Sophia was jolted awake from the blissful escape that sleep provided her by the sound of commotion coming from downstairs. It was still dark outside, far too dark for either of her brothers or her father to have begun working on their ranch. Of course, it was a job that demanded many early mornings, but not the middle of the night. Unless something was wrong.
Within an instant, she was up and out of bed, hugging her arms around her as she was only wearing a nightdress. The farmhouse had always had a knack of expelling all its heat during the night, reaping in the cool outside air instead.
She shuddered and quickly grabbed her jacket that hung off the chair in the corner; it would provide her with a little more warmth. The sound of gunshots coming from outside split the air and seemed to affect the room, freezing all motion. Sophia herself didn’t dare move after two shots were fired. It was silent downstairs now, apart from the sound of someone moving around.
The gunshot had brought a new tension to the situation, and it was one that Sophia was anxious to investigate. Her heart was hammering in her chest as she slowly opened her door and stepped out into the corridor. The wooden floors were groaning underneath her weight as they always did, the old house was slowly yielding, and it was only a matter of time before many fixtures needed replacing.
Sophia continued over to the stairs, although she was still incredibly hesitant about going down. The shouting had started back up again, and it sounded as though there were a lot of men outside. Her father and brothers hadn’t come back inside yet, and so she knew that something wasn’t right.
“Joe?” Sophia called out as she saw that the back door was open. But there was no response. Sophia swallowed and remained where she was at the bottom of the stairs. She held onto the weak wooden banister as though it would help to save her if the commotion were to move inside. Sophia tried to get a better look outside, but it was so dark that she found herself squinting to see what was going on.
In a moment of courage, she quickly moved over to the doorway and peered out at what was happening. She could see figures running around in the yard, the sound of hooves as some of the men were on horseback. Sophia had never thought the danger and disruption that cattle rustlers brought would reach their quiet town of Bellmont. It was a slow place that focused on leading a simple life, and nothing like the larger towns in the area. It wasn’t a likely place to commit crimes, but this looked highly organized by the men currently descending on their farm.
“Sophia! Get back!” she heard her brother Alexander shouting at her. Sophia squinted in the direction of the sound and saw that her brother had his gun drawn and was chasing off a man that was coming too close.
“I can help!” she shouted back at him.
“It’s not the time.” His voice was steady, but his tone told her that it wasn’t a good time to start another argument about this.
“Sophia, stay in the house!” Joseph ran past and ordered her.
“Where’s Father?” she called out, but the two men were preoccupied with the ensuing commotion.
Finally, the white shirt of her father came into view. He was getting old, but working on his feet had made him strong, and so he was still moving around with a shotgun in hand. Relief ran through her that all three of them were all right, although she was still terrified of the situation.
Sophia wanted to help in some way; she didn’t like the powerless feeling that came with just sitting in the house and waiting for it to be over. She knew that her brothers and father wouldn’t let her come out and help; it would only complicate things more and could cause more problems than help. Reluctantly, Sophia stayed put and could do nothing but watch the scene playing out in front of her.
Her eyes were adjusting to the darkness, and she was starting to get a better view of the situation. Some of the men were trying to drag away the cattle from one of the fields; however, they weren’t able to get too far since her brothers were starting to round them up and block off their escape route.
There were many more men on their land than she had originally thought, and Sophia couldn’t help wondering where the sheriff was and why he had let this get so out of hand. It was a small town, and no trouble ever really happened in Bellmont, but Sophia had thought the sheriff would have at least been ready for something like this.
There had been warnings for weeks of a large gang moving through the area, yet the townspeople had successfully managed to convince one another that they faced no danger.
Sophia swallowed down another wave of frustration as she hid next to the window, only daring to peak out every now and again. The sound of more gunshots caused her to flinch as she realized that the situation was escalating again.
“No!” The sound of Alexander’s voice roaring through the air caused Sophia to glance up immediately. She couldn’t see what he was looking at initially, but then she saw the white shirt and felt her heart drop.
“Father!” Joseph shouted as he ran to him.
“No,” Sophia whispered. She watched as Alexander shot one last time at the men before running to his father’s aid too. The men were getting away with the cattle, but that was the least of their concerns at that moment. Sophia ran as fast as she could out into the night; she didn’t care for the fact that she wasn’t wearing her boots or that the stones on the dusty ground were cutting into her feet. All she cared about was reaching her father while she muttered a short prayer for him under her breath.
“Please, Lord,” she whispered. “Do not take him.”
Sophia got closer and saw that her two brothers were holding onto him and were starting to pull him back to the house.
“Sophia! Get back!” Joseph shouted at her.
“No! I can help!” she responded. “We need a doctor.”
“There’s not any time for that now,” her father’s weak voice broke her heart.
Sophia could feel the tears running down her cheeks freely as she held onto his hand and made her way back to the house with her brothers holding onto him. Her father was so pale in the moonlight, and Sophia was doing all she could to avoid looking at the dark stain growing across his white shirt. She was terrified and realized that her father really wasn’t going to get to see another sunrise; it was enough to make her feel somewhat nauseous all of a sudden.
“There you go,” Alexander muttered as they finally reached the house. Sophia held the door open for them and watched as her brothers lay him down on a rug.
“Make sure he’s comfortable,” she spoke up, but her father held up his hand.
“I’m fine, child, don’t worry about me.”
Theodore’s eyes were slowly closing, and Sophia hated that she was watching him when she felt as though she should be doing something to help.
“There must be something we can do,” she whispered as she turned to her two older brothers.
They were both drenched in sweat, still in their nightshirts with disheveled and dirty hair from the recent fight. Knowing that the gang had managed to get away with some of their cattle only made the situation feel even more hopeless.
“Sophia, there is nothing to be done.” Her father sighed as he took her hand in his once more. But Sophia was angry; she shook her head and stared back at her brothers.
“We have time to get a doctor, I’ll go. I’ll run into town and … we just need someone to look at his wound. Can it be healed? Alex?”
She looked to the eldest of the three of them, but his lips were drawn in a tight line and his dark eyes held heavy bags underneath them. His face was painted like a picture of defeat, and Sophia only felt that burden sinking more onto her.
“Joe?” She turned to the sad-looking middle child. “Please, we have to do something.”
“You know that it’s passed that,” he spoke in a soft voice to her as though she was a child that needed the truth to be embellished.
Sophia turned back to the pallid face of her father, his grey hair clinging to his forehead as he was clearly in a lot of pain. She could see that he was doing his best to hide it so he wouldn’t upset his children, but Sophia could see that this effort was in vain.
The room turned silent as the three of them watched their father’s final moments. Sophia could feel shock freezing her body to the spot, but her hand never left his.
“Please don’t leave us,” she whispered as a tear ran down her cheek.
“I’m sorry, Sophia,” he said weakly. “You will be alright without me, I’m so proud of how far all of you have come already. You will all be fine here.”
Sophia couldn’t believe this was happening, she had a moment of doubt that this was all actually a dream, and she was still upstairs in her bed. But her hand held onto her father’s tightly, and she knew that the feeling was only too real.
“I love you, Father.” Sophia sighed as she turned to see that her two brothers had moved closer.
“I love you all,” he nodded to them. “Joe, Alex, make sure that you take care of your sister.”
“We will, Father,” Alexander spoke up. “Don’t worry about that.”
“Good, I’m sure that you will all run this farm well. I’ll be watching from above with your mother.”
A sob escaped from Sophia at this, the realization that her father’s death would amend their status to being orphans. Their family had always been so close, and yet now they were being torn apart in a way that Sophia had never even dreamed of happening.
“No, Father,” Sophia muttered as she felt his hand becoming heavier in hers. His eyes were closing, and he exhaled deeply. He didn’t inhale again. “No, please, Father come back!”
“Sophia,” Joseph spoke as he placed a hand on her shoulder.
“No!” she shouted now as tears fell down her cheeks and stained the cotton of her nightdress. “Please, Father, don’t leave me here!”
Joseph and Alexander acted quickly to pick her up and move her away from him. Sophia continued to cry as she held onto Joseph and buried her head in his chest. She was shaking and trying to get a hold of her breathing, but it was proving to be hopeless. Joseph held onto her and stroked her hair as she balled his shirt in her fists. Her cries continued through the night, and there was nothing that either of her brothers could do to console her.
The sun beamed down on the ranch as Sophia sat out on the porch with the brim of her hat low over her eyes. She didn’t want to talk to anybody; she just wanted to be by herself. Her brothers came to check on her every hour or so, and she moved to sit out the back of the farmhouse when she saw that people from the town were coming over to wish them their condolences. The last thing Sophia wanted was their pity, and she certainly didn’t want to face the same people who were always talking about her and judging her.
They would say that she wasn’t very ladylike, that she took too much inspiration from her brothers and father. She had even overheard them once saying it was such a shame that her father had never remarried, that she wouldn’t get to have a woman’s motherly instinct while growing up.
But Sophia had always been happy as she was. She could fight if she had to, and her aim with a gun was even better than Joseph’s, although he would never admit to that. The last thing that she wanted to do was put on a brave face to see those people.
“Are you going to come in at some point?” Alexander asked when the sun was already beginning to set.
“Not yet,” she replied in a blunt tone.
“Sophia, please come in and talk to us. We’re here for you; we’re going through the same thing,” Alexander pleaded as he knelt to her sitting height. “I don’t want you to suffer alone out here. It’s not fair on you, and it’s making us worried.”
“I’m fine,” she said.
“You’re not fine, and you haven’t slept at all in the last day, so you must be exhausted.”
Sophia had let her brothers deal with the sheriff and all the questions he’d had; that was the only time that she had admitted how tired she was, just so she didn’t have to talk to anyone. Even now, she was so close to telling her brother to leave her alone. The thought of her bed was becoming more and more tempting, but Sophia was also terrified of what nightmares she would have in the wake of her father’s death.
“Please just come inside.”
She had been out there for hours, and as she turned her head, she could see both her brothers on the porch, willing her to come in. She dipped her head low before finally yielding to their concerns and nodding slowly.
Sophia rose slowly and removed her hat to reveal the heavy shadows under her eyes. She now felt completely numb to the situation and didn’t really want to talk about it with her brothers.
“Do you need help?” Alexander asked as she took a shaky step on the wooden porch.
“No, I’ll be fine,” Sophia whispered and headed for the door leading into the old farmhouse. She bit her lip and didn’t dare look over at the empty space where the rug had once been. Her brothers had helped the undertakers in removing her father’s body to prepare it for the funeral. It felt as though there was so much to do, but she just couldn’t bring herself to want to help out in any way.
“We spoke to the sheriff before,” Joseph said, breaking through the silence and glancing over at his brother with concern.
“What did he have to say?” she asked and sat down at the kitchen table.
“He said he knew which gang it was that attacked the ranch,” Joseph began. “It was led by Tom Stokes, you know, the man that is on all the wanted posters near the sheriff’s office.”
“Yes, I know who he is.” Sophia nodded. “What is he doing in our small town? I thought that he and his outlaws went for much bigger targets?”
It hardly made any sense that a criminal renowned throughout Texas had chosen to attack their small town in the middle of nowhere.
“I suppose their pickings have decreased because they are wanted in so many places now. Perhaps they thought of choosing a small place like this to catch people by surprise,” Alexander chimed in.
“Well, they certainly succeeded if that was their plan, Joseph muttered.
Sophia could feel herself becoming angry at the idea of the gang moving on and doing this to other people. It didn’t make any sense to her as to how people could be so heartless that they could just move on from killing a man and then plan to do it to others as well.
The more she thought about it, the more Sophia felt inclined to do something about it. She hated that her brothers were so accepting that this had happened and they didn’t want revenge, but she also felt so powerless at the idea of seeking out Tom Stokes and showing him no mercy as he did with her father.
“I can see that you’re angry.” Alexander sighed. “Please don’t do anything stupid; that’s the last thing we need right now.”
“Don’t you want these men to pay for what they’ve done?” Sophia looked up at him with a darkness in her eyes that hadn’t been there before.
“Sophia, you know there’s nothing we can do now. It’s in the hands of the law, and it’s not something that I want you to get involved with.”
“But if we went together, we would be able to face them. I know we would win!” Sophia said, rising from her seat as she spoke.
“No, you’re to stay here, and we will stay updated by the sheriff.” Joseph shook his head.
“The sheriff doesn’t care anymore because they’ve moved on to another town. That’s how they’re still allowed to get around so much because people are only caring about their own towns.”
“That’s enough,” Alexander spoke up. “That’s enough talk about this. Look at you; you’re exhausted and need to go and rest. All we need to do right now is mourn our father and make sure that the running of this ranch continues.”
Sophia hadn’t heard her brother use that tone with her for a very long time, and she didn’t like the way it sounded. She glared at him and shook her head. Sophia knew she could handle herself out there; she knew she would have to be the one to get revenge.
“Father wouldn’t want us to avenge his death like that, Sophia, you know that.” Joseph spoke to her in a much softer tone than the eldest of the Windrow children.
“I don’t care what he would have wanted; it’s what I want. I can’t eat, and I can’t sleep, not when I know that our father’s murderer is free to roam these lands without any kind of consequence.”
“Justice will be served one day, sister,” Alexander said with a weary sigh. “He will definitely get what he deserves, but for the time being, that isn’t your burden to bear.”
Sophia started to wonder how many families Tom Stokes and his outlaws had destroyed; she wondered how many of those conversations about abandoning revenge had also taken place. She’d heard stories of the deadly outlaw gang; they traveled around and caused all kinds of chaos in their bids to rustle cattle. Her father would even tell her stories of such men when she was growing up. However, those stories hadn’t scared Sophia as they might have done for other little girls. Instead, she had used them as encouragement for why she should know how to fire a gun.
That lesson stuck in her head as she thought about all the men who had been on their land and who she should go after. She knew her father would worry if she did go after them, but she also knew he would understand why she had to do it. Unlike her brothers, he hadn’t ever minded her boisterous ways.
“I’m going to get some sleep,” Sophia muttered as she moved away from the kitchen table and left her two brothers downstairs.
The thought of sleep was still something that terrified her, if not for the nightmares, for the simple fact that the last time she had gone to sleep, evil men had attacked their land. She was scared to close her eyes in case they came back, in case they took any more of her family from her.
Working on the ranch had always meant they would rise early to get all the jobs done. Yet Sophia awoke when the sun was almost at its apex in the sky, and the day had already started. She groaned and rolled over as the memories of everything happening came back to her. Her body had been so exhausted that she had been asleep almost as soon as her head hit the pillow.
Finally, Sophia managed to pull herself from her bed and started to get ready for the day. She still didn’t want to talk to her brothers as she knew they would still be adamant about all three of them staying on the ranch instead of pursuing justice.
“Good morning,” Alexander muttered as she finally made a move to go downstairs. “Or should I say afternoon?”
Sophia ignored the comment and continued through the old house until she reached the kitchen area.
“Someone’s here to see you, by the way,” Alexander called from where he had been sitting. Sophia froze and frowned at the idea of having a visitor; she didn’t feel like seeing anyone where she would have to put on a brave face for them. She glanced out the back as she could see a figure was indeed waiting for her in the yard, and she recognized those skirts almost immediately.
“Penelope?” Sophia spoke as she opened the back door and walked outside to embrace her best friend.
“Sophia! I tried to call in yesterday, but your brothers said that you wouldn’t see anyone,” Penelope said. She was the same age as Sophia with similarly dark hair and features, although she always managed to carry herself with a kind of grace that Sophia could never muster.
Sophia didn’t feel the need to respond to her comment, and instead, she just continued to embrace her friend in a tight hug. She liked how it felt to receive comfort from someone that wasn’t one of her brothers and knew she could talk with her best friend without having to pretend she was fine.
“How are you doing?” Penelope asked as they finally pulled away from one another. “Shall we take a walk?”
Sophia nodded slowly, glancing back at the house to see that her brothers were indeed watching from the window. Their concern was becoming overbearing, but she knew they had good reason to be worried for her.
“You look well despite everything,” Penelope tried again with conversation. “But of course, it is completely natural to feel so sad after what happened; your father was a really good man and an important member of the community.”
“You don’t have to say these things,” Sophia muttered. “And I’m not sad; I’m just angry.”
“The only response that this town, that our sheriff, has given to the attack is to put up more wanted posters and send us their messages of condolences at this time.” Sophia huffed and looked out at the dry landscape around them.
“What else were they supposed to do?” Penelope asked with a slight frown.
Sophia huffed again and stared out at the ridges of mountains and peaks in the distance; she couldn’t help wondering how far away the gang was now, how much dirt had they kicked up, and where were they heading?
“They should have chased after them; they should have been talking with other sheriffs in other towns and trying everything to catch them. They’re only going to go and do it to another town now, aren’t they? The gang got away, and the sheriff has just decided that it’s not our problem anymore.”
A heavy silence settled between them for a while as a gentle breeze whirled into them and eased the sun’s rays. Sophia couldn’t help how she had vented out her frustrations, it had been building up inside her, and since her brothers wouldn’t listen to her, she had needed her best friend to hear this.
“But you know that the sheriff is doing all he can,” Penelope tried to reason with her.
“He’s done nothing but the bare minimum in my eyes,” she responded.
“Well then, what would you propose to do now?”
“I’m going to go after them,” Sophia said.
Penelope’s eyes widened, and she stopped walking. “What?”
“I’m going to leave Bellmont and give chase. Every minute that I spend here is wasted time where the gang is only getting further away.”
“You can’t be serious, Sophia,” her friend said hurriedly. Sophia could see that her decision was clearly a controversial one.
“I’m completely serious about this; the last thing I want is for this gang to destroy more lives. If the sheriff isn’t going to take this seriously, then I’m going to have to go and get my revenge myself.”
“But think about how dangerous it would be!” Penelope was clearly panicking. “Out there is no place for a woman and chasing after gangs is certainly the type of role for a man to do, not you.”
“I don’t care about that; you know that I can handle myself,” Sophia was quick to fire back. She wasn’t going to let anyone talk her out of it, but she had, of course, been expecting people to have differing opinions.
The sun was shining down on them, and Sophia squinted as she looked back at the ranch. The white farmhouse stood proudly over their land, but it looked rather lackluster with the small number of cattle they now possessed. Although it had been the least of their worries when her father had been shot, Sophia could now clearly see the implications that losing almost half of their herd would have on their finances. It was looking to be a bleak outlook.
“Why don’t you stay here and help your brothers with the ranch? I’m sure they’re going to need all the help that they can get, and I know that the townspeople will be willing to lend a hand, but they need you here.”
“No, they don’t; I’ll be gone for only a week or so. The gang can’t have gone that far,” she said, shrugging it off.
“And what if you’re killed out there? Think of what that would do to them.”
Of course, Sophia had taken that into account. She was going up against multiple men who were much stronger and better equipped than she was. However, she wasn’t going to let that fact stop her from getting her revenge. She had to make a stand and had to show them that she wasn’t going to let them get away with what they did.
“I won’t be,” Sophia responded rather ignorantly. She didn’t want to explain herself, but she also knew that she couldn’t ignore such an important question.
“Don’t you think you should focus on other things? You could always help your brothers out by finding a good husband. Think of what a strong marriage would do for your family at this moment. It would be a really good move, I think.”
Sophia let Penelope continue with what was easily one of her favorite subjects to talk about. Penelope had been brought up much the same as the other girls in the town; all of them were incredibly excited about the prospect of having a good husband who would take care of them financially. However, Sophia couldn’t be less interested if she actually tried.
She couldn’t help how her expression turned at the idea of finding a husband at such a time, no matter how much it would help the ranch if she did so.
“So, what do you think?” Penelope asked. She seemed genuinely very eager to help her friend in this kind of endeavor. Sophia wished she was only as willing to help her get revenge.
“I’ll think about it,” Sophia muttered.
However, what she was really thinking about was where the next sighting of Tom Stokes and his gang would be. As soon as the news broke in the town, Sophia knew she would be on her way there and wouldn’t waste a single second in finding them. She wanted to look the man in the eye and make him pay for taking her father away from her too soon.
“Good!” Penelope seemed relieved by her response. “Well, in that case, I know a few of the men in the town that would definitely be classed as smart matches.”
Sophia let her go on until they circled around and started to head back up towards the ranch. She was trying to hold back the excitement and nerves she felt at what she was going to do, but it was getting difficult for her not to feel nervous.
“A Journey to Guide Them” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
Sophia Windrow lives a quiet life in the small town of Bellmont, until a fateful night when everything changes. After a cattle rustling operation gone wrong, she is left distraught as her father is killed. By morning, Sophia is hungry for revenge against the gang that attacked her family. Knowing the risks involved though, her only option is to travel as a man… Luckily, she runs into a bounty hunter who agrees to help her and before long Sophia finds something more than a useful companion in Leroy. But her subterfuge is about to catch up to her… Can she come clean without losing the one person who promised to follow her pursuit of justice?
Leroy Barnes is a renowned bounty hunter who has worked alone his entire life and cannot handle traveling with a partner. Yet, when he’s confronted in a bar by a young-looking man who goes by the name of Samson, he finds himself faced with an offer that he cannot resist. He sets out to help Sampson get his revenge, but when he encounters an unforgivable lie he will be placed in a dilemma he could never have imagined… Will he manage to keep his word and carry out his mission when unexpected feelings threaten to derail everything?
Together, Leroy and Sophia journey across the Texas countryside with only revenge and reward on their minds. But what will happen when Sophia feels an unlikely attraction for Leroy? Will they be able to see their goal through to the end while dealing with their unanticipated feelings for each other?
“A Journey to Guide Them” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 50,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.