Read The Peacemaker Online

Authors: Chelley Kitzmiller

Tags: #romance, #historical, #paranormal, #Western, #the, #fiction, #Grant, #West, #Tuscon, #Indian, #Southwest, #Arizona, #Massacre, #Cochise, #supernatural, #Warriors, #Apache, #territory, #Camp, #American, #Wild, #Wind, #Old, #of, #Native

The Peacemaker (9 page)

BOOK: The Peacemaker
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Prudence stood on the other side of the threshold. "You will tell me as soon as you know, won't you?"

"I'm sure you'll hear before I do." She started to pull the door closed. "I'm sorry, but you'll have to excuse me. I've got to put this kitchen in order." She closed the door and leaned against it, half expecting Prudence to try to open it. When she didn't, Indy breathed a sigh of relief. She threw open a cupboard and jumped when the door banged against the wall. Chips of adobe broke loose and fell on top of her shoe.

"Oh, fiddlesticks!" She shook the adobe off her shoe and stared down at the floor. Prudence wasn't even trying to hide her excitement about Shatto coming to Bowie. After what Opal had said, it seemed to Indy that Prudence was asking for trouble by allowing her fascination for the Apache to show. Certainly no good could come from it. Just that one instance yesterday—and already there was talk and speculation. Didn't Prudence care what everyone thought?

Anger gave her speed and she put the kitchen to rights in no time, then returned to her quarters, just in time to see a courier arrive. He went directly to the adjutant's office.

Not ten minutes later her father came storming in the front door.

"How dare he do this to me? First he denies me the assignment I apply for, then he sends me out to this poor excuse of a fort—the biggest joke in the Army—and now—now this!"

"Father, for heaven's sake what happened?"

From his pocket he withdrew a small bottle of whiskey. He upended the bottle and took several large swallows. He wiped his mouth on his sleeve, shocking her with his crudeness. "I've just received a message from our esteemed President that I am to be
visited
by one of his newly appointed Indian commissioners." He plucked the letter out of his pocket and began to read. " 'IT HAS COME TO MY ATTENTION THAT THE SITUATION THERE AT CAMP BOWIE HAS BECOME CRITICAL. NUMEROUS COMPLAINTS HAVE BEEN RECEIVED REGARDING YOUR DENIAL OF MILITARY ESCORTS FOR CIVILIANS THROUGH APACHE PASS. I AM ALSO APPRISED OF AN INCREASE IN RAIDS ON OUTLYING RANCHES, FREIGHT WAGONS, AND TRAVELERS, WHICH HAS RESULTED IN GREAT MONETARY LOSS AND A NUMBER OF DEATHS. I ASK THAT YOU PLEASE COOPERATE WITH MR. MORELAND SO THAT HE MIGHT RECOMMEND NEEDED CHANGES AND IMPROVEMENTS.' " He stopped and looked down at Indy, then wadded the paper and threw it against the wall.

Indy didn't know what to say. It seemed peculiar that the President would send a man—a civilian—who had absolutely
no
military experience to scrutinize the methods of a career soldier.

The colonel took another long swallow and sat down at the table by the window. "If it weren't for me Grant would have never made it out of West Point. The only thing he was good at was horsemanship. As far as his studies . . ." The colonel glanced up at the ceiling and guffawed.

Indy knew her father had always resented Grant's rise to success. He could never understand how a tanner's son could achieve what he, the son of a well-educated politician, could not.

She took the seat next to him. "Perhaps it would be wise to take Captain Nolan's advice and invite Shatto to come and train the troops. I know it's against everything you believe in, but it's very different here than what you're used to, and it's true that you aren't dealing with civilized men who fight by rules. At the very least, with Shatto here, you could show the Indian commissioner that you're making an effort to improve the situation."

He stared at the whiskey bottle that he held in front of him on the table. "I wish Justice were here. He'd know what to do."

"He'd tell you the same thing I'm telling you, Father. I know he would."

There was a long pause during which Indy watched her father's face undergo any number of emotions and expressions: anger, petulance, contemplation and finally elation.

"Perhaps he would," he said, a slow, devious smile playing about his lips.

Indy knew that look. It made her uneasy.

"If the troops were properly trained," he said musingly, "there's no telling what they might be able to accomplish. Who knows but they might be able to find Cochise's stronghold. If I could capture Cochise . . ." He looked up at Indy with an oddly smug expression that told her he was thinking ahead of himself, to what might be gained by such a feat. He stood up suddenly and walked toward the door. Speaking to her from over his left shoulder, he said, "You're right, Independence. Justice would have indeed suggested what you just suggested. Thank you for pointing it out." With that he opened the door and walked out.

Word of Colonel Taylor's decision was out within an hour after he had left his quarters. All the gamblers who had correctly bet on the decision were promptly paid and new bets were laid on everything from whether or not Captain Nolan could find Shatto and convince him to come back with him, to who would and wouldn't be picked for the special training.

Still, it was several days before Captain Nolan was given the go-ahead to travel, and even then he had to wear his left arm in a sling to limit movement so the shoulder wound could heal properly.

At reveille, ten days after Indy's arrival at Bowie, Captain Nolan took twenty men and left to find and make contact with Shatto. The detachment was equipped with enough food, water, and ammunition to last several days. The whole garrison turned out to watch them leave . . . and then they waited.

It was hot. The unusually cool September weather had disappeared the morning Captain Nolan left. The sky was calico blue and cloudless. A swift shadow shot over the stables, causing Indy to look up. It was a large hawk. It began flying in a big circle, tilting and turning its wings against the sky as it watched the ground below. The bird was a magnificent sight to behold—all grace and beauty. She couldn't take her eyes off it. It dove suddenly, straight as an arrow, stretching taloned feet to brake against the air and disappeared behind the corral. Barely an instant later it winged upward holding a wiggling, screaming rodent in its talons and soared away.

Indy grimaced as she watched the hawk fly over the mountain behind the camp, then continued on her way back to her quarters, anxious to get out of the heat. She had barely stepped inside when she heard the distant pounding of hooves. Turning, she squinted into the bright sunshine. The detachment was returning. The entire body appeared in the form of a single mirage, an undulating watery image that shimmered and sparkled.

They rode in a neat column, two by two at a slow canter. Indy crossed her arms nervously. Anticipation that had been simmering inside her since the detachment left now burst into full boil. Shatto rode out in front beside Captain Nolan. He appeared the same as she remembered him, yet different in some inexplicable way. The past and present came together making her stomach muscles twist and knot.

Wearing a light blue, loose-fitting shirt, slashed down the front, he sat straight and tall on his pinto—an imperious desert nomad—one sun-dark, sinewy hand loosely holding the reins, the other at rest atop his leg.

He was as unlike the slouching troopers he rode with as a horse was to a burro. It didn't have so much to do with appearance as with bearing. It was common knowledge that the Apaches were a proud people, but this Apache brave carried his pride before him like a war shield for all to see.

A faded red headband was wrapped around his forehead and he'd rolled his sleeves to just below his elbows. Around his lean waist was the leather cartridge belt Indy had seen that other time; the sun glinted off the bright brass bullets now as it had then. His legs were encased in snug-fitting buckskin breeches painted with yellow and green stripes and symbols, and his feet were thrust in tall moccasins.

The main body of troopers veered off and headed for the stables, while the captain and Shatto continued on, cutting diagonally across the parade ground to the adjutant's office, east of Officers' Row. They dismounted, tied their horses to the hitching post and walked inside.

The sound of running footsteps dragged Indy's attention away. "I knew Nolan would bring him back," Prudence said, panting from her exertions. Her cheeks were apple-red and her eyes shone like bits of colored glass. "I'd give anything to know what enticement he used. He must have promised him something, made some sort of bargain. Of course, you'll tell me when you find out, won't you?"

"Well, I—I don't know," Indy stammered. "It really isn't any of my—"

"Oh, come on now. We're friends, remember?" Prudence wheedled.

Resentment doused the fire of excitement. "What makes you think I'll find out?"

Prudence sighed with impatience. "Because you're the colonel's daughter for heaven's sake! I doubt there's very much going on around here that your father doesn't tell you."

From the corner of her eye, Indy saw Shatto come out of the adjutant's office, Captain Nolan and her father right behind him. The three of them started walking toward Officers' Row. "I'm sorry, Prudence," she said without a trace of sorrow, "but as you can see, I'm about to have some guests." She pointed in the direction of the adjutant's office, and while Prudence's attention was diverted, she moved inside and closed the door.

Trying to think what to do first, she stood in the middle of the parlor and stared at the far wall. Then she hurried to her bedroom. There wasn't time to change her dress—a mint-green muslin with white trim around the sleeves and collar. It wasn't the dress she would have chosen to greet guests in, but it would have to do.

Bending toward the mirror that she'd hung over her toilette table—two calico-covered crates salvaged from the quartermaster's—she fussed with her hair. As usual, the sides had escaped from the knot at the back of her head. No matter how long her hair grew, they came loose and fell over her ears. With shaking fingers she smoothed the traitorous wisps back and tucked them into the knot, then she pinched her cheeks, which, she noticed too late, were already flushed, as apple-red as Prudence's had been. The heat, she thought, placing the fault where she willed it to belong rather than where she knew it belonged.

She heard Captain Nolan's voice and started for the parlor, then stopped before reaching the bedroom door. "You can't go out there and greet them until you've composed yourself," she told herself in a whispered warning. She stared at the door and took several deep breaths, which had no effect at all. Next, she tried closing her eyes and leaning her head back, but that too failed to bring her the desired calm she sought. At length she gave up, realizing it was useless.

"Ah, there you are, Independence," said the colonel, walking toward her. "I was wondering if you had come back from the quartermaster's."

"Y-yes, just m-minutes ago." Her voice croaked like a frog. She hoped nobody else noticed.

"So Prudence Stallard told me." He stood directly in front of her, blocking her from seeing the two men behind him. "I wanted to be able to speak to Captain Nolan and our guest in private. My office has grown ears as long as an Army mule's. You will, of course, make certain we aren't disturbed?"

She knew he was referring to the last time he'd conducted business in quarters and she had stayed in the parlor. "You needn't worry, Father," she said flatly. He nodded and turned away.

"Afternoon, ma'am," said the captain, removing his hat as he stepped farther into the parlor. It was covered with trail dust, which sifted to the floor when he turned it over.

"Good afternoon, Captain. I see you were successful in locating Shatto."

"Yes, ma'am. That I was."

Her father had already sat down at the head of the table and was thumbing through a sheaf of papers. Indy motioned for the captain to take the seat on her father's left.

She had discreetly avoided looking at the Apache since he'd come into the parlor, but she had
felt
him—felt his strength, his power. It pulled at her like a magnet and though she had been able to resist at first, she couldn't now.
He
wouldn't let her.

He had appeared incredibly tall to her before when she had been sitting in the ambulance, but he seemed even taller now that she was standing near him, and she had to lift her chin to meet his gaze.

It was a mistake, an unavoidable one, but a mistake all the same. His head was tilted at an arrogant angle, and he was watching her—had been watching her all along, since the moment he'd stepped inside. He was like that hawk that had circled the sky to watch the rodent.

And worse than simply being watched was that he seemed to know she was avoiding him. She was certain of it. She could see it in his expression. It was as if he could read her mind . . . and see into her heart. She forced a smile, praying she was wrong. "You can sit there," she said, indicating the chair at the other end of the table. When he didn't make a move to seat himself, she remembered that he didn't speak English. She walked over to the chair and pointed her index finger at him. "You," she said, then moved her hand down and patted the air above the seat. "Sit."

With the barest hint of a smile he moved toward the chair.

The captain swiveled around. "Ah, Miss Taylor? I think you should know—"

"It's all right, Captain," she cut in, assuring him. "He understands me now."

Shatto brushed her arm as he walked past to take his seat. Her nostrils flared at the scent of him, a wild and heady combination of earth and fire. It was a purely masculine scent, yet she knew it belonged only to him.

She stared at him long after he sat down. It was only when her father cleared his throat that she remembered her manners. "Perhaps you would like some refreshments? Coffee? Lemonade?"

"Coffee's good," said her father.

"Yes, I'd like a cup of coffee," agreed the captain.

Indy looked at Shatto, then back at the captain. "I'll get him some coffee too." She hurried out the back door.

Never in her life had she been so relieved to vacate a room. She picked up her skirt and ran as fast as her legs would carry her the thirty feet to the kitchen where she leaned against the door and breathed a sigh of relief.

Indy prolonged her kitchen duties for as long as she could. By the time she reentered the parlor, her father was well into explaining the difficulties he was up against in his efforts to control the Apaches. She pitied the captain who would have to translate his windy oration. Keeping as quiet as possible she moved across the room and set the coffee tray down between Captain Nolan and Shatto. With a thick towel wrapped around the metal handle, she poured a cup for her father and pushed it toward him, then a cup for the captain. Last, she tilted the pot over the Apache's cup and started to pour.

BOOK: The Peacemaker
11.02Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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