Friday 9 February 2024

Danger cloaks itself in far too many ways, leading Julia to embrace the courage to save herself and others through a challenge of forgiveness that will either restore the love she shares with Will or end it forever.


West of Santillane
By Brook Allen

Desperate to escape a mundane future as a Virginia planter’s wife, Julia Hancock seizes her chance for adventure when she wins the heart of American hero William Clark. Though her husband is the famed explorer, Julia embarks on her own thrilling and perilous journey of self-discovery.

With her gaze ever westward, Julia possesses a hunger for knowledge and a passion for helping others. She falls in love with Will’s strength and generous manner, but, like her parents, he is a slave owner, and Julia harbors strong opinions against slavery. Still, her love for Will wins out, though he remains unaware of her beliefs.

Julia finds St. Louis to be a rough town with few of the luxuries to which she is accustomed, harboring scandalous politicians and miscreants of all types. As her husband and his best friend, Meriwether Lewis, work to establish an American government and plan to publish their highly anticipated memoirs, Julia struggles to assume the roles of both wife and mother. She is also drawn into the plight of an Indian family desperate to return to their own lands and becomes an advocate for Will’s enslaved.

When political rivals cause trouble, Julia’s clandestine aid to the Indians and enslaved of St. Louis draws unwanted attention, placing her at odds with her husband. Danger cloaks itself in far too many ways, leading her to embrace the courage to save herself and others through a challenge of forgiveness that will either restore the love she shares with Will or end it forever.


Christmas passed with no sign of Will, and for me there was a saturating profusion of whens.

When would he arrive? When would the wedding be? When would we leave for St. Louis?

For nearly all of December, I listened for riders approaching the house. Whenever I heard hoofbeats, I ran to the window. When that happened on a blustery, chilly late afternoon, I set Master Shakespeare aside, scrambling to the window and wiping frost from the pane.

Not him. Not yet.

Instead, it was an armed soldier with a padlocked saddlebag, making me wonder what sort of official business he had at Santillane. By the time I reached the front door, he had dismounted and was busy unlocking the bag, drawing out a small parcel, neatly wrapped. 

While I swung open the front door, Mama was calling for Megg to warm some tea on the stove for the traveler. 

“Greetings, miss,” the young man said. “I’m looking for Miss Julia Hancock.”

My heart thudded. “I’m Miss Hancock.”

“Miss Hancock, I’ve ridden from Washington City to convey warmest regards from President Jefferson,” he announced, climbing the stairs. “This here is a wedding gift from the president himself.” 

He presented the parcel, and I accepted. Utterly astonished, I wandered into the library’s privacy with it. 

“Please,” Mama invited, bustling to the entrance toward the soldier. “It’s freezing outside. Do go around the side of the house to the kitchen. We’ve warmed some tea for you, and my woman Megg will see you’re given a hot meal before you continue on.”

“Many thanks, ma’am. That’s greatly appreciated.”

Once she’d shut the door, Mama came up behind me, where I was admiring the packaged gift. “What is it?” she asked, insistently peering over my shoulder.

“I don’t know—”

“Well, open it, child!”

I peeled away the outer layer of wrapping carefully to find a smoothly sanded and polished flat-latched box of walnut with a crisp note of official presidential stationery attached. 

“Oh, Julia, he’s written you a private note.”

Blinking at my own disbelief, I lifted the folded stationery, feeling the raised print under my fingertips. It was engraved with the presidential seal and Jefferson’s name. Beneath was his message—the author of our Declaration of Independence had written me in his own bold script: 

My dearest Miss Hancock,

I’m sure there are hardly words to express the delight and happiness you must feel as you celebrate the advent of your marriage. If William Clark has chosen you as his bride, then I can only assume what an upright and purposeful woman you must be. Therefore, I beg you to accept this small gift, representing the sentiments I hold, not only of your worthy person, but of Clark’s esteemed service and character—all of which I hold dear. May your days together be many and full of joy.

I am indeed in your service and in the service of our beloved country,

Th. Jefferson, President of the United States

“Oh, Julia—open it!” Mama fussed again.

In disbelief, I set the note aside upon one of our library tables. Using my finger, I slid the box’s delicate brass latch up to the right. The lid released, and I opened it the rest of the way, gasping. Beneath a protective flap of emerald satin was a magnificent brooch of carnelian and gold, and on either side were displayed matching earrings. They were exquisite, and not even my parents had ever gifted me with such extravagance. 

I stared at Mama, shaking my head, stunned. “How can I accept this? It’s far too rich for me.”

Ever so gently, she placed her hands upon my face and whispered, “Daughter, you are marrying into greatness, and even our president recognizes that fact. You will accept it with humility, with dignity, and wear these baubles in St. Louis with pride, where people will be amazed that the president sends you such.”

I was humbled. 

What an incredible time this was—a year full of newness, a year of firsts. 

Like receiving gifts from the president.

Coming soon...!

Brook Allen

Author Brook Allen has a passion for history. Her newest project, West of Santillane spotlights history from a little closer to home. It’s the story of Julia Hancock, who married famed explorer, William Clark. Each character of this thrilling, adventurous period was researched throughout southwest Virginia and into Kentucky, Missouri, Montana, Idaho, and North Dakota. It launches in March of 2024.

Brook belongs to the Historical Novel Society and attends conferences as often as possible to study craft and meet fellow authors. In 2019, Son of Rome won the Coffee Pot Book Club Book of the Year Award. In 2020, it was honored with a silver medal in the international Reader’s Favorite Book Reviewers Book Awards and also won First Place in the prestigious Chaucer Division in the Chanticleer International Book Awards, 2020. 

The Antonius Trilogy is a detailed account of the life of Marcus Antonius—Marc Antony, which she worked on for fifteen years. The first installment, Antonius: Son of Rome was published in March 2019. It follows Antony as a young man, from the age of eleven, when his father died in disgrace, until he’s twenty-seven and meets Cleopatra for the first time. Brook’s second book is Antonius: Second in Command, dealing with Antony’s tumultuous rise to power at Caesar’s side and culminating with the civil war against Brutus and Cassius. Antonius: Soldier of Fate is the last book in the trilogy, spotlighting the romance between Antonius and Cleopatra and the historic war with Octavian Caesar. 

Though she graduated from Asbury University with a B.A. in Music Education, Brook has always loved writing. She completed a Masters program at Hollins University with an emphasis in Ancient Roman studies, which helped prepare her for authoring her Antonius Trilogy. Brook teaches full-time as a Music Educator and works in a rural public-school district near Roanoke, Virginia. Her personal interests include travel, cycling, hiking in the woods, reading, and spending downtime with her husband and big, black dog, Jak. She lives in the heart of southwest Virginia in the scenic Blue Ridge Mountains. 

Connect with Brook: Website • Twitter • Facebook.

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See you on your next coffee break!
Take Care,
Mary Anne xxx