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Authors: DiAnn Mills

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BOOK: A Woman Called Sage
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ith the sound of the wind whistling through the branches of the pines, Sage searched for the right words to tell Tall Elk good-bye. The rugged life in the Rockies with the Ute had suited her well. For two years shed stayed with her mothers people. It was to them she had fled for answers when her parents could not soothe her grief, when Charles and her stillborn son lay in cold, dark graves and the law refused to help her find the killers.

Stay with me, Tall Elk said. I can provide for you. For the first time, his stoic exterior slipped to reveal his feelings, the emotions shed sensed for months but could not return.

I cant. I have to find them.

For a second she saw the anguish in his dark eyes. Then it vanished, for he understood her need for vengeance. He was above all a Ute warrior. Youve learned well.

Im grateful for all youve taught me. Without your help, I would not be able to find the men who killed Charles.

When its finished, will you return?

She didnt want to hurt him or fill him with false hope. I cant promise you. But if our spirits are to be as one, we shall be together.

Tall Elk handed her the reins of a spotted mare, one of his many gifts to her. May you find the answers to the questions that cause your unrest. He stared at Hawk perched on her
leather-clad arm. Keep her well, he said to the bird. In a vision, I saw you as her protector.

Sages body had healed, but the knowledge that the killers ran free hardened her heart. Her empty arms and the scars on her left shoulder were a constant reminder of what had been ripped from her life.

She now knew how to track down the killers.

Someday justice would be served.


, 1882

hile other women tended their babies, Sage tracked down outlaws. When winter winds chilled her to the bone and heavy rains soaked her in the dead of night, she thought about a home with a roof and a crackling fire. When desert sands stung her eyes, and rattlesnakes struck at her heels, she longed for comfort and a friend. When murderous men swore no one could catch them, she cleaned her rifle and saddled her horse. Sage had chosen the life of a bounty hunter to track down the men who turned her dreams into a nightmare.

But the days were lonely, and the nights brought back memories of a happier time. Some days she liked to dwell on those precious moments with Charles, and other times they were too hard. She had to keep her mind on the presentalways looking for the men who killed Charles and their baby boy.

Sage swung down from the saddle, every nerve taut with her effort to discriminate between nature and mans presence. Her well-worn boots crunched against a brush-laden trail. A twig snapped. A young doe sprang from behind a spruce and disappeared into a thicket as the obnoxious call of a raven rang from the treetops, capturing her attention.

The sweetness of pine and cedar mixed with the freshness of an approaching Rocky Mountain rain alerted her to the storm brewing in the distance. She bent down to the narrow path winding
around the mountain to examine the tracks of Aiden Mc-Caws horse. The animal had thrown a shoe, forcing the outlaw to slow his pace. Good.

Aiden had passed by less than two hours before. He wouldnt be hard to catch, and soon shed have him. Unless he intended to ambush her on the trail ahead. She glanced up at Hawk circling above and motioned for the bird to join her. More than one man had tried to shoot her red-tailed companion with the idea that killing one equated to stopping the other. A notion that held more truth than she cared to admit. The magnificent bird swooped low on his broad wings and planted his talons firmly onto the shoulder of her leather coat. In the July sun, shed considered removing the outer garment, but a steadily graying sky across the western ridge of mountains had brought on a sudden chill.

With her finger resting on her Winchesters trigger, she stared up to the mountains higher elevation. Unpredictable weather was a hazard for those who chased an outlaw over the Rockies. But if Aiden made it over the tall peaks and found safety, another man could lose his life. Another woman could become a widow, and another child could become fatherless.

Shed been in Denver, sorting through wanted posters at the sheriffs office to see if any of the faces matched Charless killer, when a wire came through that Aiden McCaw had shot and killed an unarmed rancher in the Rocky Falls area. He and his gang of brothers had raided throughout Colorado, Kansas, and Nebraska for several years, sometimes hiding out in the Rockies and other times making their way to the hideouts along the Old Outlaw Trail until lawmen grew tired of the pursuit. Shed wired Marshal Parker Timmons in Rocky Falls that she would bring in the outlaw. And Sage always kept her word.

She lowered the rifle and lifted her binoculars to peer toward the tree line. A chestnut horse and its rider picked their way
through the aspens. He wore a black hat with an eagle feather, and he had red hair. That was her man.

Hawk, we almost have him, she said above a whisper and stroked his soft feathers. One less killer for folks to contend with. She studied Aiden a bit morethe way he twisted in the saddle and how he rode with his left hand on his rifle. Aiden McCaw was known as one smart outlaw, which caused her to wonder why tracking him had been so easy.

She remembered another trail over higher ground that took a little more surefootedness but would allow her to cut him off at a lower elevation. She preferred surprising an outlaw to trailing him and possibly being led into a trap.

Sage mounted her Indian pony and rode upward and around a wall of mottled gray granite. The summer storm moved closer with blue-black clouds, while temperatures steadily dropped. Thunder rumbled in the distance, like a grizzlys stomach after a long winter.

She swung her pony to the far right. A waterfall roared its power and gushed over centuries-old rocks, drowning out any other sounds, including her horses steps. Through her binoculars, she saw Aiden had stopped his descent from where she planned to intercept him. Perhaps he was looking for shelter from the impending weather. She scanned the area, behind trees, boulders, and brush to make certain this wasnt a trap. Assured that the man rode alone, she rode upward and made her way to the lower pass before him and hid behind a boulder. When Aiden rode into view, she aimed her rifle and rode onto the trail.

Aiden McCaw, drop your weapons, then raise your hands.

He slowly lifted his hands above his head, but his rifle still lay across his saddle. Scars of age and violence creased his bearded face, and his eyes bore the souls of those hed murdered.

I said drop your rifle.

He scowled, and the weapon hit the ground.

Now, with your right hand, slowly reach for your pistol and toss it this way.

He spat a chaw of tobacco from a mouthful of rotten teeth. His eyes narrowed, and the pistol fell. Youre going to regret this, Sage Morrow.

He knows me.
Perhaps so since shed worked as a bounty hunter for a few years. I dont think so. Youve just met a worse storm than the one brewing above us.

She rode closer, keeping an eye on Aiden, knowing he could flip a knife with deadly aim. Most likely he kept it in his left boot.

What are you pinning on me?

The marshal in Rocky Falls accused you of killing a rancher. Im sure justice will be served. This isnt the first time youve killed.

So the law sent a woman?

The hair on the back of Sages neck bristled. He figured it was an easy job.

Aidens rock-hard face twitched, and he studied the predator bird on her shoulder.

Hold out your hands.

Aiden slowly obliged. One word from her, and Hawk would attack the man, and if Aiden knew her name, he knew her well-trained bird. She reached over and wrapped a rope several times around his wrists before securing his horses reins and stripping him of his remaining weapons. He smelled worse than a pen of pigs.

How many are behind you? he said.

She could handle the likes of him and worse. I work alone.

Lightning slashed through an aspen, and the ground trembled. The chestnut jumped, but Sage held firmly to the reins of both horses. Without another word, she dug her heels into the side of her horse and headed down the narrow mountainside. A blast of chilling air sent bits of debris stinging into her face.

Wherere we goin? Aiden shouted above the turmoil at their heels.

Youre going to jail until a trial for murder, and Im collecting the bounty.

You got the wrong man.

How many times had she heard that? Tell your story to the judge.

Youll be dead before I stand before any judge. Youve been set up, Aiden said. Mark my words.

Sage bit back a terse remark. The less she talked to a wanted man, the better she liked it. She didnt want to listen to their vulgar speech or hear their excuses for breaking the law. Someday, shed leave this life behind and start all over. But not yet. Not until she found the men whod murdered Charles.

arshal Parker Timmons couldnt tolerate lazy people, especially when it was a lazy deputy and that lazy deputy happened to be his older brother.

Frank, you have a job to do, and sitting here drinking coffee in the office isnt what the people of this town expect.

Frank rubbed the top of his head, minus any hair. Little brother, youre already talking like a politician.

Which means everything I do is for the betterment of those I represent. Now get to work. Parker nearly added a few more words that the towns preacher could have outlined his next sermon on, but he swallowed his anger. God and Parker had come to an agreement about his temper, and having the Lord in charge of his life meant living right. Even when it came to Frank and his

Ill check on things at the livery. Frank scraped his chair across the wooden floor.

Parker sensed ire rising from the walls of his stomach. The saloon was on the way to the livery, and his brother had a constant hankering for whiskey. Unfortunately, it was destroying Frank and his family. I just came from there. Id rather you pay a call
on Mrs. Felter, see if she remembers anything else about what happened to her husband.

I thought youd already talked to her.

I have, but she might have remembered something. See if theres anything she and those children need.

Frank frowned. Thats a womans jobor a preachers.

Parker glanced away, remembering a time when he might have said the same thing. What if Mrs. Felter and her children were Leah and your sons?

Frank picked up his hat and plopped it on his head. All right. For once, I agree with you. And I spect youd go to your grave after the man who sent me to mine.

Thats right. Weve got to look at what happens to folks as personal.

Frank nodded. Im trying, little brother. He left the office, closing the door behind him. Parker glanced around the dusty room and settled into the chair his brother had just vacated, glad of the breeze that puffed through the open window. He reached for a stack of paperwork that needed to go to the governors office.

When the sun had cast its shadows west and Frank hadnt returned, Parker stuffed a burlap sack full of frustration and regret and walked to the saloon. No doubt his brother was there, and this time Parker would have to fire him. It didnt matter that Frank was his older brother. The good people of Rocky Falls needed a deputy they could depend on.

The closer Parker stomped to the saloon, the more his anger bubbled. Certain he heard Franks voice among the drunks, he threw open the door to the popular stain in town where some men tried to forget lifes problems. His gaze swept around the hazy room, where the distinct odor of unwashed bodies mingled with the sweet perfume of the women who worked there.

Frank wasnt posed at his regular corner on the right side of the bar. Neither was he holding a losing hand of cards at the gambling tables where he too often threw away what his family needed
to live on. Leah did the best she could to rear their kids and raise a garden in Colorados short growing season, and the older boys looked after the ranch, but Frank didnt know the meaning of
Seemed like he expected Parker to pitch in and help. Oh, he talked big when he was facing hard times, which was why Parker had given him a job as deputy. Until now.

Frank aint here, the bartender said before Parker stated his business. Aint seen him all day.

After thanking the man, Parker took a minute to assess where his brother could be, finally deciding that Frank must have finished late at the Felter ranch and ridden on home. Theyd talk in the morning. Sure would be a blessing to Leah if her husband had taken to heart what Parker had tried to show him. She needed a husband who took care of his family proper.

By the time Parker caught sight of his ranch and the smoke curling from the chimney of his cabin, darkness had set in. His stomach growled, and he didnt care what Duncan had cooked for supper. He was hungry enough to eat a fence post.

Home. Only one bedroom, but hed built the place himself, and the sight of it always made him feel good. Hed tripled his original 160-acre homestead along the St. Vrain River and was negotiating to purchase more land. Forty-five acres of one of the homesteads had limestone, and thirty other acres had red sandstone. He saw a future in the nearby stone quarries and the likelihood of the railroad making its way to Rocky Falls; both circumstances promised to make his hard work and sacrifice worthwhile.

After feeding his gelding, he stepped into his cabin. From the stone fireplace, the aroma of beef and beans greeted him. Someday hed buy a decent cookstove.

Evenin, Boss, Duncan said. Just about to head to the bunkhouse. I was beginning to think youd spent the night in town. He rose from a chair, his weathered face reflecting the years of working outside.

Didnt mean to be this late. Parker made his way to the fireplace and lifted the lid of a cast-iron pot. Everybodys eaten?

All but you. Let me get you a plate. Duncan lifted a plate from a shelf above the table while Parker dipped into a bucket of drinking water.

Did the horses get shod?


Parker took the plate laden with tender beef and beans and a generous hunk of cornbread. Your boss doesnt pay you enough to foreman this ranch and cook too.

Duncan grinned. Ive been meaning to bring that up with him. He poured two cups of coffee and placed one in front of Parker before sliding into a chair with the other. Any luck bringing in Aiden McCaw?

Not yet. Got a bounty hunter headed this waySage Morrow.

Duncan whistled. The woman? Wonder what shes like.

Im about to find out. My guess is shes mean and hard. Doesnt really matter as long as the McCaws are stopped. Parker thought about Oden Felter. Theyd been friends for over ten years. He didnt deserve to die with a bullet in his chest because of two dollars.

Youre the man to bring him in, not a bounty hunter.

Parker stabbed his fork into the beef. But I cant do it all. I need help. And the locals are fearful of the McCaws reputation.

Duncan took a gulp of his coffee. Yeah, but if they arent brought in, folks will blame you. He shook his head. The two had talked of little else for almost a week. Sent a couple of the hands to drive the cattle to the summer pasture. He stood. Ill leave you to your supper. Im turning in.

Duncan seemed to sense when Parker had things on his mind. The problems with the McCaws had made him unsociable. And tonight the situation with Frank refused to let him be. Hard to figure out why two brothers turned out so differently. Both
had gone through the war fighting for Virginia and the South, coming out with memories that were better forgotten. Both had come home to learn their father had died of consumption the same day Lee surrendered to Grant at Appomattox.

BOOK: A Woman Called Sage
13.71Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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