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WARNER BOOKS EDITION
Copyright © 1989 by Dorothy Garlock
All rights reserved.
Cover illustration by Sharon Spiak
Warner Books, Inc.
Hachette Book Group,
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New York, NY 10017
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A Time Warner Company
The "Warner Books" name and logo are trademarks of Hachette Book Group, Inc.
First eBook edition: April 2001
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A Time Warner Company
He slipped into the bed and gathered her close in his arms.
"I don't want to go back to that lonely bed downstairs. I want to sleep with you in my arms every night for the rest of my life."
"You just want to hold me?" Mara asked.
"Hold you, kiss you, make you mine forever."
"But . . . I am yours."
"Not the way I want you to be," he whispered hoarsely. "I want us to be man and woman in all the ways there are. I want to share my life and dreams with you. If I stay now, there'll be no going back. It'll be this way from now on."
She pressed against him as innocently as any young female animal that responds by instinct to the male. She lifted her face to meet his kiss, her lips parting as his mouth possessed hers. His hand slid down her back, holding her hips more tightly against him. She pressed warm lips to his cheek. "I want you to touch me," she said.
♠ ♠ ♠
"The rarest of all gifts . . . Dorothy Garlock brings an obvious love and understanding to the men and women whose courage and spirit opened the frontier."
—"Ann's World," Hearst Cablevision
"You'll find yourself actually there, right in the picture. You can feel the heat of the campfire, you can hear the wagon creaking and the slice and slap of the bullwhip. . . . There's good reason why Dorothy has been called the 'Louis L'Amour of the romance novelists.' "
—Beverly Hills California Courier
Books by Dorothy Garlock
A Gentle Giving
Love and Cherish
Ribbon in the Sky
River of Tomorrow
The Searching Hearts
Sins of Summer
The Listening Sky
This Loving Land
Wild Sweet Wilderness
Wind of Promise
For my grandsons,
Adam and Amos Mix
who give me love and, at times,
a pain in the neck
"H'yaw! H'yaw! Move, ya bastards! Hightail it, ya dang-busted, mangy, worthless, sonsabitches! Yore lazy meat ain't fit fer buzzard bait!"
The long, thin leather cracked over the backs of the straining team, and insults spewed from the mouth of the stage driver on the box. He whipped the horses into a full gallop as they raced toward a group of small, weathered buildings nesting amid a grove of aspens. Above the steady sound of wheels and iron-shod hooves, a stream of profanity came from the man wielding the whip.
"He always does that." The traveling salesman with the side whiskers slapped his chubby palms on his knees and smiled at the young woman facing him on the opposite seat.
"Why?" she asked with a questioning lift of her brows.
"I think it's called making an entrance. Sometimes passengers are waiting to go to Cheyenne. You should hear him when he gets to Cheyenne. He puts on such a show that everyone in town comes out to see the stage come in." He made an airy gesture toward the window, but his admiring glance stayed on the girl's face.
She merely regarded him, not answering; then, deliberately, she turned her head and gave her attention to the ramshackle buildings they were approaching.
"Do you live near here, miss?"
The question got the drummer no more than a cold stare from emerald green eyes; but, for whatever the reason, it was by now all he had come to expect. He could count on one hand the number of words she had spoken since he had boarded the stage at the mid-morning stop. She wasn't the type of woman who usually traveled alone. He looked her over, a deliberate inspection that she chose to ignore.
She was pretty—kind of, the drummer decided. Of course, he was comparing her to the painted women who served the spirits he sold to the saloon owners. She was much too prim for his taste, but he had to admit there was something about her that brought out the protective nature in a man. She sat as straight on the seat as if she were sitting in a church pew. At the last stop, when she had gotten out of the coach for a few minutes, he noticed that she was of medium height for a woman and had a small waist, generous breasts, and rounded hips. The drummer had seen the yard man look at them. Behind her back he had held out his hands, palms up, and had drawn up his fingers while giving the drummer a knowing, wolfish grin.
No, she was not beautiful, but she had something more than beauty. The fat man watched as a worried frown drew her dark brows closer together. She brushed the hair back from her face before she straightened the straw hat on her head and jabbed the hatpin in place to hold it there. Damp from the humidity, her thick dark auburn hair curled and escaped in springy tendrils from the pins that held it coiled to the back of her head. She mopped her face, looked with disgust at the dirt left on the wisp of white handkerchief, tucked it into her sleeve at her wrist, and pulled on her soft white gloves that showed a slight soil on the fingertips.
The drummer concluded that she was fastidious, and not suited to this rough country. Her skin was very white and soft. The heat inside the coach had brought a touch of pink to her cheeks and moisture to her temples, but her emerald green eyes could turn the air frosty, as they had done when he tried to start a conversation. They had shown anger at the profanity used by the driver and laughter when a bird had flown alongside the window of the coach. Since the whiskey salesman considered himself an authority on women, he marveled that this one could be so distant and so seductive at the same time. She had a body made for love! Just looking at her affected him in such a way that he removed his hat and placed it on his lap to hide the sudden bulge that appeared there.
What was this innocent, proper miss doing traveling alone and stopping off at a remote, run-down place like Sheffield Station? She caught him looking at her and lifted her small pointed chin haughtily while pressing her mouth into a line of disapproval at his close scrutiny.
"Shef . . . field Sta . . . tion!"
The driver expressed his displeasure with the team by issuing another stream of obscenities and tramped on his brake. The coach rocked as the split reins curbed the horses to a stand. He swung easily down from his box, opened the door and waited to help the woman take the long step to the ground.
"Ten minutes," he said curtly to the drummer.
Mara Shannon McCall graciously accepted the driver's help, then quickly removed her hand. She looked anxiously around. Not a buckboard or a wagon was in sight. A feeling of uneasiness began to close in on her.
The old man bringing up the fresh team gave her the briefest of glances as she stood waiting for the driver to unload her trunks. Her knees shook and her breath locked in her chest. In all her nineteen years she had never seemed so alone. She fought nervousness and tried to settle her breathing. Feeling vulnerable and scared, she slid her hand down the side of her dress to touch the comforting shape of the little pistol in her pocket, and silently thanked her friend, Lars, for insisting that she bring it. No sign of her stress showed on the face she presented to the stage driver when he piled her trunk and carpetbags on the ground at her feet.
"Somebody meetin' ya, miss?" The driver was a string-bean of a man with straggling whiskers and a tremendous wad of tobacco that seemed permanently lodged in one cheek.
"Oh, yes. They'll be along." She turned away, then back to the driver. "I was told the McCall holdings are five miles north of this place."
"More likely six or seven." He took off his hat and scratched his head. This one was a puzzle. Laced up tighter than a drum in a corset, wearing lacy gloves, and going to that place. Hell and shitfire! He was paid to drive the stage, not stand around worrying about silly women.
"There ain't nobody here but old Jim, miss. He be no danger to ya or to nobody else. No help neither," he added dryly. "I can't be waitin' for somebody to fetch ya. I got a schedule to keep." He screwed his hat down tight on his head. "Yo're sure somebody's comin'?"
"I never expected you to wait," she said, disregarding the question, and went to sit on the bench beside the door lest the driver feel encouraged to ask something more personal.
He completed a final meticulous check on the harnessing of the fresh team, then swung easily up the hub of the big front wheel to his place. He booted off the brake and a yell sent the team surging into their collars. The drummer waved as the stage took to the road in a cloud of dust.
The air was hot and still. Black flies buzzed around Mara as she sat impatiently on the bench in front of the station and removed her gloves. She lifted off her hat, fanned her face with the stiff brim, and wondered if she should have gone on to Cheyenne to wait for Cousin Aubrey to come for her.
Minutes passed. The station keeper had disappeared with the tired team. The door of the shack stood ajar, and Mara went to it and called out. There was no answer. Under her hand the door opened wider, and she spoke inquiringly into the room. It was empty. She viewed it with disgust. A chair was turned over, scraps of food lay on the floor, and the bed was unmade. The headmistress at the school she had recently left would have had plenty to say about that! What a shocking thing, not to have the bed made in the middle of the day. Not only was the room a shambles, but there were dark stains on the floor. Someone had either bled here or, more than likely, the slovenly occupant had brought a small animal he had killed into the shack to dress it. She wrinkled her nose at the foul odor and turned away. She was thirsty, but not thirsty enough to drink from anything in that place.
Mara walked out to the edge of the hard-packed yard and looked beyond the road to the wide empty land with its waving grass and the sky over it. She thought of a remark her Irish immigrant father had made when she was just a child. All that land, he had said, and not a potato planted. He and her mother had come to America to escape the famine in Ireland. He had worked his way to Colorado and had made a gold strike. His dream had been to own land, not a hole in the side of a mountain. He sold his mine for a tidy sum and invested his money in Wyoming land, planted a field of potatoes, and built his wife and daughter a fine house. Colleen McCall enjoyed their prosperity for five years before the smothering sickness took her life. Heartbroken, Shannon McCall had taken his eleven-year-old daughter to Denver and placed her in Miss Fillamore's School for Young Ladies because it had been her mother's fondest wish that her daughter receive the education she had never had.
Five years before she had come to terms with her father's death and had accepted the loss. Miss Fillamore had impressed upon her that she was an orphan and the school would be her home.
How extremely fortunate for you, Miss Fillamore had said. You will have a position and will be able to teach other young ladies as you have been taught.
Fortunate? Mara had found herself gradually becoming a replica of Miss Fillamore, a woman who had no interest outside the school. Then, quite suddenly, Mara became homesick, realizing that she was not ready to devote her life to other women's daughters. She had a home and land in Wyoming. Her father had left it to her. She wanted to go there, to the place he had built and where he and her mother were buried.
Mara thought of Cousin Aubrey and his wife, Brita. She had seen them only once, when they had come to Denver to tell her of her father's death. Aubrey McCall was her closest relative now that her father was gone. Therefore he was her guardian. He assured her that he and Brita would take care of her inheritance until she came of age. Brita was a gentle, motherly type of woman just as Mara's own mother had been. She had liked her immediately. Cousin Aubrey was a handsome, strutting man with a glib tongue. He had taken over her affairs and continued to pay for her schooling. Now and then he had also put a nice little sum in her account at the bank, so that she was able to dress as fashionably as the other girls. Mara was grateful to him and Brita, but she was of age now and capable of tending to her own affairs.
Aubrey McCall had a son, Cullen, by his first wife. By his second, Brita, he had twin sons. They must be fifteen by now, Mara mused. She had not met them, but she had met Brita McCall's son by her previous marriage, Pack Gallagher, when he came to the school with her father. Brita and Mara's mother had been childhood friends, and it was through Mara's mother that Brita had met Aubrey McCall after Pack's father had died.
Mara remembered now that her father had been fond of Pack Gallagher, had considered him the son he had never had. He had talked to her about the boy, telling her how he came to have the name Pack. Because of trouble between him and his stepfather, Pack had moved out on his own. His real name was Jack, but it was converted to Pack since, as a strapping fourteen-year-old, he had begun packing supplies over the mountains to the miners in the gold fields who paid him with gold nuggets.
Shannon McCall had brought Pack to the school on his last visit before the accident that took his life. He was a dark, brooding young man with a mop of blue-black hair and dark blue eyes. If not for the deep blue eyes and the curl in his hair, he could have been taken for an Indian. Black Irish, her father had teasingly called him. Pack had merely grinned and acted as if he would rather be anywhere in the world than sitting on a bench in front of a fancy girls' school. He had been dressed in the rough clothes of a teamster, and Miss Fillamore had been indignant about his being there, although nothing was said until after he and her father had left.
Mara had not heard another word about Pack Gallagher since that day so long ago and had not given him a thought until today. Since he didn't get along with Cousin Aubrey, she presumed he had left this part of the country by now.
When an hour had passed, Mara began to pace up and down in front of the shack. There was silence, utter silence, except for a bird, a meadowlark. His song was a fine sound, but not the sound for which she was listening. Once again she shaded her eyes with her hand so she could see against the glare of the sun. Nothing moved. She was not only angry at being stranded here, she was uneasy too, and it irritated her that the station keeper had disappeared.
Suddenly the man came from the back of the station. He was leading a horse that was hitched to a light, rickety wagon; the boards in the bed of the wagon were loose and rumbled as it approached. Mara stood and waited for the station keeper to speak. He went straight to the hitching rail and looped the reins over the bar.
"Mister?" Mara asked in exasperation, walking toward him. He went past her as if not seeing her and lifted her carpetbags, one in each hand, and put them in the back of the wagon. "Did someone come for me?" she asked when he carried her trunk and slid it in alongside the bags.
"You go," he said, not looking at her.
"Go? Where? I don't know the way to the McCall farm. I've been away for almost seven years."
"That way." He pointed to a trail that turned off the main road and headed northwest.
"Is the farm on that trail?"
"Yep." He untied the horse and stood waiting for her to climb up to the seat.
"Whose rig is this?"
There was no answer. The old man lifted his shoulders in a noncommittal gesture. Mara waited to see if he would say something more; and when he didn't, she climbed up to the seat, placed her hat beside her, and reached for the reins. She looked down to thank him, but he shoved the reins into her hands and hurried into the shack.
"Thank you," she called. The only answer she received was the slamming of the door. "I think he's glad to be rid of us, horse." When she slapped the reins against the swayed back, the animal moved so suddenly that she lurched backward. Righting herself, she spoke again to the horse. "We're not in that big a hurry."
The horse was not the kind of slick, well-trained animal she had driven in Denver, but she knew about horses. Every girl who graduated from Miss Fillamore's school knew how to ride and how to drive. Mara had loved that part of her education and had spent many hours talking to Lars Neishem, the groom who cared for the horses at the school. It was Lars who had insisted that she take the pistol when she told him she was leaving the school and going back to her home in Wyoming.
Ah, miss, he had said. Ye ort a be on yer land. Although Lars was Norwegian, he had the same love of the land the Irish had. The land will be here forever. Do not give up a foot of it. There be more to life than bein' stuffed in a corset and seein' to spoiled, rich girls. Ye should be havin' a family of yer own.
The day was suddenly beautiful. Out on the road the sky seemed clearer, bluer, the air sweeter. There was a slight breeze but no dust. Mara began to feel elated. It was going to be all right after all. She was going home!
The mare plodded along without any coaxing, giving Mara time to think of the home she had not seen for years. She could see in her mind's eye the white house on the hill, looking down on the potato fields. She remembered how proud her mother had been of the oval glass in the front door and the elaborate fretwork decorating the porch that stretched across the front of the house and partially down one side. The house was not large when compared to some in Denver, but it was spacious and luxurious beyond anything Colleen McCall had ever dreamed of having. She delighted in calling it McCall Manor after the big estates in Ireland.
Mara thought of the day she had left her home to go to the school in Denver. She had looked back one last time to see the shining windows, the flowers growing along the walk, the latticework at the bottom of the porch her father had so painstakingly made. Mara had imagined her mother was watching from the upstairs window. The image was so vivid that she had waved to her, then turned back to her father who sat on the wagon seat, his shoulders slumped, his face haggard with grief.
"Dear Mama and Papa," she said aloud. "It's been a long time, but I'm coming home!"
The trail curved up and over the summit of a grassy ridge. The scene below was colorful and quiet and stirred a memory in Mara. Cottonwoods and willows showed bright green along a stream that ran parallel with the trail. The Wyoming hills hid many valleys among the bare, grassy ridges that sloped up toward the foothills. Mara's home was in one of those valleys, and out beyond the ridges stretched an unlimited expanse of prairie land.
* * *
Something was lying in the road ahead. At first Mara thought it was an animal. Then, to her surprise, a man pushed himself erect and stood swaying on widespread legs. Every once in a while he took a determined step forward. Mara pulled up on the reins and stopped the horse. The man appeared to be very drunk. She watched him fall, push himself to his feet, take a few steps, and fall again. She decided that a man in his condition posed no threat to her. She would simply drive around him.
As she drew closer, she could see that his face was as black as his hair. His clothes were mere rags and he wore no boots. He held his hand against his side as he staggered, making little progress forward. Was he an Indian or a Negro? Mara looked at him with disgust. How in the world did a man this drunk get out here barefoot? She had just begun the swing around him when she saw that the hand against his side was covered with blood. At the moment of her discovery, he fell again.
Mara stopped the horse, wound the reins securely around the brake handle, and sat looking at the man. His feet and ankles, although bloody, were white. His face was blue-black as if a layer of coal dust had settled on it. His eyes were swollen almost shut. What was left of a buckskin shirt hung in tatters on his large frame. Mara could see blood ooze from a hundred cuts on his shoulders and arms. He was badly hurt. Realizing this startled her. She could not simply drive away and leave him. Without hesitation, she climbed down off the wagon seat.
Mara had never seen such a bloody sight. For an instant her sensitive nature rebelled against it, and she turned her face away. He had not received such injuries from falling off a horse, she was sure of that. He was a big, strong man with massive shoulders and evidently a strong heart to have suffered such injury and still be on his feet. He had coal black hair and a stubble of dark beard on his cheeks. One eye was swollen completely shut, and the other opened a mere crack. He had been horribly beaten about the face, his nose broken, and it was beyond her reasoning to even guess what had happened to inflict the wounds on the rest of him. Then, knowing that she was all the help the man was going to have, she knelt down beside him.
His split lips parted and he whispered, "Help me."
"Mister, I'll help you if I can," she murmured. When he seemed not to hear, she repeated the words louder.
The wounded man muttered unintelligibly. Then he lifted his head and tried to see her.
"I'll help you," she repeated.
"Shef . . . field."
If Mara had not just come from there, she would not have been able to make out the word. There was no point in telling the man she was not going back to the station.
"All right," she said soothingly. "We've got to get you into the wagon."
Mara looked around. Water from a recent rain stood in a puddle beside the trail. If she got some, it might revive him long enough to get him into the wagon. She went to her trunk and pulled out a towel she had decorated with tatted lace and embroidery. Not exactly designed for the purpose at hand, but it would serve. Now for something to hold water. She dug about and found an old garden hat. It could be reblocked afterward.
When she returned to the road, the man was lying in the same spot. She set the hat full of water on the ground and placed the wet towel on his face. He pushed himself up into a sitting position.
"Stay still a moment." Her voice was as stern as if she were speaking to an errant child.
His hand fell away from his side and blood oozed from a wound. She suddenly realized he had been shot! And more than one time if the wound in his thigh was a bullet hole. Oh, the poor man! If she could get him into the wagon and get him home, Cousin Brita would know what to do for him.
"Can you drink?"
He didn't answer and Mara looked at him helplessly. He was such a big man that she could not possibly get him into the wagon without his helping. One thing she had to do was wrap something about his thigh and his middle to help staunch the flow of blood. She hurried back to the trunk.
Her hands were bloody and the skirt of her travel dress was soiled by the time she had finished the bandaging. An old petticoat was wrapped securely about his middle, holding a towel against the wound, and a wool scarf was tied about his thigh. She dampened the towel once again and wiped her hands.
"You've got to help me get you up. I'll bring the wagon up so all you'll have to do is take a few steps to reach it."
She led the horse forward until the back of the wagon was even with him.
"Listen to me, man. I can't do it by myself."
Knowing she had to shock him into helping her, she took the hat by the brim and threw the remaining water in his face. It seemed not to faze him. Mara got behind him and placed her hands beneath his arms and lifted. It was useless. All she could manage was to raise his massive shoulders no matter how hard she tried.
- On Sale
- Apr 12, 2001
- Page Count
- 368 pages
- Grand Central Publishing