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Authors: DiAnn Mills

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BOOK: A Woman Called Sage
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Hed ponder on her suggestion for a while. Hed made it known he was interested in representing folks in Denver, but the election was months away. The only thing he could want from me is a way to get his hands on land and cattle. Surely he wouldnt think Id appoint him to a political position.

He has John and Davis, and one of his brothers killed your brother.

Parkers insides twisted. It wont come to that. Ill have him and his murdering brothers locked up and awaiting sentence by the time I take officeif I take office.

Who knows? He might want to build a huge resort for rich folks to come and spend money. Or he might want prime timber land to build a sawmill or a stone quarry. After all these years, the McCaws might want to settle down. The outlaw life has to be taxing on a manalways on the run, dodging bullets, and the nightmares of what theyve done. What else does Rocky Falls have to offer?

Theres sandstone and limestone quarries in the area. I own some interest in those. Nothing but hard work for an honest man.

Which brings us back to your first conclusion of him wanting political favors.

Getting inside their heads and thinking like they do is the only way to beat them at their own game. Parker realized the fog had diminished. He glanced about. Wheres Hawk?

Hopefully looking for the McCaws.

I heard a hawk can see a mouse a mile away. But how does he tell you what he sees?

She shook her head, and a smile stayed fixed on her lips. He doesnt. Neither do I speak bird language. Im just a woman who likes birds and animals, and they like me. She straightened. His
usual habit is to find other humans and fly back to me. If I can see from whence he came, then I have a good idea where other folks might be.

He wiped the moisture from his face. Next youre going to tell me you talked to the mama bear.

I might have. He could see she was attempting to hide a laugh. I told her youd taste better than me.

Thanks. Next time Ill talk to her. Seriously, I did notice your pony didnt get spooked with the bear or the lightning.

She glanced away from him. Thats part of the gift. Never met a horse I couldnt ride. But I wouldnt go betting on me out-talking a mama bear whos worried about her cubs.

What an interesting woman. Did one of your parents have the same gift?

You sure ask a lot of questions.

Thats the only way I know how to find answers.

She paused as though thinking through his question. My Ute grandmother had the way.

Suddenly Parker wished they were riding these mountains for pleasure instead of trailing outlaws. He found himself actually enjoying their conversation. It helped him keep his mind off the pain. Hawk is what makes me curious.

She peered up at the sky before tugging on another limb. Hawk and I understand each other. Hes fiercely protective, and I love him for it.

A pang of jealously settled on Parker, and a strange sensation filled him, warming and chilling him at the same time. What he wouldnt give for a woman to love him like Sage loved Hawk. A woman as beautiful and strong as Sage Morrow.

How sad shed lost everything the day she and Charles were shot. Most women would have moved back with their parents or taken up school teaching. Youre a remarkable woman, Sage Morrow. Cant think of anyone right now Id rather get soaked or chase outlaws with.

She tossed him a strange look, as though she didnt know what to make of himor herself. Thanks. Parker?

Yes, maam.

About your fear of thunder and lightning. If its time for life to leave you, it doesnt matter if youre in a storm or walking across the street in Rocky Falls.

How degrading for her to see his fear. That noticeable, huh?

She tilted her head. Ill not tell. Wouldnt want you to lose any votes. Might want to talk to God about those fears. Theyll get the best of you if you dont find a way to overcome them.

Yes, maam. A strange remark from a woman who shied away from God.

She nodded and gathered up a handful of brush. How do you tend cattle in the open?

I always had a place marked out where I could herd them and hide. Another point you dont have to tell. My foreman figured it out a long time ago. Teases me about it now and then.

Ill keep quiet. Might need a favor some day. She grinned at him, and, in spite of his embarrassment, he found himself smiling back.

When the fallen tree was clear enough for the horses to step over, Sage mounted her pony. Im heading back down.

I know youre used to riding hard and alone, but be careful. Ill meet you where the trail comes to a fork and figure out what to do from there. One of us is going to run into the McCaws.

Yes, sir. And, Parker, youre not so bad for a lawman.

A mighty fine compliment indeed.


age rode her pony down the trail to the foot of the mountain, then set out again on an alternate trail. The gang would need to split to follow them, making it easier for Parker and Sage to defend themselves and find the boys. The clouds passed by and the sun warmed the earth. She pulled off her slicker and rolled it tightly while studying the terrain. Hawk circled above. Hed called to her once shed begun her descent, but she couldnt tell if hed spotted the boys. Sure would be easier if the bird could talk. Hed be better company than the men she brought in for bounty. However, she didnt mind Parker.

She whistled for Hawk, mimicking his high-pitched shriek and warble. He swept down from the west in a flight of grace that no man could ever duplicate. Hawk flew onto her outstretched arm, a symbol of power, fierce and magnificent. She often wondered how shed been able to tame his stalwart heart. Or perhaps she hadnt subdued him at all, but hed merely granted her his companionship.

When she was a child, Sages school friends had been wary of her when she had no fear of wild dogs. Later she was told to keep her wildcat and wolf away from civilized folks. Mama claimed her mother had shared in the same peculiarity, experiencing no qualms about befriending a bear. Sage left those furry animals alone, not wanting to know if they found her a threat. Whatever the reason for her kinship to animals and birds, she saw it as a blessing.

Tall Elk had found the baby hawk struggling on the ground
after his mother pushed him from the nest. The Indian presented the bird to Sage during a time when she often could not speak for the anguish embedded in her heart. Tall Elk recognized her innate ability to communicate with animals and encouraged her to seek out what her uniqueness meant. But he didnt realize she no more understood her gift than she understood the ways of nature. He believed the hawk would protect her and help her heart heal, and hed been right. Sage was grateful for the birds devotion, for it softened her grief to care for him. When she decided to hunt down those who had destroyed her life, Hawk had become a natural part of that quest.

So are the McCaws west of here with Leahs boys? she whispered to Hawk and stroked his variegated plumage.

Once on the alternate trail, she urged the pony to climb higher, winding around rocks and boulders and enjoying the sun on her face. For the most part, July temperatures kept the mountains fairly mild except for the storms, high winds, and the unpredictable snow of the higher elevations. Sage remembered Parkers high respect for lightning. More people were killed by lightning bolts in the Rockies than by wild animals. Everyone was afraid of something, and some folks were afraid of a lot of things. She wished her own fears were as easily defined. Right now the demon nipping at her heels was that Charles had been running with outlaws.

The pony stepped over bitterbrush and red-berried currants, with golden asters and light blue columbines scattered like jewels along the rocky path. After a time, she ceased admiring the wildflowers and concentrated on reaching the next small plateau, where she would be able to look out to the valley below. When she reached it, Hawk stirred and lifted his wings to soar into the treetops.

Are we close? she said, as though he understood. Perhaps he did.

She climbed higher until they reached a lake covered in lily pads. Brown and rainbow trout darted through the water while
tall pine reflected in the shimmering pool. Tall Elk had instilled in her a reverence for the quiet beauty of nature, something shed taken for granted in the past. Marrying him wouldnt have been an unhappy lifejust empty. Even here in all of natures beauty, her soul longed to be filled. The love of a good man or the laughter of a child might erase the tears and heartache, but she was afraid to give her heart away. That made fear number two.

Parker feared lightning. Sage feared the years ahead would be scarred with loneliness. Fear number three. Guess she had more concerns than she thought.

A half mile higher, she came upon a deep green lake, larger than the previous and bordered by rocks and boulders as though carved from a giant rock bowl. She dismounted and tethered her pony to an aspen beside a patch of pink wildflowers. The rest of the way would be on foot.

Hawk flapped his massive wings and soared to a tall tree limb. Sages instincts and Hawks actions led her to believe she was heading in the right direction. Taking a long drink of water, she swung the canteen over her shoulder and grabbed her rifle. Shed reached the fork where Parker indicated they should meet. So where was he? He knew the area better than she did. Impatient, she chose to continue upward to where she could get a better view of the mountains.

Another half mile up, she came to a glistening emerald lake with a sparse growth of trees against a cloudless sky. In the distance, blue-gray cliffs saluted the heavens, stealing away her breath. A sense of awe for the untamed and wild filled her. Hawk circled above her, hopefully guiding her to where shed find Leahs sons.

Sage scrambled up a rock and peered over the top. Directly below, a waterfall cascaded into a chasm, its air-filled water churning white and crashing against the rocks. She pulled binoculars from inside her jacket and scanned the area.

Searching the surrounding mountains height and depth, she
peered into trees and brush for signs of the boys or the McCaws. Hawk had helped her locate humans before, and he could again. A breath caught in her throat. On a rock platform above a stream northwest of where she lay sat Aiden McCaw and his men. She focused on each man, and the images from the past took form. Her stomach tightened.

As vividly as if it were yesterday, she recalled the day strangers rode up to the house and demanded Charles give them their money. There were four of them then, and those four were in her sights now. One man stood out from the othersthe one with dark curly hair and wide-set dark eyes who had killed Charles and shot her, sending her into early labor that killed their baby. Her search was ended, the object of her vengeance found. Shed sworn to kill them, but shed do her best to bring Aiden and his brothers in alive.

Sage tore her attention from the nightmarish faces and searched for Leahs sons. She let out a sigh.
There they arealive.
The older boy was tied with his hands behind his back, and the younger one sat at his feet. Closer scrutiny showed Daviss hands were tied too. She scanned the area for a way to rescue them. The McCaws had chosen a fortress-like position. Clever. The wind would be cold at night, but the strategic location made rescue look impossible. A narrow path led straight up to their campsite, easy for them to guard. The only other way was to scale a cliff.

She peered through the binoculars to find Parker. Glancing around the surrounding area, she noticed some movement back down the mountain across from her. He stood behind a cluster of cedars on the far ridge, his binoculars positioned over his eyes. His horse was tied to a tree behind him. No doubt the physical exertion had forced him to stop before reaching their agreed upon site. Sage motioned to Hawk and pointed the bird toward Parker.

Let him know I see him, she whispered, and yanked a button
from her shirt. Placing it in Hawks talons, she sent the bird toward Parker.

Hawk flew directly to him and screeched. Parker glanced up. Hopefully hed recognize the red plumage. The bird dipped low. Through the binoculars, Sage watched Parker drop to the ground and examine something, then slip it into his shirt pocket.
Hawk had released the button. Now Parker needed to stay there until she arrived.

She scooted down from the rock and made her way back to where shed tethered her pony. If Parker would stay among the cedars, she could loop around and reach him in a short while. She started to tremble under the weight of finding the boys and the man who had so long shadowed her mind, like Satan himself. All these years shed thought of nothing but finding him and those whod ridden with him, but now she had to choose between her hatred and Leahs sons.

arker had been involved in many different strategies to bring down an enemyfrom his teenage years wearing the gray in the war to his job as a marshal. But hed never taken orders from a woman who used a hawk as a carrier pigeon.

And yet he hid in a thicket of cedars for a woman bounty hunter and her hawk while the lives of his nephews were threatened by the dangers of the wild and an outlaw gang. She must have learned where they were to send Hawk with a button. A bit of damaged pride rested in that knowledge. He should be the one scouting the mountains for John and Davis instead of gasping for breath with his sides on fire and waiting for her to appear.

The past few days had been a flurryfrom Franks murder to the beating hed received at the hands of McCaws gang to Leahs missing boys. In the middle of this was a strange bounty hunter who had the face of an angel and the reputation of a devil with mystic powers. Hidden within her tragedies was the truth about the connection Sage, Charles, and Parker had to the
McCaws. One truth had already surfaced: he longed to get to know a woman called Sage.

A twig snapped behind him, and he whirled around, his finger resting on the trigger of his rifle.

Easy, Parker. Sages soft voice reminded him of quaking aspen leaves, a taste of exquisite beauty amidst a breeze. Her slender figure emerged from the cedars. I thought if I made a little noise, you wouldnt be so quick to shoot me.

You dont know me. He should have laughed, but instead frustration took control.
should be passing on needed information to her.

I found the McCaws and your nephews.

His optimism slid up a notch, and he shoved away his pride. Are they all right?

From what I could see. Her face clouded. Their hands are tied, but other than that they look fine. You cant see them from here.

He didnt like the look on her face. What are you not telling me?

Theres only one narrow trail up to where theyre camped, and two McCaws are guarding it.

He hadnt trampled these mountains to hear rescuing John and Davis was impossible. Show me where theyre at. There has to be another way to get to them.

There is.

His aggravation escalated. How could a woman delight and vex him at the same time? How?

The only other way is to scale the rocky crags behind them, about seventy-five feet up.

We brought extra rope. He attempted to ignore the pain in his chest. Ill climb it tonight and hope the stars are out. I can rescue them.

Sage shook her head. You cant make your way up the cliff with broken ribs.

Parker sensed the heat rising up his neck. John and Davis are my brothers sons. Theyre my responsibility. Im not a crippled old man.

Her face softened. I know all about who you are, how you run a clean town and how folks respect you. But right now you arent physically able to free those boys. She stepped closer. Killing yourself doesnt help them either. Leah would end up losing all of you. And we already know what Aiden is capable of doing. I can make the climb.

What would you have me do while you risk your neck? Nothing?

You can watch the ledge and cover me when John needs to climb down to safety.

Only one thing was worse than a man being wrong, and that was when a woman was right. Sage, Im a man. You doing all the work isnt right. I cant let you scale those rocks.

Yes, you can. And I will. Ive got a stake in this too.

Why did this woman talk in riddles? How do you figure?

I recognized Aidens brothers as the men who killed Charles. I saw the man who pulled the trigger. Sage took a breath and gripped her rifle. Leahs youngest son is a reminder of my own son who lost his life that day. Pain crested in her eyes. The men who killed Charles and shot me didnt care I was with child. We were nothing to them. I
to make sure John and Davis are safely returned to Leah. Then I will deal with the McCaw gang.

The stories behind her giving bounty to widows and orphans made more sense. Anger again rose for what the McCaws had donewould continue to do if someone didnt stop them. The murdering brutes. Im real sorry. The McCaws have ravaged this part of the country for too many years and must be stopped. Parker understood the torment searing her face. Hed seen agony beyond human comprehension during the war. Tragedies shaped the strongest of men, and Sage had not been spared. She was
right. Hed be useless in an attempt to reach those boys when it took all of his strength to move and breathe. He had no choice but to swallow his prideone more time.

Parker trusted a God who would scale the rocks before Sage lifted a foot onto the first foothold.

BOOK: A Woman Called Sage
7.78Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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