The Songbird

Wings of the West Book 6

Coming December 28, 2021

PRE-ORDER NOW!!

A Wings of the West Novella

Join characters from the Wings of the West series in this novella set fifteen years after THE WREN.

A fair in Denton, Texas, draws folks from far and wide, and Matt and Molly Ryan have come to close a horse deal while also enjoying a bit of rest and relaxation. It’s a family affair with Matt’s brother, Logan, and his wife, Claire, joining them, as well as Nathan and Emma Blackmore, and Cale and Tess Walker.

Meet the daughters of the second generation—Katie and Josie Ryan, belonging to Matt and Molly; and Anna, Sarah, and Sophie Ryan, Logan and Claire’s girls. Ranging in age from eleven to fourteen, they attempt to help a boy falsely accused of theft, but in doing so they uncover a deeper secret. And the connection may lead back to Molly’s time with the Kwahadi Comanche when she was a child.

Look for each of the girls to be featured in a future novel.

The Wings of the West Series Reading Order
Book One: The Wren
Book Two: The Dove
Book Three: The Sparrow
Book Four: The Blackbird
Book Five: The Bluebird
Book Six: The Songbird (Novella)
Book Seven: Echo of the Plains (Short Story)
Book Eight: The Starling (Coming Soon)

Praise

Coming Soon

Read Chapter One

Texas
October 1892

 

Molly

 

Molly awoke in the still of night, staring at the ceiling, confused. Then she remembered that she and Matt were in a hotel in Denton.

 

She released a breath and closed her eyes, her body still paralyzed from the dream. Not a nightmare, exactly, but it still left her feeling panicked and sad. When she was finally able to move her hand, she reached over and found Matt’s warm body beside her. She rolled toward him and shifted closer, seeking the shelter only he could offer.

 

He stirred and let her crawl into his embrace.

 

“Bad dream?” he said, his lips brushing against her hair.

 

“Yes.”

 

“Same one?”

 

She sighed. “Yes.” She was weary. It had been weeks and always the same dream.

 

“Have you talked to Emma?”

 

Her younger sister possessed what some called a second sight, what small-minded people might call witchcraft. “Not yet.” She buried her face against his bare skin, calmed by his scent. My husband.

 

“She might be able to help you,” he said. “Maybe there’s something more to it.”

 

Molly knew he spoke from experience. For years he’d been haunted in his sleep by an incarceration he’d endured while still a Texas Ranger, sharing the full details of that time only with her. And then the man responsible, Augusto Cerillo—who had been killed by Molly’s brother-in-law, Nathan—had returned two years after she’d married Matt. But his vengeance wasn’t of the normal variety since he was no longer living in the physical sense. Cerillo had used the spirit world to exact his revenge. Only with the help of Emma and Molly herself had they been able to stop Cerillo—who had been using the body of another man—from killing Matt. But when it had been all over, Matt’s nightmares had slowly faded away.

 

She needed to face her recurring dream, but trepidation filled her at the thought, and so she had dealt with it by pushing it to another day. If she went to Emma, and her sister enlightened her, then what? Molly would have to act on it, she supposed.

 

But she couldn’t go on like this. The nightly images weren’t stopping. They were getting only worse.

 

“All right,” she whispered. “I’ll talk to Emma tomorrow.”

 

Matt kissed her forehead and pulled the bedcovers over her shoulders. With him beside her, she managed to claim a few more hours of restless sleep.

 

* * *

 

Molly

 

The boy slammed into Molly on the boardwalk, stunning her as she grabbed his shoulders to keep him from falling. He spun around, ripping himself from her arms, and sped away, kicking up dust as his footfalls tapped a steady rhythm on the wooden walkway.

 

“What on earth,” Claire said, grabbing Molly’s elbow and holding tight. Many years ago, Molly had saved Claire’s life after finding her beaten and abandoned in a ravine, and the two of them had formed a tight bond of friendship, strengthened even further by their sister-in-law status when they both married Ryan men.

 

Molly straightened. “He’s certainly in a hurry.”

 

Leaving the central square where an impressive two-story courthouse with a tower stood vigil, Molly and Claire followed in the same direction as the boy to the location of the Denton Fair, near Avenue A and Welch Street a mile away. Molly thought surely the boy would tire before he arrived.

 

The fair—running for several days—had attracted a large crowd. There were many competitions for livestock and agriculture, as well as the buying and selling of horses, indicated by the long line of stables across the north end of the fairgrounds. Prominent women in the community were presenting many items for judging: oil paintings, embroidered linen, quilts, and food items such as preserves, cakes, and jellies.

 

The real excitement was the cowboy competitions and the horse racing—running and trotting races around a 40-acre racetrack on the site.

 

Molly had been hoping to talk to Emma this morning over breakfast, but it had been too hectic at the hotel where they were staying. Molly had come with Matt, along with their daughters Katie and Josie. The girls, ages twelve and eleven, had been eager to attend the fair, but their oldest, Eli, had remained at the Rocking Wren Ranch. At fourteen, he was happier atop a horse and seeing to his chores. He was a Texan through and through and was already planning his future in cattle.

 

Somewhere, Molly’s girls were off with their cousins, Claire’s three daughters—Anna, the oldest at fourteen, and the mirror image of Claire with her long blond hair and quietly organized nature; Sarah, a year younger and often mistaken for Anna’s twin but with a personality that was more cheerful and more openly inquisitive, and eleven-year-old Sophie, her dark hair reminiscent of the Ryans, setting her apart from her older sisters. That and her large stash of books, several that she’d hauled along on this trip.

 

The group of cousins had chattered well past their bedtime the night before and seemed caught up in their prattle while making the rounds of the fair.

 

“Do you think we should keep a closer eye on the girls?” Molly asked.

 

Claire laughed. “Do you have a rope? We’d need to lasso them to get them to sit still. I haven’t the energy. Besides, how much trouble can they get into?”

 

The question seemed to hang in the air like a dark cloud.

 

“As the oldest, Anna will look out for them,” Claire added, her tone reassuring.

 

Molly silently agreed. Anna carried an innate confidence. “She is by far the most mature of the bunch.”

 

“She certainly pushes Logan to distraction.” Claire hooked her arm into Molly’s as they left the boardwalk and stepped onto the dirt road. Several horse-drawn buggies rushed past. “Always telling her father what to do. I fear she’ll never find a husband at this rate.”

 

“That’s all right. She can become a doctor like you. Then she won’t need a husband.”

 

“I think that would make Logan happy. No man will ever be good enough for his baby girl. Any of them.”

 

Logan was blessed with four daughters and no sons, and while he occasionally bemoaned his henpecked status, he would do anything for his girls, which was why he almost hadn’t come. His and Claire’s youngest, Ellie, hadn’t been feeling well, but she was in the very good hands of her grandparents. So Logan had finally agreed to attend the fair with his remaining family.

 

As they neared the fairgrounds, cheering drew them through a throng of people to one of the horse arenas. As they approached, a colorful noseband on one of the horses caught her eye. Even from a distance, she recognized the elongated diamond pattern of yellow, red, and black set against a green background. It was Comanche. Specifically, it was Kwahadi Comanche.

 

A pang of longing gripped her, surprising her with its intensity. As traumatic as her childhood had been, she had lived eight years with the Comanche and had formed an attachment to her “new” family. And there were times when she missed them. Her recurring dream was evidence of that.

 

The Comanche possessed many skills when it came to horses, and since marrying Matt she had put the skills learned from her Comanche father to use. She moved closer to get a better look.

 

The boy who had bumped into her and Claire—who looked to be about twelve—was beside the man handling the horse. While the man was clearly not Comanche, the boy had the look of one, stirring memories of her time with the People.

 

“Do you know who that is?” Molly asked Claire.

 

“The man or the boy?”

 

“Both.”

 

“No, but they’ve got a fine horse they’re about to sell.”

 

Molly glanced around, searching for Matt or Logan, but the crowd was thick and filled with cowboy hats and parasols. With the horses being sold one by one, by the time Molly returned her attention to the corral, the man, the boy, and the horse were gone, replaced by the next one.

 

* * *

 

Matt

 

Matt rounded the corral and ran into his brother-in-law, Cale. “Any news?” he asked.

 

Cale squinted and sighed. “If you’re referring to the big sale with Anderson, it’s fallen through.”

 

Hell.

 

“Are you sure?”

 

Cale gave a curt nod. “He’s not even here. I’m hearing chatter that he found another option for a better deal.”

 

Ours was a damned good deal. Both Molly and I worked hard to give him what we thought he wanted.”

 

“I know.” Cale paused.

 

“Spit it out, Walker.”

 

“If you really want to unload these horses, we might have another buyer.”

 

“Who?”

 

“Holden McCabe.”

 

Matt didn’t bother to tamp down the string of swear words that left his mouth.

 

“Yeah.” Cale’s laugh held little humor. “I thought you might react that way, but I didn’t want to leave you out of the loop. I wholeheartedly agree that selling to McCabe is at the bottom of my wish list.”

 

Matt shook his head in defeat. “So we brought the brood all this way for nothing.”

 

“It appears that might be the case.” Cale adjusted his hat. “But look at it this way—you gave the wives a nice trip with their very handsome husbands.”

 

It was going to be a nuisance to drive the horses back to the Rocking Wren at the end of the week, taking longer to return than he’d planned, but so be it. The main reason he’d come to the Denton Fair was to sell two dozen of his best horseflesh. With the help of Molly, they had worked with the animals over the summer, and the goal had been to take the proceeds and invest in breeding stock from England. Matt already had completed the early paperwork, but they needed the money from these horses, and Anderson had been on board.

 

Cale, Molly’s half-brother, had a part in the deal too, adding twelve animals from his own stock. Molly shared a love of horses with Cale, and they frequently hunkered down at Sunday family dinners to discuss the merits of breeding and training. Her outlook was decidedly shaped by her time with the Comanche, a group of people considered to be some of the finest horsemen around. At least until they’d been moved to the reservation at Fort Sill. Still, Matt had word that many had continued practicing their skills, attempting to make a living from them.

 

“Also,” Cale continued, “apparently Anderson was complaining there weren’t enough geldings. He’s saying you promised him more.”

 

Right before Matt had departed North Texas, Molly had changed her mind about three horses with their son, Eli, advising her. Matt had learned never to interfere when the two of them were making equine decisions, since they both seemed to have a gut instinct when it came to the animals they bred and trained. Matt trusted Molly’s judgment.

 

“So that’s why he’s ruining the deal?” Matt asked, not bothering to hide his annoyance. “For three horses? It would’ve been nice if he’d have told us before we moved them all here.”

 

The women and children had taken the train from Wichita Falls, but Matt, Cale, Nathan, and Logan had driven the horses themselves. Matt had been looking forward to a return journey with Molly, Katie, and Josie in a fine rail car with cushioned seats, but it looked like a return drive would be necessary.

 

The look on Cale’s face told Matt there was more news.

 

“Do I have to drag it out of you?”

 

A smile came and went on Cale’s face. “I fear you’re gonna hate this rumor more than the previous one. McCabe wants to have supper with Molly.”

 

In disbelief, Matt said, “Does he want to court my wife? I damned well have something to say about that.”

 

“McCabe’s a prick. That’s no secret. But I think it has more to do with Molly’s time with the Comanche.”

 

That was something Matt preferred to keep private, if only to protect Molly. They had been married for fifteen years, but he still couldn’t abide her past being the subject of gossip. However, in the years since she’d had their children, she had spoken on occasion with them of her abduction when she had been nine years old, along with the ensuing years she had lived with the Comanche before being rescued by an old miner named Elijah, the very man for whom they had named their son. She was even teaching Katie to speak Comanche.

 

“It’s up to Molly whether she wants to discuss her past with him,” Matt said. “But I’ll be there if she does.”

 

Logan and Nathan appeared wearing chaps, their spurs clinking. Nathan’s scar on his left cheek, courtesy of a Comanche years ago, was more visible than usual on his clean-shaven face.

 

“When does the race start?” Cale asked. “Which one is it again?”

 

“The three-eighths-mile dash,” Logan said. “And it begins in an hour. The purse is up to $50. I hear the betting is favoring me.”

 

“That’s horseshit,” Nathan said, narrowing his brown eyes into a squint. “If anything, it’s that pony over there getting all the interest.” He nodded toward a corral where an impressive mare pranced back and forth. The man who was watching the animal triggered recognition.

 

“Is that Bill Harner?” Matt asked.

 

Nathan looked closer. “I’ll be damned. I think it is.”

 

Logan pulled on his leather gloves. “Who’s that?”

 

“Back in ’75, he was on the Rangers with us,” Nathan replied, referring to his and Matt’s time with the Texas Rangers. “But he was just a youngster. That was right before I got Matt away from Cerillo. After that, I don’t know what happened to Bill.”

 

“Well, he’s standing beside McCabe,” Cale said.

 

Matt grimaced. “It’s almost enough to avoid Harner, but I’ll go and say hello.”

 

“We need to head over to the starting line,” Nathan said to Logan. “Wouldn’t want our winning boy to miss his moment of glory.”

 

“You’ll be eating my dust, Blackmore.”

 

“Good luck,” Matt said as the two of them departed. Matt headed in the opposite direction, but then stopped and turned back to Cale. “You coming? If McCabe starts gabbing like a hen about Molly, I’ll need your backup.”

 

Cale cocked an eyebrow. “You want me to hold your hand?”

 

“Like hell. I might need you to pull me off him if he pisses me off. Molly won’t take kindly to me sitting in a jail cell for disorderly conduct. She’s expecting me for supper.”

 

“Don’t worry. Sheriff Mars owes me a favor. You wouldn’t be in jail for long.”

 

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