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Authors: DiAnn Mills

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BOOK: A Woman Called Sage
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Youll understand later.
Aidens words came back to Parker like a bad penny. Taking Davis ensured them of Sage and Parkers riding alone. Wheres John now?

He took off with Franks rifle to follow the tracks.

N
INE

S
age sat at Parkers bedside at Doctor Sladers house. The doctor had been called to the home of a rancher whod been kicked by a horse and would probably be gone for hours. Mrs. Slader had her hands full with nine boys to look after. The thought of it made Sages head spin. Then again, maybe someday shed meet a man whod want a dozen boys.

Sage kept a damp cloth on Parkers forehead and studied him for fever. Even if he was a lawmanand shed met only a few she likedshe still hated for an innocent man to endure a beating. And although exhaustion had been the reason she slept through the gangs jailbreak, she still felt responsible. The old familiar restlessness nipped at her heels, the longing to do all she could to make the country a safe place to live. Common sense told her it was impossible, and her heart reminded her she wasnt God. But she well knew the pain of devastation and the tug of revenge.

She grasped every opportunity to talk to the injured man about Aidens escape. Perhaps she shouldnt prod him, except unanswered questions threatened to burst from her brain.

Parker, can you hear me? Leah Timmons sat on the edge of a chair, proper like, the way a lady sat. The way Sage used to sit. A little self-consciously, she shifted and stiffened her back as Leah dabbed a lace-edged handkerchief under each eye. The woman was tiny, too small to carry such a heavy load of widowhood with children to rear.

Give me an hour, Leah, he whispered. Ill get Davis and
John found and back home to you. Dont worry. They couldnt have gone far.

I doubt if you get out of bed for two days,
Sage thought.

Leah blinked back the tears. I know this is selfish, but you are the one person I can depend on. Oh, Parker, Im so scared. Dont die on me too. A southern accent laced her words.

Im too ornery to die. All I need is a few hours to get my wits back.

Leah stood and laid a hand on Parkers shoulder. Sage pitied the distraught woman, who had every reason to be upsether husband was dead, her youngest son was missing, and her oldest son had taken off with his pas rifle to find his little brother. It all added up to anguish of the worst kind.

Ill go after your boys in the morning, Sage said. If it wasnt so close to dark, Id go now. Ill track them down and get them back to you as quickly as I can.

I keep praying for God to protect my family. But troubles keep happening. Leah sniffed back a sob and shook her head as though to chase away her tears. Strawberry blonde hair curled around her face, and freckles dotted her nose and cheeks. Both characteristics gave the impression of Leah being a mere girl, but her girlish days were gone. She turned to Sage. What if John or Davis runs into the McCaws or a bear or mountain lion? What if the McCaws took them?

As a child, when Sages parents had taken her to church, she heard the sermons expounding on Romans 8:28 and Jamess call to patience and perseverance. She hadnt appreciated folks repeating them during her own tragedies, and she wasnt about to heap them on Leah. I dont have any answers for you, but Ill do my best.

Leah took a deep breath. When Frank died, I thought my worries would be about putting food on the table, not losing my John and Davis and even Parker. II know youre a smart
woman and know ways to track down people. But can you really find my boys?

Sage swallowed the emotion rising in her throat. Given a choice, shed gladly rear a dozen children instead of looking for Charless killer. But Tall Elk had taught her how to read trails like a scout, and shed use every skill within her power to find Leahs sons. I promise you I will not stop looking until I find them.

Bless you, dear Sage. Youve given me hope. Tears flooded Leahs eyes, and Sage blinked to stop her own. Shed given up on ever having female friends when she was a girl. Good Christian women forbade their daughters to have anything to do with Sage, never mind that Sages mother had abandoned the gods of the Ute to worship the white mans God. But at this moment, Sage didnt care what Leahs beliefs were about Indians. What mattered was getting those boys back to their mother.

Sage had planned to give Leah and Mrs. Felter most of the bounty from Aidens capture, but now that he was on the loose again, she couldnt lay claim to any money. Why dont you go home and be with your other sons? Im sure theyre missing you.

Youre probably right. One of my younger boys cried when I told him I was coming into town. I couldnt bring myself to tell him about Parker being hurt. Leahs large brown eyes gave her a look of innocence, which contrasted with how much shed seen of the harshness of life.

Sage wrapped her arm around Leahs shoulder. Your children need you. Ill leave at dawn. I

Not without me. Parkers raspy voice sounded weak. He had a little more color, but hed be of little use with his constant pain in catching each breath.

You cant ride in your condition, Sage said. Besides, youll slow me down.

Watch me. His chest lifted and lowered. My ribs are wrapped, and Ive slept most of the day.

I think you were unconscious most of the day, Sage said.

Still asleep.

Hawk and I work better alone, she said, but she shrugged. No point arguing with Parker. She didnt want to mention her suspicions that Aiden might have those boys or that they might be harmed if she wasted time, and odds were hed sleep right through her departure in the morning.

He said nothing, only stared at the ceiling as Leah said her good-byes and left.

What are you thinking? Sage said.

He frowned, and his distorted face resembled a walnut. The same thing you are. That the McCaws most likely have Davis and probably John too. He swallowed hard. And Im hoping those boys are still alive.

A knock at the door interrupted Sages thoughts. Come in.

Mrs. Slader stepped in, a tall thin woman with a kind face. I found this on the front porch. She held out a folded piece of yellowed paper. One of the boys said a man rode by and put it there. It has Miss Morrows name on it.

Sage took the note, angst rising as to the sender. Thank you. Did he recognize the man?

It was my middle boy who brought it to me. I asked him, but he said it wasnt anyone he knew.

Thank you. Sage unfolded the note.
Weve got both boys. You and the marshal come alone if you want the boys alive.
She couldnt let Mrs. Slader know the contents. If Leah found out, she might not be able to handle the news.

Mrs. Slader nodded at Parker. Youre looking better, Marshal, but you need a few days in bed. Without waiting for a response, she slipped back out the door and left Parker and Sage alone.

Sage waved the note. Unfortunately, our suspicions were right. The McCaws have Davis and John. Were to come alone if we want them alive. She walked to the window and looked out at mountains to the west. I have no idea what connects you, me, Charles, and possibly your brother to the McCaws, but we need
to figure it out soon. They want us to follow, so the trail will be easy for me to pick up.

Silence clung to the air while she watched a couple of the Slader boys wrestle in the street.

The only connection I see is were all working to keep the likes of him and his gang away from law-abiding people, Parker said. Aiden McCaw is a smart man, real smart, and hes manipulated his brothers since the war to get what he wants.

Ive heard they were a part of Quantrills Raiders during the war and then set out along the same path afterward.

I heard the same thing, Parker said. We know he wont hesitate to carry out his threat. I just wish I knew what he wanted.

For the next hour Parker slept, and Sage thought a lot about Charles and their relationship. Some of her musings were about Aidens continued talk about her husband, the man she loved beyond reason, the man whod left her alone for weeks at a time. Uncertainties about Charless loyalties and a possible association with the McCaw gang clawed at her heart. The man whod said he owned a second ranch in Colorado, but didnt. His killers insisted he had their money. Could he have neglected to tell her about other things too?

If voicing those shadowed memories helped put the McCaw gang behind bars and find those two boys, then shed tell Parker all she could remember. Even if it meant she learned Charles wasnt a man of integrity.

Deep in thought, she slowly realized Parker was awake and staring at her. Aiden mentioned Charles, my deceased husband, on more than one occasion, like he knew him.

Wasnt he killed several years ago?

Seven. No one ever found who did it. Ive searched wanted posters and descriptions of outlaws for years, but it is as though the men disappeared. But Ill never forget what they looked like, especially the man who killed Charles. She stared into Parkers eyes. Aiden McCaw wasnt with them. No redheaded man rode
onto our ranch that day, but the rest of his gang could have been involved. Ive no idea of the physical features of Aidens brothers. The more she remembered about Charles and the day he died, the more the scars of her heart cut deeper.

Ive heard of your search for his killers.

Aiden said Charles wasnt his right name. How can that be? Charles and I grew up in the same area. I knew him from the time we were children. But if Aiden thinks he is someone else, it may have something to do with whats going on. He says he knows who killed Charles, and its caused me to think he might have ordered it. He also knew Charles spent a good deal of time away from our ranch.

Parker stared at her, obviously mulling over what shed said. Where did he go?

Sage held her breath, her mind weighing how much more she could tell without emotions overcoming her. He told me he had a second ranch in northeast Colorado, and he was often gone to check on it. After his death, I contacted the land office and learned he didnt own any land there. Hed lied to me.

Did you ever ask to go with him when he traveled to this ranch?

I did, but he thought it wasnt a good idea.

The look on Parkers face was the same look that other folks gave her when she explained why she stayed home. Papa asked to go with him once, but Charles refused. We lived in southern Colorado and raised cattle on a small ranch. An inner voice urged her to continue. All she could think of was the bereaved look on Leahs face and the thought of what the McCaws might do to her sons. Charles had a wandering spirit. I knew it when we married, but his ways didnt matter. I knew how to take care of the ranch, and we had a neighboring boy and Papa to help when the work got to be too much for me.

Ive known a few men who couldnt handle being tied down. Parkers voice sounded gentle, coaxing her on.

He said he liked the wilds, to hunt and breathe in free air. And he loved northern Colorado. He always apologized when he rode off The suspicions that shed carried for years surfaced again.
Was I a fool then to believe every word he said?

Excuse me for asking this, but do you think he ran with a gang of outlaws?

Hed spoken what shed feared, and it sounded viler than in her thoughts. I dont know. Ive been confused for so long about the things he kept from me. She took a deep breath to gain control. The more she expressed her deep-rooted fears, the harder it became. His killer said Charles had money that belonged to them. The men went through our cabin and tore it apart. Look, Parker, I was young, nave, and I loved a man who was different from anyone I knew. As children, we fished together and talked about all kinds of things. He didnt ridicule my Ute blood or make me feel less than a human being.

No need to get upset. Im just trying A stab of pain must have taken his breath. A moment later he attempted to speak again. Im just trying to make sense of our dilemma. He paused. We dont know each other well, and

We dont like each other much either.

He smiled, the first time all day. Ill grant you that one, but weve been thrown into an icy river headed for a waterfall.

One of us has to find a way to reach the bank.

So what else are you thinking? Parker said.

Sage wondered if Davis and John were still alive. The quiet streets of Rocky Falls didnt need any more bloodshed or missing children. Shed never spoken this freely to anyone about Charles, not even to Tall Elk or her parents. Papa never liked Charles. He said a man who stayed away from his wife was up to no good. He and Mama didnt grieve for him.

Im sorry. Parkers words were spoken softly, as if he understood a little of what shed gone through.

She stared out the window to where Hawk circled above.
Sometimes she thought shed given all of her love to the birda predator who welcomed her affections. After I learned that Charles had lied to me about owning another ranch, I searched wanted posters for a picture or a description of him. She paused and remembered her relief in knowing he wasnt an outlaw. When I found nothing and I could not get the local sheriff to help me find his killers, I decided the only way justice could be served was for me to find the killers and bring them in. Thats when I traveled into the Rockies to search out some of my Ute people who still lived there. I needed to learn their ways.

If Im hearing right, Parker said, then youre having second thoughts about Charles. He might have been involved with the McCaw gangor a rival one.

And he may have gone to his grave with the knowledge of what his killers wanted. She swung back to him, suddenly feeling a kinship to a man shed otherwise dislike. But I havent figured out where you might fit in, or your brother.

Frank could have walked into something unaware.

Or hed become involved.

Parker pressed his lips tightly together. Finally he took another deep breath. Id sure hate to think my brother had turned outlaw. But he did have a problem with drinking and gambling.

Desperate situations breed desperate people. She watched how he reacted to her comment with the understanding that the truth about those a person loves can be the most difficult to bear. She should know because the truth about Charles might be the most difficult pain of all.

My grandfather used to talk about sheep being one of the dumbest animals on the face of the earth. They dont have a lick of sense, which is why Frank and I sometimes helped to keep close watch on them. Theyd get stuck in thorny bushes, fall into places where they had no business going, and stand beside a hungry wolf. Ive seen my grandfather break a sheeps leg so it would stop wandering, but sometimes it went back to its old habits.

BOOK: A Woman Called Sage
4.08Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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