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Authors: Kay Springsteen

Tags: #suspense, #adoption, #sweet romance, #soul mates, #wyoming, #horse whisperer, #racehorses, #kat martin, #clean fiction, #grifter, #linda lael miller, #contemporary western, #childhood sweethearts, #horse rehab, #heartsight, #kay springsteen, #lifeline echoes, #black market babies, #nicholas evans

Elusive Echoes

BOOK: Elusive Echoes
8.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub


Elusive Echoes

By Kay Springsteen

Published by Astraea Press


Smashwords Edition

Copyright © 2011 KAY SPRINGSTEEN


This is a work of fiction. Names, places,
characters, and events are fictitious in every regard. Any
similarities to actual events and persons, living or dead, is
purely coincidental. Any trademarks, service marks, product names,
or named features are assumed to be the property of their
respective owners, and are used only for reference. There is no
implied endorsement if any of these terms are used. Except for
review purposes, the reproduction of this book in whole or part,
electronically or mechanically, constitutes a copyright



Copyright © 2011 KAY SPRINGSTEEN



Cover Art Designed By Elaina Lee

Edited By J.D. Jordan




Dedication: First, this is for my Lord and
Savior, Jesus Christ, who continues to inspire me to fly even as He
shelters me beneath His wings.


Second, to my childhood friend, Jeanne
Ledingham Theunissen, not only for her endless hours of patiently
proofing my work and brainstorming, but for her steadfast
friendship, which has surpassed time and distance and continues to
prove that the true love of best friends overcomes both. Though we
came from different families, we both understand the meaning of
sisterhood with one another.


Third, to Carol Horn, Jeanne's mom, one of
the most loving mothers I've ever met and a second mom to me. She
took me under her wing the way Christ takes us all to Him, and she
never gave up on me. She has been a huge influence in the Christian
faith I have today.




Twenty-two years earlier

Sean sat on a big gray rock overlooking the
camp. For days, he'd watched the cattle being rounded up and the
calves driven into chutes where the hot irons would brand them with
marks that told who they belonged to. Everyone said it didn't
really hurt them but they always cried. And one time when he looked
at his mom she had tears in her eyes, too. It also stunk when the
brand was burned into the hide and the smell made him sick at his

His Aunt Alice told him that was just ranch
life and he'd best get used to it because he'd be doing it soon
enough. He didn't like Aunt Alice. She was creepy. But his mom
wanted him to be polite so he listened when Aunt Alice talked to
him and never gave her any backtalk.

He could ride a horse. He'd been riding
since before he could remember. But his dad said he had to wait
another year, when he would be eight, before he could help round up
the cattle. So Sean just sat and watched.

The rounding up and branding had stopped
suddenly yesterday afternoon, though, with a lot of yelling and
scurrying, when his brother, Ryan, had returned to the camp calling
for their dad. Then everyone with a horse had ridden off into the
hills really fast. They'd been gone a long time. Sean had sat on
the rock and waited because that's what his mom had told him to do
just before she rode off to find some lost cows. The back of his
neck had tickled like ants were crawling there and he hadn't liked

It had been dark when his father came for
him, but Sean had never considered moving from the rock where his
mom had left him. His daddy's face had been very sad as he'd told
Sean that his mother wasn't coming home. There had been an accident
and the river had taken her away. Sean had asked if she would be
back the next day instead and his dad had hugged him hard, and said
his mom was in Heaven and couldn't come home ever again.

Later, Ryan had brought him a hotdog and
some beans. He'd even cut the hotdog into pieces and mixed it in
with the beans the way Mom had always done it. Ryan had sat with
Sean for a long time. He hadn't cried but he was sad. He'd said
that their mom was dead, but she'd wanted Sean to know she loved

Ry had helped Sean get his sleeping bag
ready for the night, and then he'd lain next to him talking about
the stars the way their mom always did. Sean hadn't fallen asleep
and he didn't think his brother had, either.

After he ate the oatmeal Ryan made him for
breakfast, Sean had climbed back on the big gray rock because
that's where his mom had put him.

The branding was still stopped. The people
riding out were sad and when they came back to the camp, they
didn't bring any cattle.

"What do you think's happening?" The little
girl with hair the color of sunshine climbed onto the rock next to
him and sat down, dangling her legs over the edge.

"Ry says they're looking for my mom because
she fell in the river." Sean turned to look at the girl.

He'd seen her around with her father, Mr.
Mitchell. Sometimes she sat in front of him on his horse. Her hair
was really bright yellow, kind of like Sean's own hair. But his
skin was dark and hers was very white. Her big blue eyes made Sean
think of the sky. She was little and delicate like the china doll
his mom had on her dresser at home.

Sean couldn't stop looking at her.

"My name's Melanie." She kicked her feet
back and forth. "Do you think they'll find your mama soon?"

Sean lifted one shoulder. "I don't know. Ry
says she's dead."

"Oh." Melanie looked at him. "When my cat
was dead, we put her in a box and buried her in Mama's rose

"I saw a dead calf once." Sean stared out
over the prairie. "It was just layin' there. Its nose was blue and
it looked kind of flat, like an old balloon. Dad called Mr. Tom and
he put it on a truck and took it away."

"Oh." She picked up a stick and threw it off
the rock into some prairie grass. "What do you think they'll do
with your mama?"

Sean shrugged again. "Dunno. I just
wish—wish she could come home again." His chin quivered and his
eyes filled with tears, and he clenched his jaw tight. He didn't
want to cry in front of Melanie.

She moved closer to him and put one of her
thin arms over his shoulders. They sat like that for a while. Her
body was warm and he didn't feel so alone with her there.

"Look!" Melanie pointed excitedly toward a
bluff not far away.

A big bay horse stood watching them, head
up, ears pricked forward. The light breeze stirred his mane and
tail, but otherwise the horse was completely still.

Sean thought he'd never seen anything so
powerful. The horse snorted and tossed his head, then wheeled
around and left the bluff.

Melanie's innocent smile lit her pale blue
eyes from the inside. "I want to ride a horse like that someday. I
bet it'd be fun going real fast on his back."

That was when Sean decided he liked Melanie
with the sunshiny hair even more than he liked horses.

Chapter One


Present Day

The letter sat next to the register behind
the bar. It might as well have been a rattlesnake. It bore a
sender's name but no return address, though it was postmarked in
Des Moines, Iowa. Denny DeVayne; Mel couldn't remember if she'd
ever seen her brother's name written out before. She had seen his
freakishly neat handwriting, and recognized that now. But he was
part of the life she'd walked away from the second she'd turned
eighteen, some eleven years earlier. Nothing good would be
contained in that letter and she didn't want to open it. So,
treating it like the snake the letter reminded her of, Mel went out
of her way to avoid it. She should just chuck it in the trash

But something stopped her. So it sat. Later,
she would take it up to her apartment and put it with the other
unopened letters; the ones she'd received since early May.




With a whistle on his lips and a spring in
his step, Sean crossed the short distance from stable to house. It
had been a good day. If he was very lucky it would be an even
better evening, as long as he got his sorry tail to Valentine's
where Mel was tending bar.

Rounding the corner of the house, he pulled
up short at the sight of the gawky redheaded teen leaning against
the railing on the back step. His chin was propped on one hand.
With the other hand, he fiddled with an MP3 player. When he saw
Sean, he popped out his Earbuds.

Tinny voices and a heavy metallic beat
blasted from the tiny speakers, painting the insane image of an
all-cockroach rock band in Sean's head. He raised an eyebrow. "Kid,
you're gonna go deaf."

"Hi, Sean." Ricky laughed nervously. "You
sound just like Da—ah, Justin."

Sean suppressed his smile at the kid's near
slip of the tongue. Though they weren't related by blood, he'd
settled into the role of Ricky's big brother over the past year and
a half, and it felt pretty good. The boy's mother wasn't in a
position to take care of him and his grandparents had rejected him.
Too bad for them. They didn't know what they were missing. But
their loss was the McGee family's gain.

"Get locked out?" asked Sean.

Ricky looked up at the kitchen window, a
pensive expression on his face. "They were doing it again. I didn't
want to go in."

Sean sighed. He didn't have to ask who
"they" were or what they were doing.

Right on cue, the clatter of cookware being
slammed together filtered through the kitchen window. Sean shied
away from the back of the house in case the sound was followed by
something heavy.

"I don't need a babysitter!"

He flinched at the angry voice of his
sister-in-law, Sandy, currently the sole feminine touch at the
Cross MC ranch. He didn't have to ask who she was yelling at. Only
one person ticked her off that much these days.

"I'd just feel better if you weren't out
here alone." And there he was, Sean's brother, Ryan, trying to
placate with a calm tone.

Sean grimaced and glanced at Ricky. "They
been at it long?"

Ricky lifted his shoulders and heaved a huge
sigh before he settled into a resigned slouch. "Since before I got
home from work about ten minutes ago."

The sound of breaking glass
was followed by an angry shriek. "Oh! You are such a bossy

"What in Sam Hill are you two doing in

"Oh, jeez. They got Dad's
attention. Now
don't want to go in there." Sean cocked his head at Ricky. The
kid's face was crowded with angst and confusion. It was hard enough
being a kid of just seventeen without wondering if his happy home
was going to remain happy, especially when the boy hadn't had
anything close to a happy home until he'd been almost sixteen. Sean
shot him a conspiratorial grin. "If I show you the alternative
entrance, do you promise not to use it for sneaking out at

Ricky nodded emphatically. He gestured at
his dark jeans and western shirt, the unofficial uniform for his
job as busboy at Valentine's Bar and Grill. "I just want to get out
of these geeky clothes so I can chill."

Sean tilted his head the other way. "I don't
know. . . ." Then he grinned again, because he really did know.
Ricky was a pretty good kid, who tended to hang at home rather than
go out and get in trouble. Sean, himself, had raised more Cain as a
kid than Ricky did.

"But I'm
," said Sandy in the

"Come on." Sean led Ricky to the far side of
the house.

The cottonwood tree had been standing since
before Sean was born. It now soared close to a hundred feet with an
impressive canopy that spread like an umbrella over the southern
exposure of the house. That just happened to be the side Sean's
bedroom window faced. And one of the tree's branches just happened
to be growing right outside his window. There had been a few times
as a teen when Sean had felt the need to sneak in after curfew.

BOOK: Elusive Echoes
8.59Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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