Prologue

New York City, 1859

Regina Hope gripped her chair as she waited for her parents to speak. Her father's face was turning red in anger and her mother's face was steadily growing paler as she sank in a nearby, plush, crimson velvet chair. Regina felt nothing. Fear had settled over her like a thick fog; consuming her soul, body and mind.

She waited for them to speak while her heart pounded in her throat. The two words she'd spoken had changed her and her parent's lives.

"I am with child." She repeated those words again, faintly. She was almost certain that they hadn't heard her the first time she'd spoken those two words. Her father blinked at her. Rage radiated in his steel gray eyes. Those familiar gray eyes that held the look she'd seen often as a child. The look of uncontrollable hurt, anger, anguish and stunned disbelief that she'd kept these facts hidden from them. Her mother couldn't speak and never did during a huge crisis like this. She let her husband do all of the talking and thinking for her.

"You're sure?" He ground out. "You're absolutely positive that you're expecting?"

"Yes." She croaked. "I'm positive."

She glanced at her mother, who had not yet spoken, her face buried in her hand. For a while, neither parent spoke, nor could she. Dozens of emotions swirled within her now. Hurt, shame, and yet, some love, for the child she was carrying. The child that had been conceived out of violence; she'd never had the courage to tell them about the attack until it became vital. Now, she regretted that she hadn't told them the very night she'd been attacked.

"You're going to get that problem fixed." Her father snarled angrily. "I've heard there are people who take care of such things." He stomped out of the room. "No one must know!"

These words brought her up out of the fog, "Take care of such things?" She looked at her mother who'd brought her face out of her hand, "What does he mean by that?"

"He means," She sat up, her white face getting some color back. "He's going to arrange…to have it disposed of. No one will know."

The color drained out of her face, "Killed?" Her mother's face was unemotional. "He wants me to… kill…my baby?" her mother nodded again. "He…he can't! It's not right!"

Her father stomped in with his wallet. He pressed a hundred dollars in her hand. "I'm going out to see if that Madame is all she claims to be." She started to open her mouth but he silenced her with the look. "If so, you take that money," His voice trembled with rage, "and have the evidence destroyed. The rest is to keep her mouth shut. Understand?"

The blood drained from her face and she sank into the closest chair as her father exited the house and slammed the door behind him. She turned to her mother and cried, "I can't do it mama," She choked. "It's my baby."

"No, it's not." Her mother yelled, finally finding her voice but sounding too much like her father. Her mother rarely yelled unless she was under a great deal of strain. "At this stage it's nothing but a blob of tissue."

"I was that way once too!" She cried out. "As were you!"

"Now don't make this any harder than it is!"

"If I'd been born from an attack, would you have killed me?"

Her mother got up from her seat and went upstairs. Regina stood frozen in the library. The sound of her mother's bedroom door slamming brought her back to life. She went upstairs to her room and cried.

It wasn't the child's fault; she should have told her parents of the attack sooner. However, fear and shame had made her keep silent. Now it was too late, now they wouldn't let her keep the child.

The child. She wrapped her arm around her stomach. It hadn't yet begun protruding. She gently held onto her stomach, protective of the life that was just beginning to form inside her.

Kill my baby! She thought. Dear God, please tell me what to do. Tell me what to do! I can't do this.

She sighed and looked around her room. She paced frantically, breathing hard. It would be at least an hour before her father returned. Her eyes suddenly noticed a small western landscape that her grandfather had sent to her last year for her birthday. It was a picture of a ranch he owned, The Ponderosa. She stared harder at the picture, as a plan began to formulate in her mind.

Grabbing her two biggest valises, she began to cram dresses, undergarments, and a few other personal items in them. She grabbed the picture, locked her bedroom door and crept down the stairs. She hated to take the money her father had given to her, but he had given it to her. She wasn't stealing it. It was just being used for a different purpose.

She went out the door, unnoticed by the servants. She hailed a hansom driver and urged him to get her to the train station. Fifteen minutes later, she bought a second class train ticket to Washoe County, Nevada. She kept her head down, praying that she wouldn't be recognized by anyone who would possibly know her. Fortunately, by the grace of God, she was able to get away safely.

As the train pulled out of the station an hour later, she watched as the familiar buildings began to vanish. She leaned her head against the cold glass and exhaled.

"Please dear God, I pray you've given grandfather an understanding heart and that he'll greet me with open arms. If not, I don't know what I'm going to do next. Oh Lord, I pray you stay close beside me as I go towards this new and unexplored land."