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Authors: DiAnn Mills

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BOOK: A Woman Called Sage
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s Parker walked through town to the parsonage, where Leah and her sons had been invited to stay the night, he searched for the right words to comfort them in their loss. Preacher Waller and his wife could, no doubt, consol the grieving family far better than he could, yet Parker believed it was his responsibility to look after his sister-in-law, even if he himself were struggling to see a purpose in Gods taking Frank. Had God simply grown tired of trying to shape him into a proper husband and father? Could Parker have done or said anything to change what happened?

And, most of all,
did Aidens brothers kill Frank? What was Frank doing the night he died?

Questions and no answers, and it all fueled his fury. Not since the war had he felt such angeranger at the situation, anger that he had no answers, and anger that he hadnt been able to see what was coming and stop it.

But through his rage, memories of his brother came unbiddennot the drinking or the gambling or the laziness, but the good things. The way Frank could always make folks laugh. His fingers flying on the strings of his fiddle. Memory after memory from boyhood times to a few weeks ago caused Parker to chuckle. Then the mirth changed to tears. Grief. What a stalking predator.

Parker stood at the front door of the parsonage and hesitated before knocking. He had no more idea what to say to Leah than hed had when he left his office. Yet, in the end, what good were words? Her husbandhis brotherhad been murdered, and
Parker intended to track down the killers. He didnt care how long it took.

The reminder of his responsibilities made him wish for once that he could get on his horse and corral the whole gang. An impossible job without a posse. Vengeance was Gods, so the Scripture said. But Parker had seen enough bloodshed from the McCaw gang to want them to pay. How did a God-fearing man come to terms with it all? He wanted the whole gang in his jail and sentenced to hang.

He knocked, and Preacher Waller answered the door. Some days he liked the preacher, and other days he barely tolerated the fire-and-brimstone sermons that reared up in most of his conversations. But whatever Parkers feelings for the man, today Preacher Waller and his wife helped the Timmons family hold up in the midst of a tragedy.

Come on in, Parker. Leah and the boys are in the parlor. Preacher Waller filled the doorway, a mountain of a man, and Parker followed him into the small crowded room. As a youth, Waller was more trouble than he was worth. Fighting and drinking like a mad man. Now he often brought condemnation to the whole town. I do say, Frank Timmons met his maker as a drunk and sluggard. The coals are burning hot in hell tonight.

Ire rose in Parkers gut. He grabbed Waller by the shirt collar. My brother knew the Lord. Just because his weakness was strong drink doesnt mean he didnt love the Lord or his family. And you arent the one to decide his future.

Preacher Waller raised his fist. Ephesians 5:18 says, And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess.

The parlor hushed. Leah stared at Preacher Waller, her eyes filled with tears.

Parker released him before he vented all of his feelings on one man. You could have left that remark alone. Have a little compassion on Franks wife and children.

Preacher Wallers round face reddened to the shade of a ripe tomato. I shall never stop speaking the truth.

Parker glared at him. Maybe you should spend more time reading Scripture about love. Before Preacher Waller could throw him out of the parsonage, Leah made her way to Parkers side and looped her arm into his.

Lets talk on the front porch, she said.

Parker took a breath and escorted her outside. Hed come to comfort her, and shed been forced to rescue him. Turning his mind back to the needs of her family, he vowed none of them would ever do without, just like he had from the beginning. There was no one else to help her. The rest of his and Franks siblings lived in Virginia, where their mother lived.

What can I do? he said when they had settled on the front porch.

Well be fine, she said. I want to take my sons home after church tomorrow. Life goes on, and so does the work to keep us alive.

She offered a faint smile, and he saw glimpses of the girl of so many years ago. Pray for us. We all need wisdom and strength.

Parker nodded. In a few days, he would persuade Leah to sell their land and move onto his ranch. Hed move into the bunkhouse with his foreman so everything would look proper, and hed build a bigger house for Leah and the boys. Shed most likely agree, and the arrangements would make it easier for him to keep an eye on them. Times werent easy for anyone, and tomorrow and the next day would bring increasing difficulties for a widow and five boys. The hope that had once kept Parker believing God would change things for Franks family had dried up like his brothers flow of blood.

The door opened, and John stepped out to join them on the porch. Uncle Parker, Id like a few words with you if thats all right.

Moving toward the door, Leah squeezed Johns arm before leaving the two alone.

The young man lifted his shoulders and stared at the church. I want to take my pas place. He pulled himself up to his nearly six-foot height. Deputize me. There were more than one set of horse tracks leading up to the porch that night.

Parker peered into Johns face. A shadow of a beard sprouted, but eighteen years didnt make a man. Neither did bitterness and revenge.

Son, your job is to take care of your mama and your brothers. I could put your pas badge on your chest, but what would your mama do without you? Ill find the rest of the gang. Aidens in jail, and it wont be long before the rest will be there too. The best thing you can do for your pa is what youre doing right now, holding on to that sweet lady who is fighting the tears for your sake.

Johns chin quivered, and he swallowed hard. An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. You werent the one who saw him draw his last breath or gasp as he said, McCaw.

Thats right, son. But were called to live inpeace whenever possible. Parker almost said forgiveness, but he thought twice about asking John to forgive when his pas body was mere hours in the grave. Right now Parker wasnt able to forgive either. Anger controlled everything about him, a seething fury at the injustice of his brothers death.

You heard what the preacher said about pa. It might be true, but he has no right to speak about him that way. I cant believe God has a man like him as a preacher any more than I can believe the McCaws should run free. The boy shook with uncontrollable emotions.

Parker couldnt talk any sense into him until he calmed down. Well talk after you take your ma home tomorrow.

We arent spending the night here after what he just said.
Im the man of the house now. If you wont deputize me, then Ill take out after them myself.

Another death in the family would destroy your ma. I understand how you feel, but out of respect for her, please let me handle this.

Maybe for today.

Lets keep talking about this. Youve done a mans job since you were ten years old, and now you have a heavier burden.

John stiffened. Im going back to the cemetery for a while. Tell Mama Ill be back to take her home.

Parker watched him until he disappeared behind the church. An angry man often didnt have a lick of sense, especially one who wasnt full grown. Parker said his good-byes to Preacher Waller and his missus and then promised Leah hed check on her at church tomorrow. The business of Aiden McCaw in the towns jail needed his attention.

On his way back to relieve Sage, he stopped at the general store and wired the proper authorities in Denver notification of Aiden McCaws presence in his jail and a request to send Morrows bounty. A US Marshal would arrive in a few days to deliver Sages money. The sooner Sage received her due, the sooner hed be rid of her. Something about the woman bothered him. Maybe it was the way she spoke her mind. Or maybe it was because she had the guts to bring in a hardened man like Aiden McCaw. She didnt appear to need a man for anything, and that was against nature. Or maybe it was the hawk and its piercing eyes. Hed heard many stories of how Sage Morrow searched the state for the men who had murdered her husband. How the part-Ute woman learned how to track and survive in the wild. Hed even heard she knew how to talk to animals and make a man do whatever she wanted. What was he supposed to believe? For certain he wanted her out of town.

Parker opened the door to his office. Sage was already on her feet with her Colt drawn.

Whoa, Im the marshal. Shoot me, and youll have a real problem.

Her eyes darkened, and with sleep threatening to take over, she looked more than a bit menacing. Her hand slipped to her side. Aiden insists on the same thing.

Parker glanced at the prisoner and cringed at the ear-piercing snore. Did he give you any problems?

Said he needed the outhouse, but I told him he could use the chamber pot. That way, you could empty it.

His favorite chore as a marshal. Thanks. Ah, I sent a wire for a US Marshal to take Aiden in and bring your money. He paused. She did look real tired. I appreciate your staying while I looked in on Leah and the boys.

I was glad to do it. She tossed a look at Aiden, whose mouth was gaping open like a fish. Can we step outside?

Parker led the way. His only desire was to placate the woman and get her out of his hair. Thank goodness she left the hawk on his desk. Outside, she rested her hat atop dark hair that hung straight to her waist and was tied with a piece of leather. He hadnt noticed how shiny black it was before.

He said a few things I ought to pass on, she said. Often its hard to tell when a liars telling the truth, but he added your name to mine in his list of threats. He claimed he and his gang have plans for both of us. Does that make any sense to you?

Parker listened, measuring every word. Because hes in my jail?

I thought you might be able to explain his cocky attitude. With your brother killed and all, I thought you could add a little light to Aidens claims. I wondered if you and your brother had found their hideout.

I have no answers. Only questions. The only thing Frank said before he died was the word
Anything else?

He said there were five of them total. She yawned. Im
gathering up my belongings and heading to the livery and hotel. You can find me there. But Ill be back after a few hours of sleep.

Dont forget your hawk.
Dont worry about me. Get a good nights sleep, and Ill talk to you tomorrow. Ill ask him a few questions myself.

She slipped her hand into an elbow-length leather glove for the hawk. They walked back inside, and the squeak of the door didnt arouse Aiden in the slightest. She coaxed the bird onto her arm.

Hows your sister-in-law faring? Sage said.

With the folks clearing out of the parsonage, she finally shed the necessary tears. I want to help her, and I will, but the ache in her heart will take time.

It gets easier, but you never forget.

For a moment, Parker had forgotten about Sages being a widow.

Your story about sheep reminded me of how too many folks judge others without the facts.

So shed listened, and her Ute blood was most likely a source of harsh talk. I learned a lot from my granddad. He told stories that showed folks how to live right. My father was a cattleman, and I followed in his steps. But granddads life lessons about sheep are still there.

Were you named after him?

Yes, maam. How did you guess? Its Parker Moses Timmons.

Moses was a leader. She reached out and shook his hand, then whirled around and left without another word. Strange woman. Peculiar. Strong. And easy to look at.


iden eyed Marshal Timmons hunched over his desk, reading papers and writing on some of them. A pot of fresh coffee stayed warm on the woodstove. Smelled good, but the good marshal had refused to give him a hot cup of it earlier. Course, his brothers had killed Parkers brother, according to the plan. Seemed rather ironicconsiderin. Until then, hed bide his time until sprung from jail.

A newspaper lay on the far corner of the desk, but since Aiden could barely read, all he could make out was
He hoped the front page was about the McCaws. All of Timmonss fancy reading and writing was a joke. He should have never stuck his nose in the McCaw gangs business.

Timmons had lit a lantern a few moments ago, and the glow sent shadows bouncing off the walls. Those werent the only shadows that would be waiting once darkness settled in and the people of Rocky Falls slept.

Hed hated being trussed up like a pig while Sage led him down from the mountains. Downright humiliating. Hed give her credit, though. She and that hawk held their own in a mans world. The Ute had done a good job teaching her how to track and shoot. Rumor was she could throw a fair knife and speak their language. She was more respectable than most, giving him plenty of water and food in the morning and evening. He hid his smile at her consideration. Why, shed even given him privacy when nature called. Didnt know of a single bounty hunter who
cared about a mans private needs. Or who was as pretty. Feisty too. But hed use her reputation to play into his hand. All aces.

Until two years ago, Aiden believed Charles and Sage Morrow had taken their secrets to their graves. Then he learned she hadnt died when Charles met his end. He chuckled. What Sage didnt know was the hunter had become the hunted.

Fools. Sage and Parker had waited too long. Why did they act like theyd never met? Must be for his benefit. But he was a smart man.


fter a hot bath and a real plate of tough roast pork, onions, and potatoes, all floating in grease except for the bullet-hard biscuit, Sage fell asleep with a stomachache just as the sounds from the saloon escalated into obnoxious comments. The owner of the hotel and saloon hadnt been pleased about Hawk, but shed assured the man that the bird would be in her care. To show her sincerity, she paid for three nights in advanceincluding the meals before shed sampled the cooks food. From the looks of some of the patrons, Hawk could have taught them a few lessons in civility and self-control.

The customers wielded guns and knives with gusto, and those were the women. A stall at the livery might have been cleaner and safer than her upstairs room. Sage lifted the window and propped it with the chamber pot to freshen the air and so Hawk could come and go as he pleased.

Sage intended to sleep until midnight, then check on Timmons and Aiden at the jail. With the shouting, raucous laughter, and the steady clinking of glasses downstairs, she had little hope of actual sleep, but the moment her head touched the pillow, she succumbed.

Hours later, as sunlight streamed through the window, Sages mind slowly adjusted to where she was and how hard shed slept. Her senses that normally kept her alert had faded when she stretched out on a real bed. Her eyelids slowly fluttered open, and she glanced out the window. Judging from the sun, she must have slept well past noon. Feeling for her pocket watch on the
floor, she saw the time read 2:35. How had she slept past the church bells with the open window?

Sage should have been up many hours ago, yet her aching body hesitated to make a move toward the day. Her headache and stomachache had disappeared, and all she needed to do for the next week was relax until her money arrived

She startled.
Aiden McCaw and his men.
The threats made to Marshal Timmons rang through her mind like a clanging bell. A curse fell from her lips, something that rarely happened, just in case God was listening and sent a bolt of lightning in retribution. Although shed cast God out of her heart, she still knew where He lived. Throwing back the tattered quilt, Sage grabbed her boots and strapped on her Colts.

She glanced at Hawk on the windowsill. I may have gotten a man killed because I slept so long. The leather glove slipped over her hand and up above her elbow, and the bird took his position.

She rushed down the stairs, pausing only when a portly woman whose face had as many wrinkles as a plowed field asked if shed slept well and wanted breakfast.

Possibly later, she said without taking the time to thank her. I need to check on a matter first. Her manners needed mending. Older folks needed to be treated with respect. She stopped at the door and noted a couple of fresh blood stains on the floor. She must have slept through the sounds of the fight. Thank you, maam. I am quite rested.

The woman smiled, and her entire face lit up. When you get back, lets sit down to a good meal. And I apologize for the pig slop you got for supper last night. One of the girls wanted to cookor lets say she wanted to try. She needs some cooking lessons before I give up my kitchen again.

I appreciate the invitation. Sage hurried out the door, hoping Aiden had been bluffing about his brothers springing him from jail.

The town looked deserted except for a man leaning against
the door of the saloon. Or maybe the door of the saloon was holding him up. No doubt everyone else was at home in commemoration of the Sabbath. Her parents had observed the day without fail. Once she stepped off the boardwalk and into the muddy street, she ran toward the marshals office.

She knocked. Marshal Timmons?

No answer.

She turned the knob and stepped inside. Quiet. Too quiet. The cell door stood open. Foul-smelling Aiden had vacated, leaving nothing in his wake but a chipmunk scampering across the floor. Her gaze swept the room, dreading what she might find. Marshal Timmons lay face down on the other side of his desk with his head near the wood stove.

Oh, no.

Not a sound. Not a muscle stirred. Sage touched his neck and felt a faint pulse.
Hes alive.
The town didnt need to lose another good man. Blood splatter decorated the wooden floor, but not enough to be a gunshot or a knife wound. This was her fault. She should have been more alert. She should have stayed there with him. Sage swallowed hard.
I told him Id be back after a few hours of sleep.
Guilt slid through her veins.

She gingerly turned him to his side, and he moaned. A huge lump with the imprints of the stove legs marred the right side of his head. His right eye had swollen shut in a deep shade of purple, and his mouth was split open. There was the source of the blood.

Marshal Timmons, can you speak to me?

He mumbled something, and she blew out a breath. Im so sorry. I should have stayed here last night instead of sleeping at the hotel.

His left eye cracked open, then closed.

Ill get you some water and clean you up. All she found was cold, stale coffee in a mug. Hard to clean blood and dirt with that, and she needed to see how seriously hed been hurt.

McCaw gang, he managed, and dragged his tongue across
his cracked and bleeding lips. He desperately needed water. They were inside before I knew what happened.

You were outnumbered. Can you tell me how badly youre hurt?

He took in a ragged breath. I think my ribs might be broke.

Im so sorry. Do you have a wife or someone I need to contact?

Do I look like a family man?

He was disagreeable, but she imagined his head felt like it would explode. Ill get some water at the hotel and be right back. She studied him for a moment. Every hurt and innocent man seemed to take on Charless characteristics.

Dont leave.

She sat back on the floor and lowered Hawk beside her. Im listening. But let me remind you that you need tending.

He seemed to muster the strength to speak. They were disappointed you werent here.

Was that supposed to make her feel any better about leaving him to the mercy of wanted men? What did they say?

Welltalk about it later.

Is this beating their calling card?

Maybe. His chest lifted, and he grimaced. His left hand covered his right ribs. They probably were broken. At least he wasnt spitting blood.

Do you have a doctor in town?

Not yet.

Confused, she peered closer to examine his face. You dont have a doctor, or you dont want me to fetch one?

The latter.

Theres nothing you can do but have a doctor look at your wounds. We can figure this out afterward.

Parker slowly nodded. From the lines across his forehead, he hurt powerfully bad. Im not dying. Ill know when thats happening. Aidens men dared usto come after them.

She remembered Aidens comments. Im not surprised, but I dont know why. Do you?

Other than increasing their reputation by killing a bounty hunter and a marshal at the same time? But that doesnt make any sense either. Im not a man of notoriety, but you have a good reputation for bringing in wanted men.

Other bounty hunters have brought in more. Parker, please rest until Im able to bring back help for you.

He closed his eyes. Aiden said you owed him something and I knew what it was.

How could she have something belonging to Aiden? And shed just met Parker Timmons yesterday.
He did want me to find him. Why?
I have no idea what hes talking about. Too bad she couldnt bring in his whole gang, but Aiden was the only one who had tracks for her to follow.

Hehe said youd say that.

Frustration had a way of bringing out the worst in her. Tell me where the doctor lives, and well talk about this when youre bandaged up. I dont like leaving you alone, but I dont have a choice.

What time is it?

After three. Why?

If Doc isnt at home, hes probably at church. Parker tried to raise his head, but a moan escaped his lips. A picnics been scheduled for a long timethat and afternoon preaching.

Once Timmons gave her directions, she let Hawk loose to hunt. She walked briskly down the street, counting the number of businesses and houses according to Parkers directions. Rocky Falls looked pleasant enough, built on a slope with junipers and cottonwoods to shade the folks. Today the town looked peaceful, despite the tragedy caused by the McCaw gang.

No one responded to her knock at the doctors house, a tidy little place with a whitewashed fence, which gave her little choice but to stop by the church.

No one was outside on the church grounds, which meant shed have to look for the doctor inside. Sage opened the door during a prayer. How appropriate was that? Goodness knew, with the McCaws running rampant, the marshal and the whole town needed someone to come to their aid. The preacher, a wide-shouldered man who looked more like a blacksmith than a man of God, eyed her suspiciously.

She remembered the Colts strapped at her waist.

arker hurt in places he didnt know existed. Not since his horse was spooked by a mountain cat and threw him into the side of a boulder had he ached so much that dying looked appealing. He needed to be cleaned up, not tended to like an invalid. Getting the doc made about as much sense as Aidens riddles of the night before. In fact, hed get up and show Sage Morrow that a little beating never stopped Parker Timmons. After filling his head and gut with determination, Parker attempted to sit. A stab of invisible fire burned through his chest, and a groan escaped his lips. The last time hed broken ribs he was twelve years old and fell out of a tree in Virginia. Come to think of it, hed been pitched around most of his life. But his tolerance for pain had fallen once he hit the back side of thirty. Age had a way of catching up to a man, and what did he have to show for it, except a keen desire to represent the people of this fine state of Colorado?

He closed his eyes and allowed his thoughts to retrace last nights jailbreak. The gang had jumped him sometime after midnight, and he had no idea how many of them there were. Four distinct voices had filled the night, and far too many fists had been driven into his body.

We aint killin you, Aiden had said. This is a warnin. You and Sage have something we want. The two of you come alone. Never no mind where, cause were making sure you follow us. If you have any ideas about riding with a posse, forget it. Youll understand later.

In the haze of pain, maybe hed heard wrong. What could Sage and he have that Aiden wanted? Until recently, most of Parkers knowledge of the McCaw gang came from the wanted posters and newspapers. Now and then they kicked up trouble around the Rocky Falls area, but folks here didnt have much to steal, and none of the miners had made any large strikes. Parkers arrests were mostly locals, not outlawsgreedy men who allowed whiskey and selfishness to rule their choices and their fists.

He remembered something else Aiden said: Your brother made a stupid mistake. Id like to think youre the smarter one.

The McCaws
killed Frank. If his head hadnt hurt so badly, hed have tried to focus on what wasnt said. How could he and Sage ride into the mountains after them when they didnt know what Aiden wanted or which way to head? He could trail with the best of them, and Sage had advanced skills from her Indian ways. What mistake had his brother made? And what linked Frank, Sage, Parker, and the McCaws? Too much to think on when his whole body was bruised.

Parker fought to stay awake in an effort to think through the previous night. But every time he wrapped his mind around a possibility, his senses numbed, and he began to float away. He needed to talk to Sage about her connection with the McCaws. The thought of Frank bringing this misfortune on his family needled at him too. With all of Franks problems, getting involved in an outlaw gang didnt fit. Money never meant much to Frank. He enjoyed good times like fishing and hunting and a bottle of whiskey. Gamblinghad Frank gotten himself into trouble by owing what he couldnt pay? Parker shook his head. His brother had his faults, but lowering to associating with outlaws to pay a gambling debt wasnt one of them.

As soon as he rested a little, hed get this situation figured out. Until then, hed pray for guidanceand his ribs.

Parker struggled to open his eyes. He heard his name being called and tried to respond, but he felt like hed been dropped into
a well and didnt have a rope to climb out. Surfacing and having a doctor poke around on his body didnt sit well either.

Parker, this is Doc Slader. Can you hear me?

He could hear, just couldnt speak.

Listen, son. I need for you to wake up.

The familiar voice urging him to crawl to the top made the ascent a little easier, until Parker finally opened an eye. The other one refused to budge.

Good, the doctor said. You look awful, but I believe youll live.

Right now he didnt know which was worse, dying or living. ThinkI have a broken rib. It hurt to talk.

Miss Sage here made mention of that. Im going to feel around a bit to see for myself. The moment Doc Slader touched Parkers side, agony seared his whole body. Yes, sir, a few broken ribs, all right.

I missed church. Should have been there for Leah and the children.

You would have been sitting by yourself. She wasnt there either.

Leah must have been sick. She never missed church. Ill ride out to see her later.

Doc shook his head.

Whats wrong? Parker didnt like the frown on Docs face. All he needed was a little sleep, and hed be his normal self.

Youre not going anywhere all beaten and bruised like the town drunk. But you should know Leahs boy Davis is missing.

Parker tried to pull himself up, but the pain blinded him. What do you mean? Where did he go?

Went to get water for his mother this morning and didnt return.

Misery swept through Parker, a deep sorrow that he couldnt put into words. Did Davis fall in the river? The river flowing
through Leahs ranch didnt have a fast current, yet Davis could have lost his balance, hit his head.

Dont think so. The bucket was on the bank, full of water, and John found horse tracks nearby.

BOOK: A Woman Called Sage
9.3Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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