Authors: Shirl Henke Henke
Previously published by Leisure Books
Copyright 1995 by Shirl Henke
All rights reserved. No part of this ebook may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic means without the written permission of the publisher.
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Other electronic works by Shirl Henke:
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A FIRE IN THE BLOOD
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“Billie Jo and the Valentine Crow”
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The Blackthorne Trilogy:
LOVE A REBEL…LOVE A ROGUE
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House of Torres Books:
PARADISE & MORE
RETURN TO PARADISE
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The Cheyenne Books:
THE ENDLESS SKY
CAPTURE THE SUN
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The Texas Trilogy:
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Arizona Territory, 1863
The clock on the parlor mantel chimed three a.m. “Sir, sir, ye can come up now!” Eileen O’Banyon's thick Irish brogue echoed down the long flight of stairs. Colin McCrory stopped his pacing across the parlor carpet and headed for the steps, taking them two at a time until he reached his wife's plump little housemaid.
Seizing her by the shoulders, he asked, “Elizabeth—is she all right?” His whiskey gold eyes were dark with fatigue and his face haggard from a long night without sleep.
Eileen's face split into a homely grin. “Sure and the saints have been watchin' over us all! Miss Elizabeth's fine, sir. Just fine. It took a long time, but she just gave ye a beautiful baby daughter.”
“Eden. Eden Elizabeth McCrory. That's the name we picked for a girl,” he said softly, a smile wreathing his face, erasing the lines of exhaustion from it.
“She has her mother's silver gilt hair and the sweetest, most delicate features,” Eileen gushed as Colin rushed past her, down the hall toward the sounds of a baby's lusty wailing. It was the most beautiful sound he had ever heard in his life.
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Arizona Territory, 1880
“Mr. Colin, sure 'n ye can't be meanin' ta go alone.” Eileen O’Banyon's voice interrupted his reverie of seventeen years past. He would never forget the day his daughter had been born.
She was his life—all that mattered to him in spite of the vast wealth he had acquired over the years. Colin looked distractedly at his faithful housekeeper, Eden's surrogate mother, and replied, “I have to do this by myself, Eileen.”
Her sturdy, plain face had grown round and wrinkled since she had come west as Elizabeth's maid and remained after her mistress' death to raise Eden. Now thickset with wispy white hair, she looked every one of her sixty-four years. “Them heathens'll shoot ye 'n then what'll happen to me little girl?”
Colin McCrory's eyes were hard as amber glass when he stared across the grassy river basin toward the pale lavender of the jagged mountain peaks to the south. “There were only two of them, Eileen. Anyway, I know the country,” he added enigmatically.
Brushing past her, he headed for the corral where he had instructed his stableman to saddle his big buckskin and ready two other of his sturdiest horses for the long, grueling ride ahead. The bastards who had kidnapped Eden had a two-day head start on him.
Again he cursed the monstrous luck that had led him to be in Prescott politicking while his only child was left to the mercies of Judd Lazlo. Everyone on the ranch thought Eden had simply ridden over to the Simpson place to visit with her friend Louise. Not until he had stopped there on his way home had he learned of the diabolical ruse Judd Lazlo had employed.
Lazlo was a snake, a smooth and oily charmer when anyone first met him, but utterly ruthless and cunning. McCrory had known men like him all his life. That was why he had never trusted the gunman when Riefe Cates hired him, and why he had fired Lazlo when he caught him snooping around the big ranch house.
“The son of a bitch was probably looking for a way to kidnap Eden even then. I should've killed him,” he muttered as Eileen crossed herself and began to pray fervently. Her voice faded as he reached the stable where Cates was leading out the horses.
A worried frown creased the old foreman's face as he ran a gnarled hand through his thinning white hair. “I oughta go with you, Colin.”
“I've already told you, Riefe. You—or any other of the men—will only slow me down. I'll bring her back—and the fewer people who know about what's happened, the better.”
“You gonna ask Stanley to ride with you? He is Miz Eden's intended,” Riefe said.
“Edward Stanley's a city boy. He's the last man I’d want with me. Might be best for all if he never finds out Eden was missing.”
Grimly, Cates nodded as McCrory swung up onto his buckskin stallion, Sand, and took the reins of the other two prime mounts. Crown Verde Ranch was famed for its splendid racehorses, bred for endurance as well as speed.
“You goin' to Prescott?” Riefe asked.
Colin shook his head. “No reason. They'd never dare go there. No, I figure on cutting their trail between here and Tucson.”
“Then, they'll head over the border.” Cates's voice was low and desperate.
“I've been there before,” Colin replied bleakly with a look in his eyes that could bleach bones. He kicked Sand into a steady canter and rode south.
The journey to Tucson was grueling. Colin allowed himself only three or four hours sleep during the dark of the moon. By the second day he had cut their trail, but it was cold. Even if he pushed harder, he knew they'd be long into Sonora before he could hope to catch them. Losing them in the trackless wasteland of the Mexican desert never entered his thoughts. He had lived in Chihuahua across the Sierra Madres for nearly four hellish years and had spent some time in Sonora as well. He knew the country and the people. He would find Eden and bring her home.
It was late afternoon when he rode into the Old Pueblo, as longtime residents of the territory called Tucson. He would make a few discreet inquiries about Lazlo and his companion, then gather the supplies he needed and head out. For a decade between 1867 and 1877, the hundred-year-old Spanish settlement had been the capital. It was still the largest city in the territory. Although Anglo street names such as McCormick and Meyer had now supplanted Hispanic ones, the architecture remained predominately Pueblo with its open-timbered adobes.
Colin reined in before Settler's Livery and handed his tired horses to the stable boy. “Rub them down and feed them well. I'll be ready to ride out within an hour or two.” He flipped the boy some silver, which the grimy Mexican youth caught handily.
The largest mercantile in town, Winslow Barker's Emporium, lay just down the street. The old reprobate would sell Colin McCrory first-class supplies, not the moldy rations and lint blankets he palmed off on hapless Apaches from the reservation.
When Colin reached the big frame building, the clerk was just pulling the wide double doors closed. McCrory's large hand caught the door firmly and held it open. “I need some things for a trip across the border. It's an emergency.” He did not pause as the youth's mouth gaped open, but strode into the crowded dark interior.
“Mr. McCrory…Mr. Barker, he's awful strict about closing hours...but seein' how it's you...” His pale red hair suddenly sprang a cowlick as he bobbed his head in acquiescence. “What do you need?”
“A couple of good thick blankets, beans, coffee, bacon, cornmeal and a couple hundred rounds of .44.40s for my Remington.”
The boy's eyes goggled. “You fixin' ta go on a long trip, Mr. McCrory?”
“Maybe,” was the taciturn reply. “Deliver the supplies to Settler's Livery as soon as you have them all together.” He gave the youth a twenty-dollar gold piece. “That should cover it with plenty to spare for your trouble.”
The boy's face lit up like sunrise on the high desert as he stuttered in amazement. “Th-thanks—thanks a million, Mr. McCrory!” Whoever said Scots were tight with their money never met Colin McCrory.
Colin made the rounds of several saloons on the rougher side of town where the cowhands hung out, asking casual questions about Lazlo. No one had seen any trace of him, but one hard case did remember seeing a fellow he had ridden with before in town yesterday morning, acting as if he was in a hurry, not stopping to be sociable. His description fit the man who had helped Lazlo steal McCrory's three best stud horses just before they kidnapped Eden.
Beautiful and delicate, his cherished only child, the living link between him and Elizabeth, to whom he owed so much. His wife had been an “army brat”—to use her own words. She had come to Arizona Territory in 1861 with her father, a captain assigned to Fort Lowell outside Tucson. Colin had worshiped her and been amazed that she was attracted to an ignorant foreigner who could barely scrawl his own name, even if he had become a prosperous landowner.
Elizabeth had been every inch a lady of education and refinement. She had taught him everything—how to read and write, which fork to use at a fancy dinner party, even how to dance. Their time together was tragically brief. After Eden's birth, Elizabeth had wanted desperately to give him a male heir for Crown Verde. In 1865 she died on a snowy December day, giving birth to his son. The boy died within hours of his mother. Colin never remarried.
All his thoughts were focused on his daughter as he walked purposefully back to the livery. His bones ached and his eyes were gritty as if half the sand in Arizona were imbedded in them. He had just passed his fortieth birthday. A man in his prime, Eden had said when she toasted him at the party in his honor.
. He hurried his long-legged stride even faster.
As he neared the livery, he could hear the strident voice of Jeb Settler, engaged in an argument with another man whose tones were sibilant and low, faintly dangerous-sounding.
“Like I said, I don't cater to no breeds,” Jeb said stubbornly with a touch of a quaver in his voice.
“Sorry, but I insist.”
Colin watched the confrontation inside the gloomy stable, where twilight was now casting menacing purple shadows on the two men. Jeb was a stocky man of middling height with the thick, slow-moving brawn of a smithy. His antagonist was around six feet tall with a pantherish leanness that radiated deadly restraint. His coppery skin and shoulder-length raven hair marked him Indian, but he was dressed in denims and boots like a white man. It was the Colt Lightning double-action .41 caliber tied low on one slim hip that drew McCrory's eyes.
“There some trouble here, Jeb?” Colin asked mildly·
Jeb Settler turned, half relieved to have the showdown halted, yet angry, too; for he knew how the Scot felt about damned savages. “This here Apach wants me to put up his horse. I told him to try another stable.”
“I don't feel inclined to ride any farther,” the half-breed said quietly, measuring the tall man with the hard-looking whiskey eyes. His black ones met them and he felt a flicker of kinship. He said nothing more, poised tautly, waiting to see what this formidable stranger would do.
“Put up his horse, Jeb.” Letting his eyes linger meaningfully on the young man's gun, he added, “I have a feeling if you're unreasonable, you'll regret it.”
The half-breed gunman smiled faintly with his lips while his cold black eyes moved insolently over the sweating Jebediah Settler. “The man is right.”
“You always side with the damn Injuns, McCrory. One of these days they're gonna lift yer scalp.”
A flash of fury darkened Colin's eyes, but the gunman interrupted before he could say anything.