Authors: Kathleen Morgan
Tags: #FIC042030, #Christian, #Colorado, #Ranchers, #FIC027050, #Ranchers—Fiction, #Fiction, #Romance, #Sisters—Fiction, #FIC042040, #Historical, #Ranch life—Colorado, #Sisters, #Ranch life
© 2012 by Kathleen Morgan
Published by Revell
a division of Baker Publishing Group
P.O. Box 6287, Grand Rapids, MI 49516-6287
Ebook edition created 2012
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means—for example, electronic, photocopy, recording—without the prior written permission of the publisher. The only exception is brief quotations in printed reviews.
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data is on file at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
The internet addresses, email addresses, and phone numbers in this book are accurate at the time of publication. They are provided as a resource. Baker Publishing Group does not endorse them or vouch for their content or permanence.
God grant me the Serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
The Courage to change the things I can;
And the Wisdom to know the difference.
Colorado Rockies, June 1870
There were times—just a few—when Shiloh Wainwright truly, fervently hated her sister. And this was one of those times, the twelve-year-old thought as she watched her older sibling take the half-breed Indian youth’s hand and lead him into the barn.
Why in tarnation
—her fists clenched the wooden post as she peered around the corral fence—
did I think any good could come of Jordan making friends with Jesse? Once she works her wiles on him, he won’t even know I exist, much less want to be my friend!
It had seemed such a good idea. Though Henry Wilson, their ranch foreman, had only hired the seventeen-year-old Jesse Blackwater two months ago, it hadn’t taken long for Shiloh to convince the handsome youth to allow her to tag along while he did his chores. And, after a time of guarded interactions on Jesse’s part, they had gradually formed a bond that had blossomed into an actual friendship. It was just as apparent, however, that their friendship was the only one he had made.
Shiloh puzzled over that for several days, before coming right out and asking Jesse about his lack of other friends. “Not everyone likes Indians, even those with half-white blood,” he soberly informed her. After digesting that surprising revelation—well, maybe not all
surprising, Shiloh admitted, recalling some remarks made in passing by certain schoolmates—she set to work remedying that problem.
Shiloh now watched the barn door slide shut behind Jesse and her sister, all the while recalling the plan she had hatched to help Jesse make friends.
The other hands just don’t know him like I do
, she had thought.
They all sure want to get to know my sister better, though. Not only is Jordan older, but she’s beautiful and without any ugly freckles like me.
At fourteen, Jordan Wainwright caught the breath of every man who laid eyes upon her. Well, every man save her father and two stepbrothers, anyway, Shiloh amended. If she could get her sister to favor Jesse . . . well, every other man on the ranch would surely fall over himself to befriend the half-breed in the hopes of finding similar favor with Jordan.
After a few rough patches, the first stage of Shiloh’s plan had seemed to be working. At first, Jordan had shown interest in Jesse as a favor, after Shiloh had hounded her mercilessly, regaling her with tales of Jesse’s expertise in breaking the most unbreakable broncs and roping cattle no one else could even come near, and about all the tracking secrets he’d taught her. Well, after all that
the surrender of the precious music box their father had purchased for Shiloh on the day of her birth.
But she wasn’t going to linger over something as material as even a beloved music box. What mattered, above all, were people. Loving them, helping them. Shiloh had always loved helping others.
And people around here needed a passel of help to see beyond Jesse’s Ute Indian heritage to the good and wonderful person he was inside. A friend who ignored her coltish, clumsy body and homely face, her wild red hair and embarrassing overabundance of freckles. A friend who didn’t discount her as the baby of the family but looked past it all to see straight into her heart. To see her on so many levels, to really
her and, in the bargain, like what he found.
One couldn’t ask for more than that. All the same, Shiloh thought, her apprehension rising as the minutes ticked by and the barn door remained closed, she regretted—fiercely regretted—ever pushing Jordan to take notice of him.
Not that, at this point, there was much she could do about it. Jordan no longer talked to Jesse just as a favor to her. These days, her sister actually sought him out, stealing him away from Shiloh at every opportunity. And something no longer seemed quite right about her motives.
For several minutes more, Shiloh waited for the pair to reappear. Then, with a disgruntled sigh, she turned and headed back to the white frame ranch house. She had laundry to take down and she’d better do it soon, she thought, casting a glance at the gray clouds building over the valley. Emma, their housekeeper, wouldn’t be happy if the freshly laundered bedding she’d hung out this morning got wet all over again.
Fifteen minutes later, a basketload of folded sheets resting on her hip, Shiloh headed through the back door and into the house. She deposited the basket on the kitchen table and glanced around, wondering where everyone had gone. The murmur of voices rose from the front of the house, so she set off in that direction. At the open entry door stood Emma and Martha, Shiloh and Jordan’s mother.
“Do you think we should get Mr. Nicholas?” Emma was asking their mother. “With Mr. Edmund gone to town, I mean.”
Martha gave a sharp nod. “Yes. There’s no one else with enough authority to stop that brute. He certainly won’t listen to either of us.”
As Shiloh opened her mouth to ask what they were talking about, a sharp crack shattered the silence. She edged closer and glanced around the two women standing in the doorway.
“What’s going on? Who’s using that old bullwhip of Pa—”
Her breath caught in her throat. At the corral not more than fifty yards away, the same corral she’d hidden behind just a short time ago, someone was tied, hands over his head, to a tall fence post. He faced away from her, his shirt ripped open, and several oozing lash marks crisscrossed his bare back.
Even as she and the two other women watched in horror, Henry Wilson threw back the hand holding the whip. Then, in a swift, hard motion, he snapped it forward. As the thin piece of leather met flesh, the recipient of the whip went rigid, then reared back in agony. Not a sound, however, passed his lips.
The tilt of the head in that single, swift moment gave away the victim’s identity. It was Jesse.
“No!” she whispered on a swift, sudden exhalation of breath. “No!”
In the split second between realization and action, her mother grabbed for her. Shiloh was too fast. She dodged the outstretched hand and scooted instead around Emma.
“Shiloh! Don’t!” Martha Wainwright cried, but Shiloh was already across the front porch and scrambling down the steps.
“Emma, go after her,” Shiloh heard her mother say, but then the sickening sound of the bullwhip meeting flesh once again filled the air. Everything around her narrowed, converging on the sight of Jesse yet again jerking in silent agony.
Her booted feet pounded against the dry earth, sending up puffs of dust with each stride she took. Her arms pumped furiously.
I’ve got to reach him. Protect him.
“S-stop!” she screeched even as she neared the half-circle of men who’d gathered around Jesse and the foreman. “Stop it! Stop hurting him!”
Henry Wilson paused in surprise, lowering the whip he’d raised yet again. When he caught sight of Shiloh, his gaze hardened.
“Someone. Anyone. Grab and hold her,” he snarled, then turned back to the task at hand, unfurling the bullwhip behind him.
A pair of hands nearest her reached out. Shiloh pivoted sharply, just managing to evade the man. She twisted, nearly losing her footing, then righted and threw herself between the foreman and Jesse, covering Jesse’s now-ravaged and bleeding back with her own body.
“No! Blast you, girl!”
Shiloh shot a swift look behind her. Henry Wilson staggered backward in an attempt to halt the forward flight of the whip he’d just unfurled forward. Yet, though he threw all his weight into the effort, it was too late.
The whip’s leather tip caught Shiloh a passing glance on her upper right cheek, slicing open a tiny cut. It burned like fire. She choked back a scream. If Jesse could take such punishment in silence, so could she.
“S-stop it!” As a thin stream of blood trickled down her face, Shiloh wheeled about to face the now panic-stricken foreman. “Stop it, right now!”
For a fleeting moment, Henry stared in disbelief. Then a firm resolve darkened his eyes. An angry flush gave color to his formerly pasty white face.
“Clay. Go. Get a hold of her. I aim to finish what I started. As long as I’m foreman of this ranch, no half-breed piece of trash is going to take liberties with the boss’s daughter!”
The hand named Clay hurried to do what he was told. This time, Shiloh was too shocked to resist. He took her by both arms and pulled her away from Jesse, dragging her to stand behind the other men.
Liberties? With the boss’s daughter?
The blood pounding through her brain, Shiloh fought to make sense of the man’s words. Then, as comprehension flooded her, she turned, searching the gathering until she finally found her sister standing several feet behind the men.
Jordan’s flawlessly groomed hair was mussed. High color pinkened her cheeks. She was, however, quite obviously unharmed. Their gazes met, and the look of guilt in her sister’s eyes was almost instantly replaced by one of defiance.
Oh, how I know that look!
She uses that ploy all the time to wriggle out of any trouble she’s gotten herself into.
Fury filled her. “What did you do?” she shrieked at her sister. “This is all your fault, isn’t it? Isn’t it?”
Jordan gave a sharp shake of her head. “No. I went in the barn with Jesse, but I didn’t cause any of this. He . . . he wouldn’t leave me be. He wouldn’t stop when I told him to stop . . .”
She couldn’t quite manage to meet Shiloh’s gaze at the end. Still, the action was so subtle Shiloh doubted anyone who didn’t know her sister as well as she did would’ve caught it.
“Liar,” she muttered softly. Though no one heard the bitter accusation, the expression on her sister’s face changed ever so slightly, signaling her recognition of the charge. Shiloh turned away in disgust and began to struggle in the ranch hand’s clasp.
“Let me go. You’ve got no right—”
“Do as she says,” a deep voice intruded just then. “Let my little sister go.”
Clay froze, then turned in the direction from which the command had come. He looked to the brown-haired man sitting in a wicker wheelchair, Martha Wainwright behind him, then at Henry Wilson standing not far away, the bullwhip curled limply at his feet.
“S-sure thing, Mr. Wainwright.”
The foreman gave a quick jerk of his head. As if he’d been burned, the ranch hand released Shiloh. At the reprieve her stepbrother had bought her, she wasted not a moment. Running to Jesse’s side, she pulled out her small pocketknife, flipped it open, and began sawing at the rope binding his hands to the corral post.