Authors: Janet Dailey
“[Dailey] moves her story ahead so purposefully and dramatically ... readers will be glad they’ve gone along for the ride.”
“Bittersweet.... Passion, vengeance, and an unexpected danger from the past add to the mix.”
“Janet Dailey’s name is synonymous with romance.”
“Careful writing and brilliant characterizations create an engrossing read.”
“A master storyteller of romantic tales, Dailey weaves all the ‘musts’ together to create the perfect love story.”
“Dailey is a smooth, experienced romance writer.”
—Arizona Daily Star
Books by Janet Dally
Calder Born, Calder Bred
Stands a Calder Man
This Calder Range
This Calder Sky
The Best Way to Lose
Touch The Wind
The Glory Game
The Pride of Hannah Wade
Silver Wings, Santiago Blue
For the Love of God
The Hostage Bride
The Lancaster Men
Mistletoe & Holly
The Second Time
Terms of Surrender
Ride the Thunder
Publication of POCKET BOOKS
|A Pocket Star Book published by POCKET BOOKS, a division of Simon & Schuster, Inc. 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020|
Copyright © 1980 by Janet Dailey
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever. For information address Pocket Books, 1230 Avenue of the Americas, New York, NY 10020
First Pocket Books printing February 1980
30 29 28 27 26 25 24 23 22
POCKET STAR BOOKS and colophon are registered trademarks of Simon & Schuster, Inc.
For information regarding special discounts for bulk purchases, please contact Simon & Schuster Special Sales at 1-800-456-6798 or [email protected]
Front cover illustration by Gerber Studio
Printed in the U.S.A.
The chronicles of the Old West are filled with legends about a pacing white stallion. Many noteworthy personages have mentioned sighting the wild mustang in their diaries and papers. Among the first was Washington Irving. The range of this magnificent stallion was said to extend from Texas to Oklahoma into New Mexico and Colorado. His exploits were legion. He was known by many names: the Pacing White Stallion, the White Steed of the Prairies, and the White Mustang. The Indians called him the Ghost Horse of the Plains.
The eastern range of desert mountains cast long morning shadows onto the valley floor. Its slopes were blackened with thick stands of pinion and juniper trees. Coming from the south, the breeze carried the scent of water from the irrigation pipes spraying the fields where Nevada sage and ricegrass gave way to a green carpet.
Stacks of hay, like golden mounds of bread, stood beside the outbuildings of the horse and cattle ranch. Stables, corrals, and equipment sheds dotted the yard, dominated by the unpretentious ranch house sitting on a rise, the slightly higher elevation giving it an overlooking view of the entire operation. Precious water wasn’t wasted for lawns, and hardy desert growth claimed the land around the buildings.
A trio of sleek Arabian yearlings was cavorting in one of the corrals. Two people watched from the rail. One was young and one was old. With arms draped over the top board, the grizzled man was supple and weathered like a good rope. There was a permanent squint to his eyes from long years of looking into the sun and wind. Experience was etched in his sun-beaten face along with a certain sourness that came from dreams lost.
The closest Rueben Spencer had ever come to making it big was shooting a hard eight in an Ely casino
and winning a month’s pay. The closest he had come to a home was one unit of the ranch’s fourplex—room and board and wages, courtesy of his boss. And the closest Rube had come to a family of his own was the teen-aged girl perched on the rail beside him, the boss’s daughter. He had made no tracks in his lifetime that the Nevada wind couldn’t wipe out in a minute.
For Diana Somers, it was all ahead of her. The world was waiting at her feet, as it had since the day she was born. Having held the status of a teen-age for almost one full year, Diana was beginning to realize the privileges that came with being the boss’s daughter and only child, privileges she had taken for granted before.
The knowledge gave her a sense of authority and power. It showed in the way she carried herself—the faintly regal tilt of her head and the willful set of her chin. Only to one man did she bow her head, and that was her father. He was the driving force in her life. It was only in his company that vulnerability glimmered in eyes as vividly blue as a clear Nevada sky.
Her mother was a blurred memory, a shadowy presence in her past who had died when Diana Was four from complications brought on by pneumonia. A picture in a photograph album confirmed her mother’s previous existence, but Diana felt no sense of loss for someone she barely remembered.
The Somers ranch consisted of a thousand deeded acres plus thousands more leased federal acres for grazing. Diana was the princess in this small empire, her father the king. It never occurred to her that there should be a queen. She needed only her father, and her father needed only her. The world was complete.
The rattling thump of a pickup truck as it bounced over the rutted lane leading from the highway to the ranch yard drew her attention. Glancing over her shoulder, Diana frowned at the unfamiliar vehicle. The crease in her forehead deepened at the Arizona license plates.
She turned to Rube Spencer. “What do you suppose that stranger wants?”
Rube looked and spat out a sideways stream of tobacco juice from the chaw in his mouth. “Goddamned if I know.” He shrugged. “Could be that new man the Major hired.”
“What new man? The Major never said anything to me about hiring someone.”
Everyone called her father the Major, including Diana.
John Somers had resigned his commission in the army a few months after Diana was born. He had given up a promising military career to return to the family ranch when his older brother was killed in a car crash. He had brought with him military discipline and command, and the title of Major had stuck.
“Just the same, he did.”
“Where was I?”
Rube paused to recall. “It must have been when we was hayin’ and you was out drivin’ the tractor. Yep, that must have been the day. I was dosing the gray mare.” Rube despised farm work and shirked it every time there was any to be done. The Major had finally stopped fighting with him and assigned him strictly to the horses. “I come out of the stable and saw the Major talkin’ to this fella, showin’ him around.”
He continued to ramble on about the day, but once Diana had gleaned the information that Rube had questioned the Major and had been told he had hired a new man, she stopped listening. Few people listened to all that Rube had to say. The Major had once declared that Rube could talk a man deaf.
The battered pickup stopped in front of the main house. The slamming of a screen door brought an abrupt end to Rube’s recounting as he suddenly remembered work to be done, his sixth sense warning him of the Major’s appearance.
Diana paid no attention to Rube’s sudden interest in his job. Swinging around, she hopped down from the
corral fence, intent on meeting the man the Major hadn’t told her he had hired. The idea didn’t set well. Over the years, he had always confided in her, teaching her every facet of the ranch business until Diana knew its workings almost as well as the Major did. This closeness between them was something she treasured, and discovering this gap in their communications made her uneasy.
Slim, and tomboy-clad, Diana crossed the ranch yard with long, eating strides, copied from the Major’s. In a nervous but essentially feminine gesture, she reached up to smooth one side of her raven-black hair, cropped close to her head in a boy’s cut.
The Major descended the porch steps and walked toward the pickup. With shoulders squared and posture erect, he weighed not an ounce more than when he had resigned. His ranch-cut trousers in a dark tan, durable material, had a military crease. The print shirt he wore had a stiffly starched collar, and his boots were polished to a high sheen. His dark hair was short, not coming anywhere close to touching his shirt collar, sideburns liberally sprinkled with gray. The Major was a vigorous, vital man, born to command.
A handsome, distinguished man, his position in the community alone would have made him a target for unattached females. That, coupled with his looks, made him doubly desired. Once Diana had been jealous of the fawning attention women at church or in town displayed for her father, but his indifference eventually assured her that he had no interest in marrying a second time. All his life he had lived in a male-oriented world, from his childhood on this ranch to the military and back to the ranch. Bachelorhood suited him. Any feminine companionship he sought was done discreetly. Diana didn’t feel threatened by these odd evenings out and viewed with contempt any woman who tried to establish a more permanent relationship with her father. She silently laughed at those who told the Major she needed a mother. She
needed only him, and she was determined that he would need only her.
His voice was crisp but friendly as he greeted the man stepping out of the pickup to meet him. The two were shaking hands when Diana arrived at the Major’s side. Her carriage was as straight as his, her bearing equally authoritative. He gave her a warm, indulgent look but made no display of affection, such as placing a hand on her shoulder. Not that Diana expected any such gesture.
“Your welcoming committee is complete, Holt, now that my best girl is here.” The Major addressed the man they faced. “This is my daughter, Diana. Our new hand, Holt Mallory.”
Her gaze openly inspected him, as if her approval was needed before this Holt Mallory actually started work. Tall—at the six-foot mark—and whipcord-lean, he courteously removed the straw Stetson from his head. The rumpled thickness of his brown hair had been bleached by the sun to the variegated shade of tobacco. His tanned features were carved in implacable lines. His eyes were a hard, metallic gray, like shards of splintered steel. They looked old, old beyond his years. Yet he couldn’t have been more than twenty-six.
“How do you do, Miss Somers?” His voice was low-pitched, with a cool, drawling sound.