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Authors: DiAnn Mills

A Woman Called Sage (10 page)

BOOK: A Woman Called Sage
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arker placed his hand over Sages mouth to suppress her moans. Aidens men were combing the area, and Parker thought he could hear their hearts beator maybe it was death stalking Sage.

Theyve done left, one of the men said. He held up a lantern, and Parker hunched low into the brush over Sages bleeding body. Hawk rested beside both of them. The bird was a strange source of comfort in the essence of danger.

I see the tracks of their mounts, the man said with the lantern. Looks to me like the Indian pony left before the mule and horse.

Makes sense if one of em was shot, Aiden said. Let me have that lantern.

Parker held his breath.

I see blood. Since her horse is ahead of the others, my guess its Sage. I must have shot her when she climbed down the rock. Parker wouldnt have had the strength to scale it after the beaten. Hed send her on and bring the boys.

We could have got one of those kids, a brother said.

Aiden laughed. I like that too.

One of them wounded will slow all of em, another man said. Well have them in no time.

The lantern swung Parkers way, and he huddled lower over Sages body, fearing he might hurt her. Never can tell with Parker and Sage. My guess is hes taken whoevers wounded someplace where he can bandage em up and wait till daylight.
He swore a streak that would make the worst of characters at the Rocky Falls saloon blush. Lets get going. I want all of them found. Parker and Sage wont hold out on us if were torturing one of those kids.

Why dont we wait til sunup?

Jeb, youre too lazy to ever mount to anything but shoveling manure, Aiden roared. Were talking about two people who know what theyre doing. And that hawk is more human than bird. Probably the devil himself.

If that bird were supernatural, hed most likely be more kin to an angel.

At least Parker and Sages hiding place bought them a little time.

Then again, Parker hoped the McCaws conversation wasnt a trick to have him expose their whereabouts.

Amidst the grumblings about heading down the mountain in the dark, the gang mounted their horses and stole out into the night like the snakes they were. Once assured they were gone, he removed his hand from Sages mouth and lifted the blanket packed against her side. It was soaked with blood, and it would be at least three hours until the sun rose over the horizon. Her breathing came in shallow gasps. He felt around him for mud to pack her side

age fought for consciousness through a mantle of blackness and fire. The agony in her side felt like someone had pressed a branding iron to her body. Memories of the gunshot that had nearly killed her years before surfaced, and she attempted to focus on what had happened this time. Leahs sonshad they gotten away? And Parkerhad he been hurt too? She remembered his broken ribs and how easily any of the McCaws could have overcome him. Opening her eyes might hold a merit of dangerfor if shed been taken captive, they would increase her
suffering. The torture would be worse than what she felt now. This way, she could listen to what was going on.

She heard nothing, but she sensed the presence of someone or something. Flashes of the preceding night faded in and out. Charlesan outlaw? Where was she? Her mind gradually surfaced, and she recalled the climb up the cliff to snatch Leahs sons from the McCaw gangand the perilous descent with a bullet hole in her side. What had happened to Parker? Her nose detected an unusual yet familiar scent. Herbs. Willow-bark tea? Someone pressed a warm poultice against her side. Perhaps one made from aspen bark. Yes, someone was treating her wounds.

The McCaws would not tend to her wounds.

Moistening her lips, she chanced opening her eyes. In the distance, she saw the pink and purple of sunrise as if a blessing had graced her. And probably so since she was alive. Sage blinked and saw Parker kneeling over her, his face etched with concern.

Mornin, he said.

She forced a smile, but even that hurt. Am I going to live?

I think so. Youre one fighting lady.

Thanks. She mustered more strength. Parker?

Hush. Dont try to talk. The boys got away last night. I believe theyll make it. His voice sounded soft, gentle.

Thank You.
Goodness, had she prayed again? She turned her head slightly to see Hawk. A rabbit lay in front of his talons.

He brought breakfast. Parker laughed lightly. Weve both kept vigil.

Eating didnt appeal to her at the moment. She edged toward blackness, welcoming it, embracing it.

Ive two kinds of tea hereone made from willow bark and another from yarrow. Both should help with the healing and the pain. Its ready whenever you are. He raised a tin mug.

Dare she fight peaceful unconsciousness?

This will taste real bad, but it will help. I carry them with me just in case. Comes from doctoring cattle and cattle hands.
He placed his hand under her head. Take a deep breath, cause lifting your head is going to hurt.

What about his ribs? Shed do her best. Ima bad patient. The first sip was horrible, just as Parker claimed. The Ute had instructed her in the way of healing plants, tree bark, and sap. Shed been forced to taste them then, and Parker had brewed the same. Thanks.

Youd have done the same for me.

Yes, she would have. You risked your life. Oh, how it hurt to talk.

Rest while you can. As soon as youre able, we need to get out of here.

She tried to lift her hand to help tip the mug, but it seemed like her arms were tied to her. Dying sounded like a good idea, but she was too stubborn to give in that easily. As soon as I sleep a littlewe can go.

Well try

She didnt hear another word. As much as she fought to stay awake, her eyes closed, and she drifted to a safe place that held no pain or memories or doubts.


arker had never seen such grit in a woman, and most men didnt measure up to Sages courage. He wondered how many people would doubt his story of how she scaled a cliff to rescue John and Davis. But the boys knew, and theyd never forget her daring featand her sacrifice. Silently, he thanked God for all those years of taking care of cattle, learning about the medicinal qualities of plants and herbs. Sage had a strong chance of surviving. And he wanted her to live, even if his reasons were selfish. This woman had affected him like no other before, and he wanted to know her better. In fact, he didnt think he could ever grow tired of hearing her talk and laugh. And now, more than anything hed ever desired before, he wanted to help take away the pain embedded in her soul. But Parker was smart enough to realize that before he could help her move past the shattered areas of her past, hed have to come to terms with his own hate and bitterness for the McCaws. Anger had controlled him, led him blind since Oden and Franks murders. The fury had to stop soon, for now what angered him controlled him.

Seems like his life had been one uphill climb after another. During a thunderstorm in the mountains he realized the need for God in his life. When a friend was killed, he realized the importance of upholding the law.

While she slept, he studied her face, smooth, with no hint of pain, and admired her beauty. He could look at her for a long timeflawless skin and high cheekbones were clear markings of her Indian heritage, and she had the longest eyelashes hed ever
seen. He touched her cheek, then stroked her black hair where blood had coated the ends. Charles Morrow should never have gotten himself killed and lost this woman.

Soon Parker needed to wake her for the journey ahead. The McCaws would return to where the boys had been rescued once they realized John and Davis had made it down the mountain. The gang would be relentless in their pursuit, and Parker had no desire to take on all five of them singlehandedly. But Sages care was more important. The mule was packed, and his horse was saddled. He pulled out his pocket watch and decided he could give her another fifteen minutes. God had carried her this far, and Parker could only pray He would hold her tightly during the rough trek ahead.

Hawk, are we ready for this? He stared at the magnificent bird, noting its formidable stance and aggressive nature. Many times in the past, hed shot hawks for sport. Now he stood together with one in devotion to a woman.

Fifteen minutes later, Parker clamped his teeth into his lower lip and hoisted Sage onto his horses saddle. She clung to the saddle horn, then leaned over it while a soft moan broke through her labored breathing.

Sage, this is going to be rough, he said. But Ill do my best to get you back to town and to Doc Sladers. Then he wondered if he should have tied her to the saddle. But that seemed even crueler than what hed already done.

When she didnt respond or perhaps couldnt, he grabbed his horses reins and the mules, then walked beside Sage. Hawk flew above them as though he led the way. This wouldnt be the first time that Parker wished he had the eyes of a hawk.

The way down the mountain would be long, especially when he had to take an alternate route to avoid running into the McCaws. He tried not to think about John and Davis, but apprehension still crept in. With the boys head start, they should have ridden around the Moraine Valley and be well on their way to Rocky
Falls. But nothing would stop the McCaws from riding into town and bullying the folks there into giving them what they wanted.

Perhaps he was cutting the folks of Rocky Falls short. Before he left, Parker had searched for a deputy to leave in charge. But none of the other men in town would agree to wear a deputys badge since Frank was killed, so he had no choice but to put Preacher Waller in charge. All of the townsfolk except the preacher feared what the McCaws might do. Waller was a crack shot, and even though Parker didnt approve of the preachers methods of browbeating his congregation, the man would stand up to a dozen outlaws.

As the hours drifted by, Parker stuck to little-used trails with plenty of tree cover. He kept one eye on Sage to make sure she didnt topple from the horse. She hadnt spoken for the past two hours, and Parker hesitated to initiate any conversation. He could only imagine the pain tearing through her bodypain that robbed her of much-needed strength.

Several times Parker stopped to check on her. She teetered between unconsciousness and torment-filled reality. The bleeding had slowed, but she was so weak that it alarmed him.

Early this morning, shed drunk another mug of the willow-bark tea and then vomited it up. Hed wiped off her mouth, and shed asked for another cup. Her determination was what kept her alive, and each time he viewed her courage, his respect for her increased. Leah needed a heavy portion of Sages guts for what lay ahead in raising those boys. And if Parkers mother had developed an ounce of Sages strength, she might not have deserted them for the comforts of Virginia.

Parker remembered a time when he believed hed never care for a woman again. Leahs rejection had cut deep. But he was a boy then, and now he was a man. In a few short days, his manner of looking at life had changed, and all because of one woman. This didnt change his responsibilities as marshal or his political inclinations or how he felt about taking care of Leah and the
boys. The possibility of adding Sage to the wagonload of his life made it all seem easier, sweeter. He stared into her face and wondered what it would be like to have a woman like her in his life. Maybe when the McCaws were behind bars, he and Sage could be more than friends. Hed like to court her and do things proper.

He hoped she felt the same.

Any other time, hed have been mesmerized by the mountains, seemingly formed by some sleeping giant who breathed in and out to form the peaks. Today they were one more obstacle to cross. Sage whimpered, and he stopped the animals.

Are you doing all right, Sage? He brushed aside her black hair to see her face. Her eyes were closed. Can you say anything to let me know you hear me?

Nothing greeted him. This didnt look good. Hawks long shrill screech caused him to search the steadily darkening sky for the bird. For a long while, hed flown overhead, then he disappeared into the treetops. Too bad the bird couldnt talk and tell him if the McCaws were close by.

He gently shifted Sage on the saddle, knowing his every touch had to be agony.

Late afternoon rays of sun cast a golden light from the west, even as the clouds directly above let loose in another downpour. Too wet to appreciate the beauty of the silver drops touched by sunlight, Parker picked up his pace. Tucked into a dark shadow of the canyon ahead was a cave that Parker and Frank had stumbled upon years ago. Hidden behind a wall of brush, it offered a refuge for Sage to rest.

Were about there. He breathed a prayer that she could hear him. This cave will be dry, and I dont think many folks know about it.

Sage didnt respond.

When he spotted the caves entrance, he stopped the horse and mule and tied the animals to a tree. Working his way up a steep path, he sensed the pangs of hunger getting the best of
him. The rabbit that Hawk had brought this morning had been tied to the mule. Maybe he could get Sage to eat a little.

A mountain cat screamed, and Parker jumped. Right above him at the mouth of the cave, a female sounded her displeasure. He raised his rifle and began to back down. Firing a shot would be like ringing a dinner bell for the McCaws.

Easy, girl, he said. You can have your cave. Well find someplace else.

It looked like another night in the open. Lightning flashed across the sky, and in the distance, thunder rumbled.

age woke to the sound of splattering rain against an overhead rock. She couldnt see a thing but a small flickering flame, but when she attempted to move, she felt plenty. She felt more alertmore alive than dead. Parkerwhere are we?

Taking cover from a storm. Well rest here tonight and continue on at daybreak. The mellow tone of his voice told her they were safe even if Parker didnt like storms. The poor man had enough problems without her wound adding to his burden.

Im still alive.

He chuckled. I think youre too stubborn to die. He sighed. You are one strong woman, Sage.

I dont feel very strong.

Strength isnt always measured physically. Ive got rabbit here waiting for you.

Not now. The idea of eating didnt settle well. Do you have any more tea?

Yes, maam. Right here waiting on you. He slipped his hand under her head and lifted her enough to take a sip. Nice and easy so you can keep it down.

She forced herself to drink a little. Thanks. When she glanced down, she saw she was wearing his blue chambray shirt. Hers must be covered in blood. That meant hed dressed her. The
thought troubled her, then she discarded her qualms. Parker had taken good care of her.

You remind me of a dog my granddad once had, he said.

That sounded real complimentary, but she didnt have the energy to question him or protest his choice of words.

She was the best sheepdog he ever owned. Kept the coyotes and other predators from the flock. Never seemed to get tired. She knew how to herd the sheep toward watering holes and on to where the grass was tender. Then one day a copperhead got her. She did her job until she dropped. Thats when I saw the snakebite. I tended to her when the rest of the family gave up.

So she recovered?

Yeah. She was real loyal to me after that.

Sage closed her eyes. Are you thinking Im going to be real devoted?

He laughed. Therere two points to my story. One is youre one strong woman, and you dont let the ugly turns of life stop youlike the hole in your side. The other is, I havent prayed so hard for anyone since that dog nearly died from the snakebite.

Parkers admittance gave her an odd sensation of how close he was to GodParker counted on Him for
I appreciate all youve done. You could have left me up there, and no one would have blamed you for it.

I would have.

Curiosity about Parker Timmons kept her fighting sleep, although she knew she needed rest to heal. What makes a man She held her breath while a stab of fire ripped through her side and down to her toes. What makes a man, like your grandfather, choose sheepherding above cattle?

My grandmother came from Scotland to Virginia, and her people raised sheep. She brought her love for them here and convinced my granddad he needed to be raising them too.


No. Virginia. She lives there now close by my mother and aunt.

What do you like about sheep? She paused and waited for the agony in her body to diminish. II dont mean to be rude. I just dont understand.

Thats quite all right. First of all, Im a cattleman like my father. Cant see myself raising anything but cattle and horses. Yet I have a tremendous respect for sheepherders. All the way through the Bible, the writers talk about sheep being akin to man. Now sheep are pretty stupid and need someone to look after them, a shepherd. While it humbled me to realize that just like them I needed a God-Shepherd, it also gave me an understanding and admiration for those who tend to them. Most of what I just said came from my granddads analogy. According to him, the logical part of owning sheep was he could eat them and the wool brought a fair price.

You eat cattle too, and their hide brings a fair price. Look at the leather coat youre wearing and your saddle.

I agree. He urged her to take a little more tea. Like life, we do best where our roots run deep.

But you left Virginia for Colorado.

My roots were in Frank and Leah.

She opened her mouth to speak, but his fingers lightly touched her lips. The intimacy reminded her that he had already seen her body, including the scars from another bullet hole. Hush, Sage. Talking will wear you out, and you need your rest.

Parker made senseboth about her resting and the sheep. Peculiar how he caused her to look at things differently. She liked him. In some ways, he reminded her of Charles. In the good ways. She closed her eyes, and he lowered her head to the ground. Tomorrow would be a better day. It had to be. Right now she just plain hurt all over.

BOOK: A Woman Called Sage
8.84Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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