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Authors: DiAnn Mills

A Woman Called Sage (11 page)

BOOK: A Woman Called Sage
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iden glared out at the blinding rain that fell in thick gray sheets and splattered on the ground. The water poured off his hat and soaked through his clothes despite his slicker. Anger fused with his hunger for revenge and deepened his hatred for Sage Morrow and Parker Timmons. Twice theyd outwitted him, and their clever tactics served to fuel his vendetta. By the time his brothers picked up a set of Indian pony tracks and realized the boys and Parker and Sage had not met up, theyd lost over two hours. The older boy had been taught real good. He didnt take the easy trail but one that swung out from it. Didnt matter nohow since the gang had lost them, and the rain had washed away their tracks. It would be a lot of work to find those boys again. That didnt mean it couldnt be done, and he was determined enough not to give up.

Likely those boys were holed up somewhere waiting for the rain to pass, and the mud would make their tracks easy to follow when they set out again. Hed make a fine example of those two. Aiden let the worst of his torturing pleasures wash over him. He knew a few tricks of his own to prove to Sage and Parker that hed never give up on reclaiming his money.

But if the McCaws could find Sage and Parker first, Aiden wouldnt need the kids. Mitch and Quincy, keep looking for those boys. The rest of us are backtracking to the base of that cliff. Sage and Parker couldnt have disappeared.

Now? Jebs whining had about got the best of Aiden. If he
didnt feel sorry for the poor boy for losing some of his good sense after getting shot in the war, hed leave him alongside the road.

You heard me. Quit your bellyachin.

The rains done washed away any signs of their trail. Im wet and cold. This wind could blow a man off his horse.

Aiden lifted his rifle and pointed it at Jeb. One of those kids is bound to make a mistake or get tired and hungry before they make it home. Any of the rest of you got a problem with this? When Mitch, Quincy, and Rex said nothing, Aiden had his answer. Now get out of here. He stared at Jeb as though daring him to refuse the order.

Jeb started to turn his horse around, then swung back to face Aiden. We could go to where those kids live and pick em up again.

And put ourselves in the open to get picked off? Aidens words slashed through the roar of rain. Those folks arent going to take lightly that we nabbed a couple of kids, specially since we gunned down their pa. The men of Rocky Falls will have guards stationed around the ranch for sure.

Jeb slowly rode off with Rex. If it was left up to Jeb, theyd all stop looking for the money.

The rain pounded harder, and the trail would get even slicker, but Aiden wasnt about to give up. Hed planned this for a year and a half, and hed come too far and too long to quit.


arker didnt know what he hated morebeing delayed by the downpour and risking the McCaws finding them or exposing Sage to the rain and risking her getting pneumonia.

Lets go, she whispered.

Her weakened state alarmed him. Just when he thought she was improving, she began to slip. Speaking took more and more effort, and the loss of blood had left her pale and trembling.

We cant. You wont make it.

Weveridden in rain before.

He glanced at her where she leaned against the back of the overhanging rock sheltering them from the weather. I refuse to lead you to your grave, and thats exactly what will happen in this weather.

She closed her eyes. We have to get back to town. Youryour nephews. Folks depend on you.

John is near to being a man. I trust him. And Preacher Waller is in charge. Parker refused to change his mind. How could he make a choice that held the potential of killing her?

You would know for sure if youd gone with them and left me behind.

He hadnt even considered leaving her to the mercy of Aiden McCaw and his cutthroats. What they would have done to her made his skin crawl. Youre not nave, Sage. I couldnt leave you to face them like this.

But the life Ive chosen is laced in danger. Im She
seemed to reach deep down for each word, Im concerned about those boys too.

Johns capable. He simply needs a little more sense about understanding what he can and cant do. Parker remembered what all hed seen at Johns age. But I guess he got his rashness honestly. At his age, Id been fighting with the Virginian Rebs for three years.

You grew up real fast.

I did. I thought Id be a hero or something, and I ended up spending most of my days dodging bullets and trying to stay alive. Nothing noble about that. Something I dont wish on John. Hes already seen more than I wanted for him. Cant help but think Aiden views him as a man, which means Aiden has a bullet with Johns name on it. Just like his gang sent a bullet through his pa.

Her eyes fluttered open, and her chest lifted and fell. And what if Aiden is She gasped for breath. Terrorizing the townsfolk?

The men there will not let a gang of outlaws take over without a fight. Please dont try to talk anymore.

A fighther eyes closed, as though she couldnt bear the thoughtis what Im afraid of. They need their marshal. Rocky Falls needs you.

Hush. Ive considered the same things. The McCaws have me worried too. Now that you know his brothers were the ones who killed Charles, I understand why they want you. He brushed her hair from her face before he realized hed touched her without permission. You can identify them all and send them to a hanging. But why they want me is a mystery.

Whichone has dark curly hair and wide-set eyes?

Thats Mitch. Vicious mean. Is he the one who shot your husband?

She nodded. Now I have a name. Leave me, please. Im feeling
better. Ill be fine. And when Im up to it, Ill make my way to Rocky Falls.

Forget it. I wont hear another word. His worries were far too many to contemplate. As much as he trusted God, he also believed God wanted Parker to do his part. Those he loved were in dangers path, and he couldnt be in two places at the same time. But God could.

I cant leave it alone, she said. Finding the McCaws is what keeps me alive.

I understand. They killed my brother and my friend. They nabbed my nephews and shot youtwice. When I think about all theyve done, I burn. He shook his head.

Ive hated them for so long that sometimes I think there is nothing else left inside of me.

And what happens after theyre brought in? What happens after you learn the truth about your husband?

She peered up at him, her eyes revealing the sorrow more than words. Sometimes I wonder if knowing the truth will only make the pain worse. Maybe Ill leave this life. Maybe theres nothing else I can do.

He refused to respond to her reasoning because he understood. Hed thought long and hard about Charles Morrow being an outlaw, but Parker saw no reason to bring that up again. Sage would have to come to a reckoning about her late husband. I believe when the time comes, youll be able to handle whatever you learn.

And the connection to you?

I still think Aiden may be looking for political favors.

Could be. She glanced down at her side. Do you want your shirt back? I can wear my coat.

Im fine. Did she have any idea the pain shed go through in wrestling with his shirt? You rest now, and well talk about what to do when the rain lets up.

She stared out into the sheets of water rolling off the rock and crashing to the ground. Parker?

He studied her, knowing exactly what she was about to say. Dragging his hand over his face, he braced himself.

I want to leave now. I can make it. Both of us have business in town, and it isnt getting done while we watch the rain. Im stronger.

Not one thing about Sages reputation was a mythexcept no one had ever told him she was strong and gentle at the same time. How her eyes sparkled in the sunlight, and how her hair shone like a ravens wings. Most of all, no one had warned him about how a man could easily fall in love with her.

Hed find a way to fulfill his vow to take care of Leah and her children. He had a town to protect from the McCaws and any other lawbreakers. He had his sights on politics and who knows what else God might put in his path. All of that could be done with Sage. When this was over, hed convince her to stay with him. Each minute alone with her increased his need for her to be his wife.

But he and Sage werent going anywhere until the rain stopped.

he clouds finally cleared away just after dawn on Thursday. They set out again, riding slowly, but by evening Sage could barely cling to the saddle. Even after Parker made her another poultice of aspen bark mixed with yarrow, she slept only fitfully.

On Friday the morning sun shone warm and bright, sparkling on leaves and bushes like she envisioned diamonds as Parker led the horse and mule along the trail. Hed taken excellent care of her, but he looked pale. No doubt his ribs were hurting him powerfully bad. Hed tugged on her enough to cause a normal man with broken ribs to pass out. Shed find a way to make this up to him.

When the sun grew hot, Parker helped her shed her coat,
and she nearly fainted. She wouldnt be alive if he hadnt been there to nurse her. That knowledge made her uncomfortable, as though she might one day owe him a favor she couldnt return. Silly woman. First she wanted to repay him for all hed done, and then she fretted about what he might ask of her. They were a couple of sorry-looking creatures, both hurting and beat up. Good thing theyd be in Rocky Falls in a few hours. She hoped they didnt step into a snake pit. Best she get a few questions answered now.

Were not riding straight into town, are we?

No, were heading the back way to Preacher Wallers place. I told John to go there instead of home. The preachers not afraid to use his gun. He chuckled. He used to spend more time in jail than anyone I know, until the Lord snatched hold of him.

She remembered the preacher who looked like he could handle his own. Is that how he keeps folks in church?

Hes been known to visit a few backsliders now and then. All it takes is a wife to complain to him. Trouble is Leah was too embarrassed to ask him for help when Frank threw up behind the barn after a Saturday night drinking. Whiskey had a powerful hold on my brother.

Frank and Parker Timmons sure were different. What else are you not telling me?

Are you reading my mind, Sage? No matter. Franks gone, and it doesnt matter that he had a few weaknesses. He was murdered, and the killers need to pay.

Is your preacher the kind of man who comforts the downtrodden?

Parker thought before he spoke. Preacher Wallers forgotten what its like to fall under temptations sway. I dont want to be one spreading tales and judging others, but in my opinion, Waller preaches too much fire and brimstone and not enough love.

I believe understanding is the key to helping other folks, Sage said.

I agree. A person cant help another if he doesnt know what kind of hands been dealt.

Maybe your preacher is too ashamed to admit what he did in the past.

Parker glanced up at her and gave a smile. Her insides tingled, taking her by surprise. Now where did those feelings come from? With a deep breath, she twisted to gaze up at the sky. Hawk was flying above them. Faithful friend. A stab of pain followed, and she gripped herself, hoping it wasnt a sign of infection. One more time she was thankful the bullet had gone straight through her flesh and didnt lay embedded in her side.

As they made their way through the foothills before Rocky Falls, both of them were quiet. She knew what bothered them the most was what lay ahead and what Aiden planned next. If the ranting and raving Aiden had done the night he discovered the boys were missing was any indication of his temper, hed be ready to burn the town and everyone in it.

Any sign of the McCaws other than the tracks we saw yesterday?

No. I dont like that they split up. But John and Davis were way ahead of them.

Soon well know. And then we can figure out our next move.

He shook his head. The only plans youre going to make are to see Doc Slader. Its a miracle you didnt bleed to death.

Being told she couldnt do something irritated her more than a swarm of angry bees. Im on the mend, and I have a job to do. And what about your ribs?

Whoa. Youre getting better all right. I hear the fight in those words.

Glad you understand whats at stake here. She needed for him to talk. It took her mind off the intense pain. Tell me about your ranch.

I started out with a homestead, but Ive added quite a few acres since then. Its a generous slice of heaven. Rolling land with
the St. Vrain River flowing right through it, making it easy for the livestock to get water. Its green and pretty. My cabin isnt big, but its sound. The wind has howled around it for a long time.

How many acres?

A little better than three homestead parcelsfive hundred acres.

Who takes care of it when youre gone?

Duncan Riddle, my foreman, and two other hired hands. Duncans the best man for the job, and hes a good cook, too. I dont worry about a thing when Im gone.

That must make life easier.

It does. When youre feeling better, Id like to show it to you. He paused. Ever think about giving up being a bounty hunter? Seems like a mighty lonely way to live.

Sure she did. The dreams shed once held tightly had been shattered, yet, in fanciful moments, they came alive again when she thought of having a good manand children. Sometimes it crosses my mind.

I bet youve gotten plenty of offers.

Oh, I have. But mostly from outlaws who thought they could sweet talk me into saving them from facing a judge.

Parker laughed, and once again she enjoyed the low rumble of his mirth. Any offers from lawmen?

Her pulse quickened.
What is he asking?
I dont recall any.

He stopped the horse and the mule and looked up at her. When this is over, would you consider allowing a city marshal whos wanting to be a politician to come calling?

Heat flooded her body. She stared into his blue eyes and saw something more frightening than all the outlaws shed ever brought in.

Did I insult you? he said.

Nonot at all. Id like for you to think about what youre asking.

I have.

She thought of Charles and Tall Elk. She considered the dangers she and Parker had faced. I think it best if you wait until the McCaws are behind bars before we discuss thispossibility.

All right. He urged the horse and mule on again. You know, in all of this, you and I have never fired a shot.

Sage hadnt considered that aspect of the past few days, mostly because shed been on the receiving end of a gun. The next time were out looking for the McCaws, well probably use up all the ammunition we have.

Glad you said we.

Sage sensed a catch in her throat. Without pondering it, shed begun to think of Parker as more than a friend. I figured we both had a stake in bringing them to justice.

Parker pushed his hat back from his forehead. I have more than one concern in this thing. And you know what Im talking about. The McCaws could have taken the town hostage. Committed more murders.

She shivered, and it had nothing to do with the pain tearing through her side, leaving her ice cold one minute and burning up the next, but with the thought of more innocent people being killed. Another jab of liquid fire spread through her. She refused to mention it to him, for they were almost to town. Thirty minutes later, she sensed her temperature spiking. Her head swirled, and she closed her eyes to keep from falling off Parkers horse.

BOOK: A Woman Called Sage
9.29Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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