Annie Lash


By Dorothy Garlock

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After the death of her parents, Annie Lash yearned for a man she could give her love to completely. Then a young frontiersman offered her a chance to escape her childhood home. When Annie arrives on the frontier, she discovers hostile Indians, river bandits, and a hidden passion that grows as the strong, young man who fought to tame the wild also begins to tame her stubborn heart.




A Time Warner Company

ANNIE LASH. Copyright © 1985 by Dorothy Garlock. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review.

For information address Warner Books, Hachette Book Group, 237 Park Avenue, New York, NY 10017.

 A Time Warner Company

ISBN: 978-0-7595-2285-5

A mass market edition of this book was published in 1995 by Warner Books.

The “Warner Books” name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

First eBook Edition: May 2001

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Annie was horrified to discover something very female in her was both attracted and repelled by his look and the closeness of his body. But she refused to give him the satisfaction of closing her eyes against the expression of victory on his face.

“You’re not the kind of man I want to spend the rest of my life with, Mr. Merrick.” Annie Lash spoke slowly and unemotionally. “I want more out of life than a house to tend and food to eat. I want more than to be a vessel to satisfy a man’s lust. The man I marry will have to want the same things I want, and that is to build something permanent together.” Despite her best efforts, she could not keep the tears from welling in her eyes. “I’ll not stand on the fringe of a man’s life and hunger for something I know can be real and beautiful. I want to love and be loved. I want my man to be a part of me and I of him. And,” she added with finality, “I am determined to hold out for what I want or have nothing at all!”



Highest rating, five gold stars! Ms. Garlock has, as usual, caught the flavor of the times in both description and dialect—it’s her forte!

—Barbra Critiques



Books by Dorothy Garlock


Almost Eden

Annie Lash

Dream River

Forever Victoria

A Gentle Giving

Glorious Dawn


Lonesome River

Love and Cherish


Midnight Blue


Restless Wind

Ribbon in the Sky

River of Tomorrow

The Searching Hearts

Sins of Summer



The Listening Sky

This Loving Land

Wayward Wind

Wild Sweet Wilderness

Wind of Promise

With Hope



Published by






This is for you, Amos. Recalling the first six years of your life helped me to develop the character Amos in this story. I love you.




Author’s Note

All the characters in this novel and Berrywood homestead are the figments of my imagination, with the exception of Thomas Jefferson, General James Wilkinson and Aaron Burr.

  After killing Alexander Hamilton in a duel, Aaron Burr traveled to New Orleans and held several secret conferences with General James Wilkinson, the commander of the army and the Governor of the Louisiana Territory.

  The truth is not fully known, but it was believed that Burr meant to intrigue for the possession of Mexico, or that he had designs upon the Louisiana Territory.

  President Jefferson ordered an intensive investigation into the affairs of the former vice president. Burr was arrested on the charge of treason and brought to trial in Richmond, Virginia.

  After a trial that lasted six months, he was acquitted for lack of evidence on September 1, 1807.





Annie Lash Jester walked with an easy stride and almost noiselessly, keeping close to the trees. They grew thickly back about a hundred feet from the riverbank, letting no sunlight through them. For a moment she stepped back into the sun and gazed at them. How great and tall they were. Then she recalled the lesson her pa had taught her and looked searchingly out across the forest. A good woodsman, Pa had said, never fixes his eyes on an object; he shifts them from side to side and far ahead. You get trapped staring at one thing. Her mind reached back, remembering.

Walking beside her pa, during the long journey over the mountains from Virginia, she had been gay and bright, holding out hope that her mother would live to see the broad Mississippi River and the trading post of Saint Louis; but they had buried Mama in Kentucky and, sorrowing, Annie Lash and Charles Jester had continued west. On the worn trail through the woods her pa had spoken of his love of the trees.

“It’s odd, the way of trees,” he had said. “They know their wants. They grow straight and tall, reaching for sunlight, their roots searching for water. They can survive without man, but man can’t survive without them.” He pointed out a young elm. “The bark is good for poultices. The oak yonder is as enduring as all time. It’s used for sills and framing for cabins. The beechnut trees make good flooring and the honey locust can’t be beat for fence posts and railings. Hickory, the best grained of all wood for axe handles, will burn for a long time in the fireplace on a cold winter night.”

Annie Lash loitered now among the trees, recalling how her pa had catalogued their uses. He had been solid and enduring like the trees, but like them, he had been struck down by man. How pitiful he had looked during those last months, broken down as if he was of no use. His strength, his proudest possession, had gone swiftly and his pride with it when he could no longer tend to himself and the food that kept life in his withered body had to be lifted to his mouth.

Charles Jester had always been a strong man and a clever one. His strength and his pride had been a shield between himself and life. His huge shoulders could heft a heavy log and his strong legs could track a deer all day without tiring. It had taken a year to wring the life out of him, and in the end he had died old and broken; the dark-skinned voyageur, who had thrown the knife, ending the dispute over the furs, would never know the anguish he had caused by the flick of his wrist.

Annie Lash leaned against a tree and looked back at the village of Saint Louis. The ground on which it stood was not much higher than the river bank. On a point of narrow land commanding a view of the river stood a long, low structure enclosed with a stockade fence. On the four corners were little circular towers that bulged out as if to survey what was going on up and down the river. The fort had been occupied by United States soldiers for a short time, but now it was deserted except for the stone towers which were used as a prison. The massive timbers used in the construction of the fort were still standing, and the small dark holes cut into the walls gave the structure a threatening, impregnable aspect.

Below, on the Bank, were many cabins striped with the yellow clay that filled the chinks between the logs. The life and bustle in the vicinity of these dwellings contrasted sharply with the still grandeur of the forest where Annie Lash stood so silently. Farther back from the river, on what was once a flat, grassy plain, were the wagon grounds. Among the canvas covered wagons strung out in deep curls, children played. Several herds of horses grazed on the short grass, and a score of red and white oxen munched at the hay that had been carried to them. One man hammered stakes into the ground from which to hang a kettle and another man swung an axe with a vigorous sweep; the clean, sharp strokes rang on the air when the blade pierced the wood of the log. The smoke of many campfires curled upward, and near the blaze ruddy-faced women hovered over the steaming kettles, scolded children, and greeted neighbors.

Annie Lash looked back toward the river where yet another caravan of settlers had just crossed on the ferry. The lead wagon headed for the wagon grounds, the two span of oxen moving ponderously. On and on they came; wagons, carts, dogs and cows, the children shouting and running alongside while trail-worn men popped the whips tiredly.

This was Saint Louis where, three short years ago in 1804, Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark passed to ascend the Missouri River for twenty-six hundred miles, becoming the first white men to cross the American continent north of Mexico. Here, hundreds of settlers had camped briefly before going on west. They had left farms, blacksmith shops, mercantile stores, and families to pursue their dreams of finding richer, more beautiful country across the wide Mississippi.

“They’ll manage,” Annie Lash said aloud, and the sound of her voice startled her. Tonight, they’ll unhitch and picket the oxen, she thought. The children will stake out the cows; the women will get out pots and spoons, and there will be a cookfire. They’ll make a home for the night. Later, each woman will snuggle in her man’s arms to whisper the intimate things a man and a woman say to each other in the dark of the night.

Reluctantly, Annie Lash moved along the path again. She wanted to remain to smell the evening. There’s no supper smoke like April smoke, she thought. The dry leaves and twigs still have the winter dampness. In no time at all spring will be gone and summer will take its place. She walked swiftly now, not wanting darkness to catch her outside the safety of the sturdy cabin Charles Jester had built when they arrived in this place five years ago. She looked at the western sky. The sun had gone down and she hadn’t noticed. Overhead, the clouds were thickening, and to the south, brief flashes of lightning signaled the approach of yet another spring rain storm. Before the night was over the loud clashes of thunder would shake the rain from the clouds, and by morning the streets of Saint Louis would be a sea of mud.

Annie Lash reached the village and slowed her steps.

“Evenin’, Miss Annie Lash.” The man’s voice was respectful, and Annie Lash glanced up, nodded to the man lounging in front of the mercantile store, and hurried past.

She knew good and well that he was wondering, just as nearly everyone in this village of almost a thousand permanent residents was, What’s Annie Lash Jester going to do now that her pa is dead? She could almost hear the murmur of voices that trailed her. Foolish old maid tied herself to the old man and let her good years slip past her. She must be all of twenty-two. Never been to a party. Never owned a pretty dress. Never had a man. Almost too old, now, for a man to want her, except one whose woman had gone and left him with a parcel of younguns to take care of.

Annie Lash was a tall, lithe, strong woman with capable, slender hands which she used with pleasure. She had to be strong to cope with caring for her invalid father and to help Zan Thatcher handle the furs they bought and sold in order to make enough money to put food on the table for the three of them.

She had no fancy opinion of herself or her looks, no vanity about the rich brown hair with its deep waves nor her delicate white skin that she kept shaded from the sun with a calico sunbonnet so her nose wouldn’t peel. Her eyes were what one noticed first. They were large and clear, the kind of blue that was so light it looked faded, yet they shone bright between the layers of dark brown lashes. She had always thought her mouth was too large, so when she smiled she held her lips in such a way that the corners turned up and her teeth only showed partially. This way of smiling put two small holes in her cheeks, but Annie Lash didn’t know that because she had never smiled at herself in a mirror.

Her feet hit the walk fronting the shops. She liked the sound her heels made on the boardwalk. Here, Osage men padded, their moccasined feet soundless; shiny-shoed gamblers strolled; women trod lightly in soft slippers, trailed by barefoot children; heavy-booted workmen clumped along. The moccasined feet of French voyageurs walked here, as did the feet of the bragging, fighting boatmen who freighted the furs down the river from the rich country in the north.

Annie Lash turned into a shop at the end of the block and paused until her eyes became accustomed to the dimness before she moved toward the rear of the store. She inhaled the fragrance of the tobacco, the spices, and the kegs of dried fruit, and decided to do something impulsive and foolish. She was going to buy a nickel’s worth of sugar, go home, and make it into maple sugar squares to indulge her sweet tooth.

“Evenin’, Miss Annie Lash. Ain’t this late for you to be afoot?” Old Seth Harthan moved away from the two Osage men he was dickering with and hurried toward her. The Indians and two rivermen were the only customers in the store.

“I suppose so.” She placed a coin on the counter. “I’d like this much sugar, Seth.” When she spoke there was a taste of the faraway South on her lips. “If you’ll trust me with the container, I’ll see that you get it back.”

Seth snorted. “Fiddle! Tomorry? Next week? Makes no matter.” He worked fast, scooped the sugar from a barrel into a small tin bucket, and clamped down the lid. “Ain’t no nickel’s worth here so I’ll throw in this dab a raisins if’n ya got a pocket to put ’em in.” He reached into a keg and came out with a handful of plump raisins. Annie Lash held open the pocket on her apron and he dropped the fruit inside.

“Thank you, Seth.” She knew the raisins were a gift and smiled at the old man so he knew that she knew they were a gift.

Seth followed her to the door of the store. “It’s almost dark, Miss Annie Lash. You ain’t ought to be awanderin’ about this late. You ought to wait and I’ll shut up the store and walk you home.”

“I’ll be all right. In no more than five minutes I’ll be inside the cabin.” She looked away from him, allowing her eyes to adapt to the gloom up and down the street. “Bye, Seth.”

The old man nodded and watched her walk rapidly across the street and head down the road toward the river. He had seen the two boatmen eyeing her while he was scooping out the sugar. He hurried back inside to engage their interest in case they had a notion to follow her.

Annie Lash knew well the risk of being caught away from her home at night. Once, two rowdy rivermen had captured her and held her pinned to the side of the cabin until Zan and his long gun persuaded them to let her go. She and Zan had backed into the cabin as the drunken men advanced threateningly. They had returned later that night to pound on the door and make insulting offers.

She walked swiftly, her long stride eating up the distance. Zan would be worried about her. She had depended on her father’s old friend for so much these last few years. Now it was time to set him free to ride the river he loved. She had to make a decision soon, choose one from among the three men who wanted to marry her. The offers had come in scarcely before her pa was cold. A strong, capable woman, well able to handle a parcel of motherless younguns, tend a garden, wash and cook was what those men wanted. The fact that she was sightly didn’t really enter into it at all. A single woman, people said, needed a man to take care of her. It was unheard of for a decent woman to make her way alone. If she was unmarried she lived with a relative and worked for the family, that was, if she didn’t want to be a whore and live in one of the bawdy houses farther down the river.

Annie Lash hastened her steps and thought of her choices. Harm Fletcher; short, skinny, almost bald. He had five children, the oldest eight years old, the youngest two. She felt sorry for the children. They were nice, well-behaved little ones. But . . . oh, she wanted more out of life than tending someone else’s younguns. Aside from that, the thought of being in bed with Harm sent cold chills all through her.

There was Mr. Greer, who owned several flatboats and freighted furs down to New Orleans. He didn’t make the trips himself. He was too old. He was probably no more than fifty, but he looked older. His shoulders were bent and he suffered from a chronic pain in his joints. Annie Lash knew he was looking ahead to the time when he would be an invalid and need a woman to take care of him. In the meanwhile, he would take what pleasure he could from her young body. She had seen his eyes on her breast, and the thought of those talonlike hands on her naked body brought the saliva to her mouth and caused her stomach to tighten.

The other offer had come from Walt Ransom, a big, brawny, rough-talking man with seven children. He had bragged that he had a youngun for every year he’d had his wife. He drank, brawled, worked as little as possible, and had been on her doorstep before she realized the word was out that her pa was dead.

Annie Lash heard the scuff of boots behind her and quickened her steps. Hoarse laughter followed her and she began to feel panic until she saw Zan coming toward her, the long gun in his hand. She didn’t slow down until she reached him.

“What’er ya tryin’ to do, gal? Ya know ya ain’t got no call to be out when night comes.” Zan’s voice sounded angry, but she knew it was because he’d been worried.

“I’m sorry. The time passed quickly and darkness came before I knew it.” It felt good to slow down and walk beside big, comfortable Zan. This is what my pa would have been like, she thought, if he’d not been involved in the argument with the voyageur.

They stopped at the door to the log cabin. Lightning creased the sky and thunder rolled nearer. Annie Lash felt a drop of rain.

“Light the lamp,” Zan said. He stood in the open door while she moved into the room, walking with sure steps because she knew every inch of it.

In the soft glow made by the lamp she looked at him. Grizzled and gray, he still stood straight and tall, his buckskins clean, his flat, straight-brimmed hat sitting squarely on his head. She knew he loved her like a daughter and that accounted for the impatient scowl on his face.

Darkness had brought a lively wind that whistled in the door. The light flickered and Zan turned to go.

“Bar the door, lass.” His voice still held gruffness.

“I will. Zan . . . thank you.”

“I’ll be back come mornin’.”

“Zan . . .” She went to him. “I’ll make up my mind soon. Don’t worry about me. If you get the chance to take a boat upriver, take it. I’ll make out.”

“Annie Lash, ya ain’t got to take no man ya don’t want. Ain’t I tol’ ya that?” His weathered, roughened face softened. “We’ll make out like we done a’fore yore pa died.”

“I can’t do that, Zan. It’s time I made a place for myself and freed you to spend your time on the river. I don’t know what Pa and I would have done without you, but now that he’s gone I want you to live your dream of following the river up to its beginning and beyond if the notion strikes you.” She kept her voice steady by sheer willpower, because . . . Oh, Lordy, how she hated the thought of his leaving her alone in this place.

“I ain’t got no use fer none of ’em what ask ya, Annie Lash. If’n I was a leavin’ ya with a good man, one what I knowed ya wanted, I’d go. Till then, I ain’t.” His voice was determined, as forceful as it was sometimes when he was selling furs.

Annie Lash held his arm and squeezed it—as much demonstration of feelings as Zan would allow. Even that embarrassed him.

“Annie . . . Annie Lash.” The slurred voice came from the rutted path that served as a road. “Are ya waitin’ fer me, darlin’?” The brief lightning flash outlined Walt Ransom’s brawny frame. “I brung someone ta see ya,” he called, and came lumbering toward the door. “What ya a doin’ here with my woman?” he demanded belligerently when Zan blocked the doorway.

“Annie Lash ain’t receivin’ no callers.”

“Ain’t . . . receivin’ no callers?” Walt repeated Zan’s words in a disbelieving tone, then roared with anger. “Ya want me ta wring yore head off that scrawny neck, ya old river rat?” The man with Walt reeled drunkenly and snickered. “What ya doing here, anyways? Ya stay way from my intended. Hear?”

“I’m not your intended, Walt Ransom! Get yourself and your drunken friend off my doorstep.” Annie Lash squeezed into the doorway beside Zan.

“Ya shut yore mouth up, woman! This here’s twixt me ’n the ol’ man.”

“You lay a hand on Zan and I’ll blow a hole in you big enough to drive a team of mules through.” Annie Lash drew her pa’s musket out from behind her and pointed it at Walt’s bloated stomach.

“Jesuz Christ!” Walt swore. “Ya ain’t got no hankerin’ fer this ol’ man, has ya?”

“I’ve got a powerful lot of love for this man, but you wouldn’t understand that.” The sneer in her voice enraged Walt more than her words.

“What ya need is a whip on yore back! An’ I got me a notion ta let ya have it.”

“That ain’t what her needs, Walt.” The man’s voice was so raspy it sounded like it hurt him to talk.

“She’ll get that, too!” Walt hitched up his trousers. “I’ll be back tomorry with that preacher man, gal. An’ I ain’t better hear no back talk outta’ ya.”

“You come around here tomorrow or any other time, Walt Ransom, an’ I’ll fill your hide with buckshot.”

His laughter was loud and full of bravado. “Hear that, Samuel? I’m goin’ ta have me a fightin’ squaw, but I kin take the fight outta’ her.”

“Get!” Annie Lash snapped. “Get on away from here and don’t come back!”

“If’n it ain’t me, t’will be them river rats. Ya know ya can’t live here without no man, ’n I’ll treat ya square. I was just a funnin’ ’bout the whip. Ya know I’d not mark up a purty thing like ya be.” His black, hairy face split in a grin and he moved closer to the door.

Zan had stood quietly, but now he lifted his rifle and the muzzle touched Walt’s chest.

“Don’t ya come anosin’ ’round here no more, ya no good hunk a fish bait. That’s all ya be . . . fish bait. Ain’t no decent man on this here Bank’ll stand ’n let Annie Lash take no slack from the likes of ya. Now back off, or ya’ll be a long way downriver come mornin’.”

Walt stepped back. His pride had suffered a blow. Samuel would spread the news at the tavern that he had been rejected by the gal he’d been bragging about. He shook his fist at Zan.

“Ya ain’t got no chance a’gin me, ol’ man. I be back tomorry, ’n I’m a havin’ that woman! Me little ones needs a ma, and she’s gonna be it.” His voice dropped to a whine and he turned away. “C’mon, Samuel. That ol’ man ain’t gonna walk easy fer the rest a his days. Ain’t I tol’ ya the gal was sightly? An’ ya ort to see her with her hair down. I seed her a washin’ it in a bucket a rainwater once . . . purtiest sight I ever did see. Now, oncet I git ’er, ya fellers what’s . . .” His booming voice trailed away in the darkness.

Annie Lash and Zan stood for a long moment. When Zan lowered his rifle, Annie Lash lowered hers and stood it just inside the door. She moved back into the room, her shoulders slumped dejectedly.

“Oh, Zan! What am I going to do?”

“Ya can mark that’n off. Ya ain’t havin’ no truck with him,” Zan said firmly.

Annie Lash went to him, wrapped her arms about his waist, and leaned her head on his chest. Zan stiffened and stood still.

“Let me lean on you for just a moment, Zan. I’ll be all right. I’ll make out, but sometimes it’s so hard . . . to be alone.” Her words were muffled against the soft buckskin of his shirt.


On Sale
Apr 12, 2001
Page Count
400 pages

Dorothy Garlock

About the Author

Dorothy Garlock is the author of more than 50 novels that have sold 15 million+ combined copies and are published in 15 languages. She lives in Iowa.

Learn more about this author