Sanderson Redding is set to go west to a waiting job as an Indian Agent—if Charlotte agrees. Leaving their home in Arkansas isn’t easy, but there’s not much left of Altrose—and no jobs for men with families. War veteran Jerry Thomas has secured positions for himself and Sanderson in California, but they must leave immediately. With a heavy heart, Charlotte bids goodbye to her father, Minerva, and Cotton. There’s no time to spare, and they set out early the following day for California.
Travel is hard on Charlotte, who is pregnant, but she finds a new measure of determination to face what comes their way—including a prairie fire, hostile Indians, and a hard childbirth she is afraid she might not survive.
A heavy chunk of coldness fell upon her shoulder. “Sanderson!”
A fist-sized ball of ice hit Achilles on the rump. He reared. Somehow, Charlotte managed to keep her soggy seat. “Somebody, help!”
“Cover your head, Charlotte,” Sanderson shouted through the din. But his words were lost in the swirling storm.
For a moment, the panic cleared. Get under a tree!
Charlotte thought. Ride out the storm. Her horse, though, was in no mood to be placated or to take cover.
“Achilles is spooked from the hail!” she called to the men who had, moments before, been mere feet from her. It was no use. She lost control to the chunks of falling ice. The more hail that pelted down, hammering him from head to rump, the more spooked Achilles became.
Before anyone could come to her rescue, Achilles was running flat out into the blinding storm. Due north, away from Sanderson. Away from Jerry. Away from their destination. And straight toward Breakneck Canyon.