o’them ab’litionists we come West to git away from?”

“As you wish.” Xavier raised a brow at him, then shifted his gaze to the man on foot, staring at the dirt. “I apologize to you, sir, but you’ll have to go home with him again. May you find yourself a better life soon.”

The corners of the slave’s mouth lifted briefly. His eyes flickered up to Xavier’s, brightened, then dulled again as he dropped them to the ground.

“C’mon Jordan,” the rider growled, “we’re not welc’m here, by all accounts.” He jerked his horse around and they retreated the way they’d come.

Xavier stood silent, watching them go, then began to shake. He closed his eyes, willing himself to control the anger, and the deepening darkness. He inhaled sharply. When he opened his eyes, Aleksandra was staring at him.

“Are you all right?” she said, her brow furrowed.

“Yes.” Xavier nodded.

“More Southerners,” Aleksandra scowled as she wiped sweat from her brow with the back of her sleeve, “running from home before the government takes their slaves away?”

“That’ll never happen,” Xavier said, from between clenched jaws. “Too strong, too wealthy—cotton—slaves. Poor beggars down South.” He peered around. “Even here. I can’t believe it.”

“Believe it,” she said. “They’re coming.”

He shook his head. “I just wish we could stop it—the abuse, the owning.”

Aleksandra wrapped her arms around him, held him close until the tremors quieted. She leaned back in his arms and studied his face, then seemed satisfied with what she saw.

“Having you here makes it bearable, I think,” he said, and kissed her.

“I’m so used to you being the strong one…sometimes I forget the demons that still eat at you,” she said.

“So, when do you leave?” Nikolai Chabardine asked, a frown marring his features, as he sat with Aleksandra at the barn table piled with sweaty harness.

“It’ll be at least a few weeks,” Xavier said, sponging water down Rogan’s neck and over his back. “Your papa must be able to get around before we go.”

“We’d stay longer,” Aleksandra glanced up at Vladimir’s son from the saddle soap can at she was trying to open, “but I’m worried about my Mustang Dzień. He’s back at the Fish Springs Pony Express station. We don’t know if the Indian attacks out West have continued, or if they’ve—” She uttered an expletive, then reached for a screwdriver to pry off the lid.

The sixteen-year-old’s eyes widened. “Mama said I mustn’t say that, when I heard the teamsters say it.” He beamed. “I’ll practice when she cannot hear.”

Aleksandra shot him a look. “Not your best idea, Niko. I’m sorry, I shouldn’t have sworn,” she said, with a wry grin, as Nikolai turned back to Xavier.

Nikolai got up and handed the sweat scraper to Xavier. “Can I come with the two of you?”

“Sorry,” Xavier smiled at the boy, “but you’re needed here to help with your papa and the new garden. No Moskva stores here—you’ll have to grow or catch your own food.” He ducked, laughing, as the boy swung a hand at his shoulder. “Can you shoot that rifle of yours?”

“Yes, I can, and I love it here. It is very different from Moskva. Fewer people, and much warmer.” He quirked a brow.

“Staying here and helping your family keep an eye on this place is a big help to us, Nikolai.” Aleksandra was silent for a moment. “We might not be coming back for a while.” Her eyes filled, and she glanced at the sponge in her hand to hide her tears.

Her heart ached for her father, dead only a month, and the rest of her family in their little graveyard in the orchard.

How can I leave this—them—here?

She gulped and forced herself to attend to the conversation.

“It is our pleasure,” the young Russian was saying, with a slight bow—a glimmer of his father in his action. He glanced at her face. “Are you OK, Aleks?” His forehead creased.

“Yes, but this has always been my home…but you’ll understand about leaving home.” She tried to swallow past the lump in her throat. “You’ve come a long way, too.”

“Yes, but we came to find Papa.” He smiled softly.

“And you’ve found him.” Xavier said briskly. “As for the time remaining to us here, your father said you may join into my shashka lessons, now that I’m no longer a danger to you.”

“Really?” The boy’s eyes lit up, then he laughed. “You, a danger to me?”

Xavier’s lips twisted. “His words, not mine.”

“How long have you been taking fencing lessons?” Aleksandra said.

“Five years, it has been.” The boy stood taller as he replied. “Mama desired that I should know something of the sport at which my papa excels.”

“Wise woman,” Aleksandra raised a brow at him, her hands full of soapy sponge and harness. “She told me you were accomplished. It’s but a small step up to handling a shashka.”

“You’ll try not to hurt me too much, eh Niko?” Xavier asked, with a sheepish grin, and turned back to the colt to scrape the last water from his rump.


“Would you like to walk Rogan cool while I help Aleksandra clean the harness?”

“I should be happy to,” he said, taking the lead and walking out into the spring sunshine, chattering to the big bay.

“What do you plan to take?” Tatiana Chabardine asked.

“We take only what we can carry on the horses,” Aleksandra said, staring at her mother’s oak secretary, then gulped and turned back to Vladimir’s wife.

“Your delaine will stand you in good stead,” Tatiana said, smoothing a hand over the blue woolen muslin. “It’s just the color of your eyes.” She moved it aside to lift another bolt of fabric from the chest, then paused. “This is lovely,” the Russian woman murmured as she fingered the bolt of fine material beneath her hands.

“Oh, the lawn. Yes,” Aleksandra said. “Papa brought it back for me from Great Salt Lake…” frozen, she gripped it in her hands and tears flowed onto the fabric, darkening its sprigs of lavender flowers, “…City,” she finished, trailing into silence. Tatiana wrapped her arms about her and hugged her to her chest.

“I’m so very sorry for the loss of your papa, and at Vladimir’s hands, albeit accidentally. We cannot ever make that up to you—but I thank you with all my heart for what you have given me, and Vladimir, not to mention Niko.” She tilted Aleksandra’s chin up and smiled into her eyes. “He idolizes you, do you know? I’m afraid he will never find a woman to compare to you, so we should have him around for a good long while.”

Aleksandra laughed through her tears and gave the woman one last hug before stepping back and wiping her eyes. She picked up the lawn and held it to her face for a moment. “I’ll use it to make a dress to be wedded in, as soon as I find the time,” she whispered, then placed it back into the trunk with care.

“I wish I could be there for your wedding.” Tatiana said. “One is never sure where one will end up, no? In the meantime, we will begin on it before you leave.”

“Thank you. I was afraid to cut into it myself. I’ve only made muslin dresses and shirts for Papa since Mama died.”

“We’ll surely have it well in hand before you leave,” Tatiana said, “and thank you, again, for letting us stay here. It is a dream come true for all of us.”

“I’m happy you’ll be here to take care of it. We’re not sure whether we’ll return or not, or when, so it is helpful to know you’ll be here—” Aleksandra paused, her hand gliding over the surface of the secretary, “—and that things like this will be kept safe for a little longer. There’s no way to carry this with us, and it has no place in the goldfields. I’d hate to see Mama’s dream cut up for firewood.” She tried to swallow past the lump in her throat.

“We will care for everything as if it were our own. After Vladimir’s healed…” Tatiana’s face lost a bit of color, but she carried on, “…we will find you, wherever you are.”

“We’ll keep in contact.” Aleksandra bit her lip. “We’ve been watching over our shoulders for Vladimir for the past few decades. I wouldn’t know what to do if we lost track of him now.”

“I’ve never been so far from a hospital before, although,” she gave her a wry grin, “that could be a blessing in disguise, with the spread of disease in them.”

“Vladimir will get better…” Aleksandra bit her cheek, wishing she could be sure, “…surely.” Tatiana reached out and gripped her hands and opened her mouth to speak.

Rogan’s trumpet echoed from the orchard, his hooves beating a tattoo on the packed ground of his field. Over the tumult, Aleksandra heard hoofbeats coming at speed down the wagon track toward them. Raising an eyebrow at Tatiana, Aleksandra grabbed her rifle from its deer-antler rack on the wall, checked it was loaded, and slipped to the side of the open doorway as an Indian on a painted pony enter the clearing at a run.

Back to TOC

Praise for The Hills of Gold Unchanging:

“The pace is fast, there’s plenty of action and adventure and a few twists I didn’t see coming. Lizzi Tremayne writes good characters, and that definitely includes the horses. For me, though, it’s the history that’s the star in this story. Good characters plus excellent history equals a great read, which is what this is.”

Deborah Challinor, number one bestselling author and historian

“...superb storytelling. As Aleksandra and Xavier faced and survived human malevolence, natural disaster and accidents, and their own doubts and insecurities, I kept turning pages to find out what happened next. I love books in which adversity sculptures character and where challenges to relationships bend them to breakpoint and rebuild them stronger. This is one of those books. I can’t wait to read the sequel.”

Judy Knighton, editor

“There are so many things to like about this story. Lead characters, Aleks and Xavier, are well rounded and strong. Aleks has a stubborn streak and a determination to survive, no matter what. Both inspired me to cheer them on as they faced one problem after another along the way from Utah to California. The plot is well developed, and I particularly liked the attention to historical detail along the way. This is an author who does her homework, and it shows. I was intrigued by this story, and wish I’d read the first in the series before venturing onto this one. Despite that, this story does stand alone well, and is a cracking good yarn.”

Shelagh Merlin, NetGalley Reviewer

Back to TOC

A Sea of Green Unfolding

The Long Trails

Book Three

When you’ve already lost everything,

the only place left to go is up...

Tragedy strikes in Aleksandra and Xavier’s newly-found paradise on their Californio Rancho de las Pulgas and newspaperman Gustavus von Tempsky invites them on a journey to a new life in New Zealand—where everyone lives together in peace.

Unfortunately, change is in the wind.

When they reach Aotearoa, they disembark into a turbulent wilderness—where the wars between the European settlers and the local Māori have only just begun—and von Tempsky is leading the colonial troops into the bush.

Back to TOC

Chapter One

March 1863

Rancho de las Pulgas, San Mateo County, California

Aleksandra Argüello’s brother-in-law peeked out through the slits between his lashes and his bloodshot eyes widened at her in horror. He scrambled to his feet and bolted for the kitchen door—but she beat him to it.

“I repeat, Sancho, what did you mean when you said Xavier’s and my baby wouldn’t inherit the rancho?” she said past gritted teeth, as she stood against the plank of solid oak barring his way.

No se, no se, I don’t know,” he stammered, and began to spin toward the window. He froze at the sharp edge of Aleksandra’s sword across his throat.

Xavier Argüello chose that moment to open the door and stopped short.

“¿Cómo? What’s going on?” Aleksandra’s husband’s eyes narrowed at the pair of them.

“That’s what I’d like to know,” Aleksandra said. Sancho turned his head and she winced, blinking at the alcohol fumes wafting from his breath.

“Sancho?” Xavier’s long legs covered the distance to them in two steps.

Aleksandra tightened her grip on the sword and the miscreant inhaled sharply, but otherwise didn’t move.

Su hermano,” she said, directing her words to Xavier, though she never looked away from Sancho, “your brother, showed up three hours ago, just after you left for morning feeding, reeking of tequila and looking like he’d been out drinking all night. He was mumbling something about Melissandra, our ‘poor little girl’, I think he said, ‘pobre niña’.”

“That’s right,” Xavier said.

“And that Rancho de las Pulgas should be hers, but it was ‘too bad she was born out of wedlock’. Then he passed out on the floor. When he finally stirred just now, I asked him to explain himself. He tried to bolt, so I’m encouraging him to stay and talk awhile.” She gave Xavier the hint of a grin.

Xavier’s brows shot up as he flicked his head sideways, his frown now fully on his brother. “Illegitimate, eh, hermano? ¿Come se dice? What did you say? Out with it.”

With a desperate sideways glance, Sancho ducked and spun, swinging a fist at Aleksandra as he pulled away. Xavier’s punch caught him first, and Sancho’s head snapped back as he dropped to the floor.

Aleksandra ducked down beside him to check his pulse, then stood up and shook her head as she sheathed her shashka.

“Are you even carrying your sword around the house?” Xavier asked, his dark brows lowering.

“It’s only been two weeks since your daughter and I were kidnapped from this house,” she said, fixing him with a stare. “I’m happier with it by my side.” Xavier must be upset to even think of asking about it.

Xavier shifted his gaze to his brother. “I thought he’d stopped the drinking episodes,” he said.

“So did I, but in the three days he’s been gone, I guess he had plenty of time to get drunk.”

Xavier’s jaw was tight as he reached for her. He closed his eyes for a moment as he pulled her in close, and slid his fingers along her arms. “Mmmmm. You’ve been baking. You’re covered in flour.” He looked down at her with a hint of a smile, then a frown. “And you’ve gotten dough in your hair,” he said, picking up her long blonde braid from where it hung down nearly to her knees.

Aleksandra shook her head. “It happens,” she said, and glanced toward the kitchen table. “Adelita’s already begun making the tortillas without me, while we’ve been playing here.”

“I’m worried about Sancho. Mama is too,” he murmured.

“Xavier, do you know anything about what he said?”

“He doesn’t know what he’s talking about,” he said, and turned toward their Indian sirvienta.

She stared at them all, her mouth agape.

He nodded to her. “Buenos tardes, Adelita,” he said, and reached for the water jug. He poured himself a cup and took a long drink. “We were married in Virginia City,” he told her. “Sancho is drunk. Está borracho.

“But what if it were true?” Aleksandra looked sideways at him. “My mama and papa would turn over in their Catholic graves if it were.”

Xavier stilled. The black fringe of his forelock half-hid his brown eyes, flecked with gold, as he shifted his gaze to his brother. “Sancho,” he said, loudly.


“It’s an issue easily resolved for us, really,” Xavier said, as he knelt beside Sancho and shook him, “but it could be a little tricky in that Melissandra should by rights be first in line to inherit Rancho de las Pulgas. Mi hermano knows it well.

“Sancho,” he barked again, but his younger brother never flinched. He shook his head.

“What if he knows something we don’t?” Aleksandra said, shivering as a chill settled in her gut. Sancho could be telling the truth. “The Methodist pastor in Virginia City thought he could perform the ceremony in the absence of a priest, but what if…”

Señor Argüello,” Adelita bit her lip, and looked at them, her brow furrowed, “a letter came for you and la señorita,” she nodded at Aleksandra. “It was from Virginia City, but I don’t know who it was from. I put it on the desk of el señorito.”

“Sancho’s desk? When was that, Adelita?”

,” she nodded. “It was many months ago, just before you returned from picking up the colts from Utah, and Molly and Sebastian from Virginia City. Before the bebé was born.”

“I think it’s time to look around the office,” Xavier said. “Let us know if he moves, por favor, Adelita?”

They left her patting out tortillas, between nervous glances at Sancho, and headed for the rancho office.

Sí, sí, por supuesto,” she called after them.

They searched the desktop and shelves for an hour, but found only piles of long-overdue bills. In a bottom drawer, they found a stack of notes with scribbles scrawled upon their faces. The only decipherable figures on the notes seemed to be rather large dollar amounts.

“More bills, no doubt,” Xavier said, with a shake of his head. “Guess I’ll have to take over the books, too.”

“We should’ve looked before, but…Sancho has been a bit displaced, with your return.” Aleksandra winced.

“I wanted to leave him a little pride,” Xavier lifted a brow, “but we need to keep the rancho solvent.” He looked at the heap of chits, his lips in a hard line. “Difficult enough, without having creditors breathing down our necks. I wondered why all the storekeepers were giving me sour looks.”

“We’ve found nothing here. Perhaps he’s ready to wake up now,” Aleksandra said.

This time, when Xavier shook his shoulder, Sancho struggled to a sitting position.

“Wha—? Oh, Xavier,” he said, his brows narrowing at his brother for a moment, then he shrugged and rubbed his eyes.

Buenos días, hermano.” Xavier sat on a stool beside him and regarded him over his coffee. “Hard night?”

“Must’ve been. I feel like—”

“—don’t say it,” Aleksandra cut in. “My Spanish is improving.”

He turned to face her, an odd look upon his face.

“I was wondering,” she went on, “what you meant, earlier, when you said Melissandra was born out of wedlock?”

Sancho’s mouth dropped slowly open and his eyes widened, then he glanced toward the doorway. He lunged for it, but Xavier had him in a head lock before he took three steps.

“Tell us about it, hermano,” Xavier said, his voice cold steel.

“Ah, ah…I was going to give you the letter, but I…lost it.”

“You can do better than that,” Xavier growled low.

“Maybe, if you let me go, I can…”

Xavier’s jaw locked, along with the grip on his brother’s throat.

“Where are we looking?” Xavier enunciated each word.

“The office,” he whispered, eyes closed.

Xavier hustled him along before him, his arm still locked around his neck.

“You can let go, now,” Sancho whined.

“If you like,” Xavier said, and shoved him through the open office doorway.

After Aleksandra entered, the door slammed shut behind her, and a key scraped in the lock. Xavier pocketed it.

“Now, tell us about it,” he said.

“Well, it should be here.” Sancho riffled through piles on the desk, then glanced at the drawers down the side.

“Granted, we don’t know exactly what we’re looking for,” Xavier said, “but we’ve already looked.”

Sancho stopped, mid-shuffle, and turned, a tight smile on his face.

“Then, I don’t know what you’re talking about. She’s lying.” He looked at Aleksandra in triumph.

Xavier narrowed his eyes at them both for a moment.

She raised her brows in return. “Absolutely not,” she said, and drew her shashka from its place at her hip. She walked with measured tread toward Sancho. Morning sunlight glinted off the polished metal of the short Cossack sword.

Her brother-in-law paled and took a step back and whipped around toward the window. He stopped short just before he got there, with a whimper.

Aleksandra held the razor-edge of the shashka against Sancho’s throat until he started talking.

“The letter came before you did, but I forgot—”

“The facts, please,” she said, her voice as icy as the steel.

“I put it in a special drawer for you—so I wouldn’t lose—” He stopped speaking and bit his lips together.

A drop of blood appeared at his throat.

“Where is it now?” She wasn’t about to let him stop talking.

“Inside the bottom drawer a la derecha, to the right, up high, a secret shelf.”

Sancho made no sound as Xavier fumbled around and pulled out a much-handled envelope from deep inside the drawer. Its flap was wrinkled where it had clearly been steamed open and resealed; by the look of it, several times.

“Is this it?” Xavier’s voice brooked no argument.

Sancho glanced at him and gulped. “,” he whispered. “It is delivered. Let me go now.”

Aleksandra took the letter from him and picked up a silver letter opener, shaped like a tiny sword.

Xavier unlocked the door and let Sancho escape, then locked it again and turned back to her.

She sat down with a thump on the desk chair and began to read the unfamiliar handwriting.

Dearest Aleksandra and Xavier,

Jason, Billy and the rest of the family send their love and hope you are all doing well, as we are here. I am sorry to be the bearer of bad news, but when the traveling priest visited town today, he was incensed that dispensation for your marriage was given by Reverend Clay, without the Bishop’s blessing. He says you are not, in truth, married, in the eyes of the Catholic Church, that you are living in sin, and that your child will be illegitimate unless you marry before its birth.

I hope you can find a priest to marry you at your earliest convenience, and that everything is well with the impending birth of your child. I’m glad Molly will be at your side for your birth and hope her new midwifery practice is going well. She and Seb left earlier this week with Xavier.

Until we meet again, all our love and regards,

Sarah (and Billy and Jason, by proxy)

She handed it in silence to Xavier and leaned against his long, lean bulk. When he’d finished, he sat down on the desk before her, with a wry grin.

“Whatever do we do now?” she said.

“I guess Mama didn’t miss the wedding after all?”

She shook her head. “But Xavier, this isn’t funny. We’ve not been married all this time, over two years.” It didn’t bear thinking about.

“We’ve done our best. It will all be sorted.” He was silent for a moment, then his eyes lit up. “Let’s go tell Mama. She can give us a big fiesta and her priest can come and marry us properly, since our marriage…isn’t.” His attempt at a straight face failed and he grinned. “I only hope her current priest isn’t the bishop of San Francisco. He’s the one upset about our current marriage.” He cocked an eyebrow at her, and then he frowned. “I don’t know what it will take to ensure Melissandra’s legitimacy, but we’ll sort that out.”

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