Journey to Hawk's Peak
Book 5 in the Montana Gallagher Series
Hawk’s Peak, Montana Territory—May 1884
A hawk and its mate soared high above their heads. White clouds tipped with gray created a continuous patchwork in the vast, blue sky, casting shadows over the snow-capped mountains. A cool, spring breeze caressed Amanda’s face and whipped her unbound hair over her shoulders. She’d left the house wearing only a shawl, preferring to relish in the warmer air after the long, harsh season.
The winter of ’84 had been one of the coldest in Amanda’s memory. Although it had been her first in Montana, she was no stranger to the hardships of the western frontier. No matter how settled the land became or how many people from the East ventured in search of the same dreams which brought her parents west, she loved the wildness the land fought to retain.
“I’ll never tire of this sight.” Not a soul within one hundred miles could miss the grand mountain ranges that crisscrossed the land and protected their valley.
“I won’t either.” Brenna wore a heavier wool shawl, the edges gathered over her growing belly. Amanda smiled at her friend—one of many she’d made since arriving at Hawk’s Peak—and imagined Brenna as a new mother once again.
Brenna and Ethan Gallagher already had one son, Jacob, named after Ethan’s father and born in Scotland, Brenna’s homeland. The courage to leave behind everything and everyone she knew at Cameron Manor to journey across an ocean and vast continent impressed Amanda. She’d embarked on her own journey when she left home, but it compared nothing to what Brenna must have experienced.
Brenna stopped at a point in the meadow and bent over to pick a few sprigs of wild lupine and add them to the basket she carried over one arm. Calves frolicked in the nearby pastures, another sign that spring had come regardless of winter’s efforts to linger. In her lyrical voice with her refined Scottish accent, Brenna said, “When I first stepped foot off the stage, the sheer enormity of what I’d done paled in comparison to the beauty of these mountains. I abhorred the circumstances that forced me to flee, and yet without those trials, I wouldn’t be here now. I wouldn’t have Ethan or Jacob.” She patted her belly and smiled. “Or this one.”
“I envy you, Brenna.” Amanda continued walking, but it was Brenna who stopped, surprised by the quietly spoken words.
“What a dear thing for you to say, but there are many who could say the same of you.”
Amanda was quick to assure Brenna. “Please, don’t think me ungrateful for what I have. I’ve been blessed many times over in my life. I envy the way you approach life, every day with such hope.”
“It got me into trouble often as a child,” Brenna said with a smile. “Give yourself time. I often feel as though you’ve always been a part of our lives, but it wasn’t so long ago when you arrived.”
Amanda stared across the quiet meadow, fixated on the swaying grass. “Before you met Ethan, did you ever . . .”
“Did I ever what?” Brenna asked. “You may ask me anything, and I’ll answer if I can.”
“Did you ever wonder if you were strong enough to live the life you always wanted?”
Brenna’s soft and understanding smile was immediate. “Oh yes, but then my circumstances were different. I came here for truth, and perhaps even revenge, and I was blind to everything else. Then I met Ethan, and my . . . destiny evolved quickly. Before I realized what I truly wanted, events led me down an unexpected path, for which I’m grateful.” Brenna reached for Amanda’s hand and squeezed it. “Don’t fight your heart too much.” Without another word on the subject, Brenna continued walking along the water.
They walked over the low bridge Ethan and his brother had built so the women could easily cross the rushing creek now that Gabriel and his wife lived on the other side. Isabelle and Brenna, both near the end of their pregnancies, visited each other often, and the bridge made the walk easier. Still, Amanda kept a close eye on Brenna as they crossed.
Two new lives would soon be brought into this world, adding to the growing generations of Gallaghers. Isabelle’s younger brother, Andrew, and Catie, the young orphan girl who came into their lives at Christmas, were as much a part of this family’s legacy as the children born to the three siblings. Hawk’s Peak and the Gallagher birthright were safe.
Ethan, Gabriel, and Eliza Gallagher were among the most kind, decent, and honorable people she’d ever met. Without them, there would be no guessing where she might have ended up. When Eliza and her husband Ramsey—also Brenna’s brother—found her serving in Millie’s saloon, they didn’t hesitate to bring her back to the ranch and offer her a job. What a sight she must have been working in the dingy drinking house.
Millie had been kind enough to her and wouldn’t allow any of the customers to give Amanda trouble, but just when she would have quit and left Briarwood, the fates had intervened. People like the Gallaghers were rare, at least in Amanda’s experience, but it turned out the family surrounded themselves with like-minded and generous individuals.
Amanda once asked Eliza why they brought her home. Eliza had cryptically told her, “Sometimes we cross paths with a person, and we don’t always know why we’re meant to help them.”
The women stopped and watched as two of the ranch hands rode toward one of the corrals where the last of the calves would be branded before they were turned out to pasture. Amanda avoided that part of the ranch once she realized the calves had to be restrained before the hot iron scored the staggered HP brand into their hides. She understood the necessity and knew the ranch hands took great care with the animals. Still, she cringed every time.
Ben Stuart, the ranch foreman, would be working alongside the Gallaghers and other men. Everyone worked on the ranch from sunup to sundown. It was rewarding work, the kind that made a person grateful for the health and strength to wake up each day, earn an honest living, and make a mark on the world. Amanda’s mind often filled with thoughts of Ben, ever since he kissed her beside the town Christmas tree as snow gently fell around them. Neither of them had spoken of it since. She avoided him at times when the memory of their single kiss overwhelmed her and when deep and unfamiliar emotions stirred within.
She turned to face Brenna. “I’m sorry, you asked me something?”
Brenna smiled and her eyes shined with curiosity. “The last time you drifted off, Ben was nearby.”
“Ben is always near. I prefer not to make more of it than it is.”
Brenna remained quiet, but Amanda sensed it wasn’t because she had nothing to say.
She continued the walk over the green grass toward Isabelle and Gabriel’s house with Brenna by her side. They’d brought fresh cookies baked earlier in the morning, and Amanda was eager to arrive at their destination where Isabelle and Andrew would offer a distraction and take their minds off the conversation. In truth, she wanted to avoid Brenna’s inquisitive glances.
She thought of Eliza, who had a knack for looking into people’s souls and measuring their worth and integrity with her piercing Gallagher-blue eyes. Amanda had long since given up trying to hide her secrets from that particular Gallagher, though it helped that Eliza spent most of her time with the horses in a new stable built farther from the main house and barns. Eliza, like the others, allowed Amanda her privacy, not asking probing questions about how she ended up in Briarwood with little more to her name than a satchel and a few dollars.
Unfortunately, Brenna seemed to have developed a talent of her own for rooting out secrets. With her quiet demeanor and trusting mannerisms, there were times when Amanda wanted to share everything with Brenna. Or Amanda had simply grown weary of hiding. Brenna let the subject of Ben recede and instead repeated the question she asked earlier. “How are the children in town? I know how grateful both Isabelle and Gabriel are that you’ve filled in at the school.”
Amanda relaxed her shoulders and smiled. She spent three days a week in town, helping out the reverend when there was a family in need. She cooked when a mother was ill or in the late stages of confinement, she cared for young children when both parents had to spend time in the fields, and visited with a few of the elderly residents who weren’t able to move around without assistance. When it became evident Isabelle would be unable to travel to and from town without great discomfort, Amanda took over teaching duties for a few hours every day when she was in the village.
“They’re wonderful, though I suspect they miss Isabelle and are too kind to say so.”
“All your time volunteering in town and working here doesn’t leave you much time for socializing.”
They stopped a few yards away from Isabelle’s front door. Amanda held the basket of cookies and a loaf of fresh bread close to her side. “You know I don’t mind spending time with the children. I like to keep busy. Besides, I’m no longer one for socializing.”
“I heard a rumor the last time I was in town that a young farmer had shown some interest.”
Amanda only offered a shrug. “Mr. Patterson. He arrived with two young children a few months ago. He’s a nice man and I adore teaching his son and daughter, but I don’t share his interest.”
Brenna’s face softened and her eyes revealed a touch of worry. “It’s not my business, but after Christmas I suspected . . . I had hoped, you and Ben . . .”
Amanda turned up her face to the sun and closed her eyes to gain a moment of courage. When she opened them, the pine-covered mountains filled her vision before she faced Brenna. “I’ve discovered the life I’ve always dreamed of right here.”
Brenna hesitated, though Amanda could see she wanted to say something. “I’ve seen the way you look at him, or how your interest in a conversation increases when his name is mentioned. You haven’t spoken of your life before arriving in Briarwood, and I haven’t asked, but is there something stopping you from finding your own happiness?”
“I am happy, Brenna.”
“You know what I mean.”
Amanda nodded and exhaled, buying herself a little time. “I’ve feared this moment.” She soaked in the sounds of geese flying overhead, the gentle rush of the creek as the water bubbled and flowed over rocks, and the breeze as it carried the fresh scents of pine and spring grass.
“Do you still have family somewhere?”
Again, Amanda nodded. “Some of my mother’s family, though they were never close. I haven’t seen them since I was a young girl.”
“If there’s anything we can do to help—”
“Please, no.” Amanda gripped Brenna’s arm. “If they found me, I’d be dead.”
Brenna’s rose-leaf complexion lost all color. “In the name of all good . . . Who wants you dead, Amanda?”
Excerpted from Journey to Hawk's Peak by MK McClintock. Copyright © 2016 by MK McClintock. Published by Trappers Peak Publishing. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the author or publisher.