EDITOR’S NOTE:  The following is an excerpt from Petticoat Ranch by Mary Connealy. 

ONE

Mosqueros, Texas, 1867

Sophie heard God in every explosion of thunder as she listened to the awesome power of the approaching storm. But there was more. There was something coming—something more than rain.

Over the distant rumble, Sophie Edwards heard pounding hoofbeats. Her heart sped up, matching the pace. The horse came fast. Something about the way it ran echoed the desperation in the pulsing of Sophie’s heart.

Sophie whirled to race inside the cabin. Exhausted after another day of grinding work, she prayed for strength and courage. God would have to provide it; she had none left. She scrambled into her disguise and waited until the last minute to wake the children, hoping the rider would pass on. She stood near the can that held the vile-smelling Hector scarf, hoping she wouldn’t need it.

Was this the night someone would come for her and the girls? The night she couldn’t talk fast enough or hide well enough to survive this rugged, lonely life?

The back of Sophie’s neck prickled in horror as the horse veered from the main trail and came toward her cabin. For a second, she thought the rider meant to come to her place, but there was no letup of the running hooves. Sophie’s fear changed. No one could safely ride the narrow, rocky trail down the slopes of the creek bank behind her cabin at that speed.

The horse charged on. Sophie could hear it blowing hard, its wind broken, the saddle leather creaking. She hated the rider for abusing his mount, but inside Sophie knew it wasn’t the rider’s fault. This pace—this reckless, dark ride—could only mean one thing.

Pursuit!

And pursuit might mean a fleeing criminal with a posse on his trail. But not all pursued men were justly accused. No one knew that better than Sophie.

She almost ran out to wave the rider down. She let fear freeze her for a second. Then, ashamed, she grabbed at the door latch on her ramshackle cabin, praying, “Help me, Lord. Help me, help me, help me.” Her prayers, like her life, had been stripped to bare bones.

The horse stormed past the heavy brush that concealed the house.

“No! Stop!” Sophie dashed out the door and down the stoop. “Stop! The cliff!”

She was too late. The rider was past. Within seconds she heard the dreadful screams of the falling animal, the coarse shouts of terror ripped from the throat of the rider.

Rocks dislodged along the top of the bank as Sophie ran in the direction of the accident. There was the rumble of falling rocks and the softer sound of the horse’s big body striking stone as it plunged thirty feet to the creek below, neighing its fear and pain into the night. She heard the splash as the avalanche, and its unwilling cause, hit the moving water below.

She skidded to a halt and her long, white nightgown billowed around her. A gust whipped her blond hair across her eyes. Blinded for a moment, a cold, logical part of her mind told her that the best way to handle this was simply to ignore it and go back to bed.

But God asked more of her than cold logic. He even asked more of her than her own survival. It was a relief to admit it, because her strongest survival instincts couldn’t stop her from going to someone in need, and she was glad to have God’s support in the matter. She whirled away from the embankment and ran back to the house.

“Girls!” Her voice lashed like a whip in the darkness. The girls would be so frightened to be awakened this way, but there was no choice. If ever a family had learned to do what needed to be done, it was the Edwardses. “Girls, someone’s fallen on the creek path.”

Sophie tore at her disguise, putting everything in its place with lightning speed. She couldn’t ever afford to be unprepared. “I need help. I’m going down. Mandy, bring the rope and the lantern and follow me. Beth, catch Hector and bring him. Don’t take time to get dressed: just pull on your shoes. Sally, stay with Laura. Get blankets out and heat water. If he’s alive he’ll need doctoring.”