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A Disguise of Grace in the Trail of Love

Abbie disguises herself as a man to join the trail where women are not allowed. Will her faith be enough to save her when the mysterious wagon master uncovers her secret?

After her twin brother’s departure, Abbie stays behind with her abusive father. Amidst the ranch chores, clad in practical pants, a simple mistake by neighbors becomes a daring idea. Abbie disguises herself as a man and joins the wagon trail, where women are not allowed alone.

Clayton, the trail master, is a man of few words. A chance encounter with the enigmatic “Jeff” leads him to an unexpected discovery. When he uncovers Abbie’s secret, his world shifts. Drawn to her resilience, he struggles with the collision of duty and desire.

In a journey where love and faith collide, Abbie and Clayton must find the courage to confront their fears and embrace a future built on hope and redemption. Will they discover that true love can guide them to a place of peace and belonging?

Written by:

Christian Historical Romance Author


May 1850

Independence, Missouri


There’s no sense making a bad situation worse by grumbling about it, Abbie Townsend believed. If you had to muck out manure on a perfectly lovely spring morning, why not dance with the shovel?

Yet when she was in the middle of a graceful pirouette, her father’s bellow made her jump nearly to the barn ceiling.

“Abbie!” Ezekiel’s voice boomed across the ranch.

Abbie was so startled that she dropped her shovel and preceded to stumble over it. The oversized boots she wore caused her to twist her ankle to one side. She threw her arms out as she lost her balance, but it did her no good, and she promptly found herself plopping down in a steaming pile of horse droppings.


How many more pitfalls would there be today?

After getting back to her feet, Abbie used some dry hay to wipe herself off as best as she could. She tested her ankle, then, at her father’s second holler, she took off running.

Not toward the house, from which Ezekiel’s shouts emanated, but down the windy footpath to the mailbox.

She knew her father would come find her. Yet she could only hope that the walk from the ranch house to the stables would give him enough time to corral his temper.

Although that was unlikely.

Ever since her beloved brother Jeff had disappeared, tensions had been high around the ranch. Stealing what little money their father had saved and leaving her—his twin sister no less—to deal with Ezekiel’s rage on her own.

At the mailbox, she yanked open the wooden door, cringing at the squeal of the rusty metal hinges. Her heart collapsed in on itself when she saw that there was no letter.

How could Jeff not write to her for so long? Why hadn’t he just taken her with him when he left? Why hadn’t he sent for her yet?

Oh, Lord, I pray that he’s alive and well.

Abbie rolled her shoulders back and took a deep breath. She scuffed her brother’s old boots on the grass, hoping to clean them of any remaining horse manure.

If only Jeff had sent for me, I could be with him in California and I wouldn’t have to do all the ranch chores on my own.

Refusing to get too depressed, Abbie trudged back to the stables, hoisting up her trousers so they didn’t drag around her feet.

As she entered the barn, the mare in the stall closest to the doors whinnied at her. Abbie smiled sadly, the horrible start to her morning forgotten for a second. She had a bigger worry looming right now.

“Oh, Rose.” She extended her arm over the stall door and rubbed the horse’s soft nose. “Why won’t you be tamed? Father is going to put you down as easily as he crushes my dreams beneath his foot.”

The spirited mare was nothing more than a thorn in Ezekiel’s side. Abbie knew Rose was slotted for death soon and there was nothing she could do to save her.

I can’t even save myself.

And my prayers to God continue to go unanswered.

She tried to maintain faith, but it was becoming increasingly difficult the longer she went without word from Jeff.

“One day there’ll be another letter, and I’ll be able to leave this place,” Abbie told the horse. “Jeff will have made a good name and an upstanding reputation for himself, and I will be able to join him in California. We will join him, because I’ll bring you with me, Rose, and we’ll find peace together.”

Rose gave a little snort and Abbie went to collect her shovel to finish mucking the stables.

She rolled the long sleeves of Jeff’s old shirt to her elbows. It would be easier to work without the excess material in her way. As she replaced the dirty straw with clean, dry hay, she enjoyed the quiet before her father stomped out to yell at her.

It was a wonder he hadn’t come already.

Abbie tipped the brim of her straw hat back from her face, glancing at the warm sunlight coming through the barn doors.

Chores would get done a lot faster if Jeff hadn’t abandoned her for prospecting.

Abbie sighed, patting Rose’s soft withers as she finished cleaning her stall. Rose stomped a foot, shifting closer to Abbie.

“One day we’re going to figure out what happened to Jeff.”

When her twin headed west to work in the mines, it had been July. Abbie had wanted Jeff to wait until the following spring to travel, but he’d insisted on making it to California before the winter.

He couldn’t stand to take the brunt of Ezekiel’s anger for that much longer.

The last letter Abbie received from him had been sent when he reached Fort Kearney. That had been months ago.

Since then, not a word had reached home about Jeff’s whereabouts. She didn’t even know if he had reached California or if something had happened to him along the trail.

Though Abbie prayed nightly for her brother’s safety, she knew many died on the trail. There was little hope of survival if God had decided their time had come.

Rose nickered and nudged her shoulder, breaking Abbie’s thoughts. She pressed her forehead against the horse’s neck.

“I must have faith that Jeff is alive. One day, God will reunite me with my brother and then I shall know why He kept Jeff away for so long.”

Abbie sniffled, the stench of tobacco assaulting her senses. The tightness in her chest only got worse as she heard the thud of heavy boots on the packed dirt of the stable floor.

“You better not be speaking to that blasted mare again! I told you that she’ll be dead by the end of this week.”

Abbie peeked at her father over the top of the stall door. His usual long-legged stride was not a welcome sight.

“Don’t you dare get attached to her the way you do the blasted cattle,” Ezekiel Townsend said as he reached her. He pushed open the door and Abbie scuttled out to stand in front of him.

Ezekiel loomed over her as if she were one of his business rivals. He clasped several coins in his meaty palm and his dark-eyed glare was more intimidating than ever. “I have parcels in town to be paid for. Take this to the general store and bring them home.”

Abbie nodded and took the coins from her father, tucking them into the pocket of her trousers.

“Yes, Father.”

“Next time, you will come when I call you,” he said, his tone threatening.

“Yes, Father.”

Ezekiel glowered at her before assessing the barn. Abbie stood taller, trying not to fidget as she waited for his criticism. No matter what she did to help around her father’s ranch, it was never enough.

Ezekiel’s boots kicked up dirt as he strode up and down the stable. He took his time, hands balled into fists and knuckles white. With each stall he inspected, the redness in his cheeks grew bolder.

He examined the horses, checking their condition from their hooves to their ears. A sharp noise bubbled in the back of his throat.

Abbie’s heart sank in her chest. He was displeased with her work, as always.

Ezekiel stormed back across the barn to Abbie after checking the last stall. “The horses are standing in filth. Clean the stalls again. Brush the horses down. Water and feed them.”

Abbie nodded, tears pricking the corners of her eyes. “Yes, Father.”

“Can you do nothing right?” he growled, his beady eyes flashing with rage.

Abbie bowed her head, waiting for the harsh swing of his hand. For the last eighteen years, she had been subject to Ezekiel’s foul mood, which had only gotten worse once Jeff left.

But one day, she would be free of it.

Jeff will send for me soon. I have to believe that and hold out a little longer with Father.

Mercifully, the slap never came. Abbie listened to Ezekiel’s booted footfalls fade and the barn door swing shut before releasing her held breath.

In the distance, the old bull called to the cows while Abbie retrieved a saddle. She decided to take Rose to town, even though she’d likely struggle with the mare the whole way.

After tucking her raven-black hair beneath her straw hat, Abbie tightened the straps of the saddle, then got up onto the horse. She tipped her hat low, prepared to shield her face from the sun as she came out of the barn.

The ride to town was warm but quiet, leaving her time to be at peace with nature.

Abbie savored the feeling of the breeze on her skin, tugging at the brim of her hat. The heat of the sunlight made her skin glisten with pearls of sweat.

Birds chirped in the trees. Their carefree song settled the unease in her heart. For just a moment, she allowed herself to let go of the worry that gripped her chest like a vise.

As she rode, she pictured herself on the trail to California. She would take Rose with her and the two of them would set out on a grand adventure to find Jeff.

But Father would never allow me to leave, let alone pay my way. Not after Jeff stole from him and took off.

Abbie bit her bottom lip. If she didn’t have to obey her father, she would leave in a heartbeat.

She would travel to the farthest corners of the world in pursuit of a family to call her own. Maybe even to Europe, where she would spend her days painting beneath the sun while her children played in the grass.

Or perhaps she would settle out west on a small plot of land. She knew enough about running a ranch to start one of her own.

Despite where her freedom would take her, she was certain that she would no longer live under Ezekiel’s rule.

Abbie held the reins loose as Rose, surprisingly calm, led her into the bustling marketplace of Independence.

Women walked on either side of the street, their skirts swishing while they carried packages of sugar and fabric. Men rushed into the general store while others exited carrying tools or feed.

“Jeff! Jeff Townsend!” a deep voice bellowed.

Abbie’s head shot up, her eyes darting around. Her brother? Was he here? Had he come back for her?

“Over here, Jeff!” A man stood at the door to the saloon, waving an arm above his head as he looked straight at her.

Abbie’s shoulders slumped. No, her brother hadn’t come back for her.

“Jeff, c’mere kid!”

Abbie tilted her head up as she drew closer to the saloon, so her face would no longer be in the shadow of her hat.

The man’s arm dropped like an anvil when his gaze connected with hers.

“Oho, my ‘pologies, miss. Thought you was Jeff Townsend. With those work clothes, you look jis like ‘im. I mean, not jis like ‘im. Clearly you ain’t no man…” He lowered his eyes and scuffed his toe in the dirt. “Sorry, miss.”

Abbie’s cheeks warmed, even as her quickened heartbeat returned to normal, along with her hopelessness. She resembled her twin brother in many ways but hadn’t thought she’d ever be mistaken for him entirely.

Had doing double the chores made her as broad-shouldered and strapping as Jeff?

“It’s all right, sir. We do look quite alike.” Abbie could not keep the disappointment out of her voice. Her lips pressed into a grimace as she gripped the reins tighter.

It was foolish to think that Jeff would return. He always swore that once he left, he would never come within reach of our father again.

But not even for me?

“Uh, have a good day, miss.” The man tipped his hat before taking it off and heading back through the swinging doors of the saloon.

Abbie continued down the street to the general store. She tied the mare to one of the hitches and hurried inside to pay for Ezekiel’s parcels. If she took too long in town, she would be facing her father’s wrath again when she got back.

Just a few minutes later, Abbie shoved the packages into the saddlebags before swinging herself back onto the mare and riding fast for home. She had to reclean the stables, as well as mend the fence. And there was still supper to prepare. Ezekiel was not a man to keep waiting.

When she had finished her chores around the ranch, she hurried to wash and change, allowing her hair to fall loose as she shuffled around the kitchen. She was exhausted from the day’s work, but fear kept her going.

Ezekiel walked through the door just as she placed a loaf of warm bread on the table beside the butter she’d made earlier.

“Well, Abbie, dear,” he said, causing her to arch her eyebrows at the endearment, “I’ve got a little surprise for you.”

A surprise? That was entirely unlike Ezekiel. His self-absorption and hunger for power outdid that of every other citizen of Independence. Probably of all Missouri.

Abbie reached out to grab the two bowls of stew she’d prepared and saw that her hands were trembling. She paused, trying to compose herself as she waited for Ezekiel to present his “surprise.”

But all she heard was the scrape of a chair and a soft grunt as he settled himself down at the table.

Turning around, Abbie’s suspicions only increased as she caught sight of Ezekiel’s wide grin.

Oh, what could he have possibly done?

“I hope you’ve made a special dinner, my dear daughter, because we have a lot to celebrate.” Ezekiel’s smile widened until he bared all his front teeth. “You’re going to be married.”

Abbie froze, the stew sloshing in the bowls as she halted her forward momentum.

“Excuse me, Father?”

“You heard me.”

“I am to be…married?” Abbie shuddered at the thought. It wasn’t that she didn’t want to be the wife of a man, just not the wife of a man of Ezekiel’s choosing. Besides, she’d never be reunited with Jeff if she was forced to stay here in town.

“Please, Father,” she said weakly. “Do not make me get married right now. I can be of more use here on the ranch than I can be as a—.”

“Enough!” Ezekiel slammed his fist on the table, sending the cutlery clattering across the worn wood. “You do not have a say in the matter.”

Abbie gulped.

“I have finally found someone who will pay a pretty penny for you.”


Eyes narrowing, Abbie mustered up courage from deep within herself. She didn’t often defy her father, but she wouldn’t be treated like an animal.

“You would want your daughter to be married off like cattle to the highest bidder?”

Ezekiel’s face turned rage-red at her question. Abbie tried to control her shaking hands as she set the bowls of stew on the table. Her heart threatened to burst through her ribs with its rapid beating.

Ezekiel eyed her like she was a lamb about to be taken to slaughter. “You do not have any right to presume what I want or don’t want,” he said menacingly. “I shall do with you what I see fit!”

The air in the small room roiled like a twister. Abbie tried one more time to appeal to his sensibilities.

“Please, Father,” she said, while moving to the other side of the table. “You need someone to help you around here.”

“I do not need a useless twit!” Ezekiel grabbed a spoon, and for a moment, she thought he was going to hurl it at her. But he seemed to swallow his anger for the color of his face began to return to normal.

“For some reason, someone else wants you,” he said, smirking at her. He suddenly looked as pleased with himself as a puppy with a new bone. “I’ve been offered a good deal more than you’re worth. Enough to save my ranch.”

Well, maybe I’m not as worthless as Father always assumes.

Still, the knowledge did nothing to ease the queasiness in Abbie’s stomach. She felt like she was on a boat in the middle of a storm-tossed sea. Bile rose in her throat.

If she was married off to a man Ezekiel chose, there would be no freedom. She knew the kind of men her father associated with, and they were all as ill-tempered as him.

“Who, may I ask, wishes to marry me?” Abbie asked.

Ezekiel tore into his bread, dipping a chunk of it into the stew. “A wealthy tycoon. Moved out here from New York to expand his business.” He bore his eyes into hers, apparently enjoying seeing her squirm.

“Mr. Jonathan Robinson,” he finally said.

Impossibly, Abbie wilted even more.

She knew of Jonathan Robinson, and she’d rather be tied to a bucking bronco than a man like him. In the short time Robinson had lived in Independence, rumors about him had spread like wildfire.

None of them were favorable.

While Robinson had a vast fortune, he was cruel to those that worked for him. She’d seen his ranch hands in town on many occasions. They’d been covered with welts from whips and burns from the sun.

She refused to be on the receiving end of yet another whip. Not after all she’d endured under Ezekiel’s heavy hand.

There had to be a better life out there somewhere for a young woman like her. Maybe in California…

Abbie knew Ezekiel had heard the same rumors about Robinson that she had. Worse, he’d met the man. And still, he’d arranged for his only daughter to become the wicked fellow’s wife.

Ezekiel glared at her. His gaze was as cold as ever and it had her stomach sinking to her feet.

“You should be glad that this opportunity is being awarded to you,” he said snidely. “Many other young women would love to be married to such a man.”

“But he…he’s a horrible monster.” Abbie bit her lip, desperate to keep the tears from overflowing. ‘You cannot mean to send me to a man like that.”

“It’s not my business what he does to those who disobey him.” Ezekiel sopped up more of the stew with his bread before taking a big bite. Crumbs and spittle flew from his mouth when he spoke again. “You would never have secured a husband this good on your own.”

“I’ll marry someone else,” Abbie said desperately. “Anyone but Robinson. Please, I’m your daughter! Your only daughter!”

“And you’ve been nothing but stubborn as a mule!” Ezekiel swept his arm out, sending what remained of his stew all over the floor. “I’ve been a good father to you, kept a roof over your head, and food in your belly. I should have married you off long ago.”

Abbie sat taller in her chair, leaning away from his sailing spit. “You have been a wonderful father,” she lied. “Which is why I question sending me to such an awful man.”

“You are not to question me!” Ezekiel moved fast, his chair falling to the ground as he shot to his feet. He brought his hand high in the air before swinging it across Abbie’s cheek.

The backhand slap sent her falling from her chair to the floor. Abbie whimpered as tears stung her eyes and pain blossomed on her cheek. She curled up, trying to protect herself from more blows.

I have to get free from this.

Ezekiel crouched down beside her, brushing strands of her hair back from her face. “You know how much I hate to punish you, Abbie, but I will be quite clear on this matter. You will marry Robinson. And you will be a good wife to him. I will not have you cause another scandal like your brother did when he ran away. My children will not make me the laughingstock of town!”

With that, Ezekiel strode from the room. Abbie glanced at the front door, wondering if she should make a break for it. Escape the clutches of dangerous men like her father and Robinson.

But where would I go? How would a single woman like me survive on my own?

Her eyes traveled from the door handle down to Jeff’s boots on the floor, where she had left them earlier.

Abbie stared at the boots, holding her cheek gingerly. If there was a way out of her current miserable life, she had to take it. And there just may be, if she played it smart and luck was on her side.

I was mistaken for Jeff earlier. Is it possible that I could do it again?


Chapter One

Independence, Missouri — 2,000 miles to Sutter’s Fort, California


Abbie’s stockinged feet whispered across the worn floorboards as she crept into the small bedroom at the back. Ezekiel’s snores filled the little house as Abbie glanced around what was once Jeff’s room.

She shut the door behind her, breath catching in her throat when the snoring stopped for a moment.

God, please help me get out of this house without waking the beast.

The little pocket money she’d managed to save over the last few months clinked together in her nightdress.

She knelt by Jeff’s old steamer trunk, running her fingers along the designs he carved into the top. Her chin dipped as a pensive smile crossed her face.

She closed her eyes and took a deep breath, pushing the fear of being caught to the back of her mind.

I’m doing it, Jeff. I’m going to leave the ranch and then I’ll find you. Wherever you are…

Abbie lifted the lid to the trunk. The scent of the woods and horse hair filled the room and brought a prick of tears to her eyes. She leaned back on her heels, pressing a hand to her chest.

The clothing smelled like Jeff.

She ran her fingers over the fabric before picking out a pair of trousers she had mended nearly a dozen times. As she dug deeper in the trunk, she pulled out two linen shirts and a pair of worn leather gloves.

It took her only a moment to shed the nightdress and pull on Jeff’s old clothing over the underclothes she wore. She removed the small coin purse from the nightdress and slipped it into her trousers.

It’s not much, but it will have to do until I find Jeff.

Though she knew her father wouldn’t set foot in the room, she still put her nightdress in the trunk and closed the lid.

Abbie turned in the darkness, the moonlight coming through the window and casting a dull glow on Jeff’s hat hanging by the door. She took the hat down and settled it over her pinned back hair.

After grabbing a bandana from the chest of drawers near the small bed, she snuck out of the bedroom.

As she walked down the hall to her father’s room, she kept her back to the wall.

The door was open a crack and Ezekiel was sprawled across his bed. His mouth hung open and his arm hung over the edge of the bed.

Abbie stepped into the room, the thud of her pulse in her ears as loud as thunder in a storm. She reached above the door, carefully taking her father’s gun from its pegs.

A cough froze her in place.

She squeezed her eyes shut and waited. When there was no other sound, she opened them slowly and glanced toward Ezekiel.

He rolled over, tossing an arm over his face.

Abbie waited a moment to be sure he was asleep before slinging the gun over her back. She eased open a little drawer in the table beside the bedroom door, taking out a box of gunpowder and another of ammunition. She stuffed them deep in her pockets.

It was only once the bullets were secured that she exhaled.

After verifying the Ezekiel was still asleep, Abbie entered the short hallway.

Snores continued to rattle the house, but they were not as loud as the sound of Abbie’s racing heart. Beads of sweat dampened her forehead as she crossed the room to the front door.

Fear gripped her when she stepped into her brother’s boots. Was it possible to pass for Jeff and travel on the California trail, or had she gone mad?

If it was madness, so be it. She had to get out of there as soon as possible. There was no time to waste.

Boards creaked beneath her weight as she tucked the ends of her trousers into the boots. The fabric padded her ankles. It would not stop the boots from slipping around her feet, but it helped.

I will have to find something else to stuff the boots once I’m on the road.

Abbie’s hand shook as she reached for the door. Her body stiffened as something creaked at the other end of the house.

God, please help me get out of here. Please keep Father asleep until the morning when I am on my way to California. Please do not let him discover that I am missing until I am long gone.

Abbie flinched as another creak came from the direction of Ezekiel’s room. She wrapped her arms around herself for a moment before dropping her hands to her sides.

I can do this. I must do this.

Abbie took a careful step to the side and pulled open the door. The breeze blew in the house, sending the tattered curtains fluttering.

She paused for only a second before darting out the door and closing it softly behind her.

Her shoulders slumped forward as exhaled, her breath a white cloud against the cold morning air. Abbie took a moment to gather herself. Once she could no longer hear her blood rushing in her ears, she ran to the stables.

It was pitch black outside as Abbie tossed open the doors to the barn. She hurried to the first stall where Rose stood.

She had argued with her father about saving the horse more than once. Though Rose was spirited, she was a good horse and she didn’t deserve to be trapped with Ezekiel, waiting for death, any more than Abbie did.

The mare flicked her ears back and shifted her weight, tossing her head as Abbie fetched a saddle and bridle from the far wall. She opened the door to the stall, her hands shaking as she tossed the saddle blanket over Rose’s back.

“We’re getting out of here, girl,” Abbie said, tremors in her soft voice.

Glancing over her shoulder, her heart stopped in her chest as a shadow crossed the door.

One of the ancient barn cats paraded inside, looking at Abbie as if she were an inconvenience.

Abbie’s soft laugh did nothing to ease her tightly coiled body as she slung the saddle onto Rose before fitting the bridle over the mare’s head. Abbie tightened the buckles with quivering hands.

Rose stomped her feet as Abbie tossed the reins over the horse’s head. She swung herself into the saddle and rode out of the barn as quietly as she could.

Once outside, she pressed her heels into Roses’s side. The mare reared.

Abbie held tight to the reins, leaning into Rose’s neck. Though she expected attitude from the horse, she did not have the time to deal with it now.

They needed to get as far away from the Townsend ranch as possible. And quickly.

“Easy girl. We’re safe as long as we get out of here in one piece.”

Rose stopped rearing, planting her front feet on the ground, and turning her head to look at Abbie. Her warm brown eyes rolled, as if she understood Abbie’s intentions. Then, the horse took off at a sprint.

Abbie didn’t look over her shoulder once as she left her old life behind.

On the outskirts of town, the trail master strode between the covered wagons, checking the canvas. He stopped to speak to those around him before continuing down the line.

Abbie kept her hat tipped low over her face as she watched him beneath the brim. A friendly-looking young man wandered at his side.

Abbie watched the way the young man moved. He was the closest to her age and looked to be similar to her in size. If she could mimic the way he walked and the gestures he made, maybe she would be more convincing as a man.

Abbie sat taller, reaching down to her saddlebags and checking her provisions again. She still had a few coins to her name but most of what she’d brought had been spent on dried meat, some fruit and cheese, and a full waterskin.

Not enough supplies to last the many weeks of the journey.

She nibbled at her bottom lip as the trail master grew closer. His eyebrows were pulled tight together as he looked over the men and women surrounding him. Children ran around, expending the last of their energy out before their parents picked them up and set them in wagons.

Abbie’s knee bounced as the trail master cut his gaze toward her. The scar running down his face made him look harsh, but his eyes were not full of cruelty, like her father’s.

She glanced away from him as soon as she realized she was staring.

This is only the first day and I have nearly given myself away already.

The trail master stopped in front of her, reaching out to touch the mare.

Abbie cleared her throat, hoping it would make her voice sound deeper. “I, uh, wouldn’t pet Rose if I were you. She is spirited.”

As if to prove Abbie’s point, Rose stomped a foot and rolled her eyes until the whites were showing.

The trail master took a step back but the corners of his blue eyes crinkled.

Abbie’s heart sped up, her cheeks flushing. She made a point of gazing just beyond the man.

Even with the scar, he was quite handsome.

He’s also the man I need to worry about the most.

The young man that Abbie had been observing earlier skipped over to them.

“Welcome to the wagon train!” he drawled, flashing her a big grin. “I’m Matthew.”

“My assistant guide,” said the trail master. “And my name’s Clayton Lindsay. You let either of us know if you need anything while we travel.”

Abbie nodded mutely.

Clayton pushed the brim of his hat up with a single finger. “And you are?”

“Jeff,” Abbie spat out.

“Hi, Jeff!” Matthew exclaimed. “Glad you’ll be joinin’ us.” He moved over to help a woman pack a box of supplies in a wagon.

Clayton’s eyes narrowed and Abbie’s stomach plummeted to her feet. Did he suspect her lie already?

She held his gaze, waiting for him to say something else to her. She wished that he would walk away and go check on the next people.

“Jeff, huh? Jeff what?”

“Townsend.” Abbie’s voice was choked but the name came out clearly. Though she did not want to give out her true name, she didn’t have time to think of another. Besides, the others could not hear her.

She hoped Clayton didn’t recognize the surname or know that Jeff Townsend had already fled Independence many months ago.

Something about the look in Clayton’s eyes and the way he carried himself—strong but caring—made her want to trust him.

I hope it’s not a mistake.

“Well, Townsend, this group will be traveling up to fifteen miles a day. Keep up and we won’t have a problem.”

“We won’t.”

Unless he finds out that I am a woman.

Clayton nodded to her, making her heart flutter as he caught her with that deep blue gaze again.

When he finally walked over to the next person, Abbie breathed a sigh of relief.

Her lie was working.

For now.

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