Read Calico Online

Authors: Raine Cantrell

Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #FICTION/Romance/Western


Raine Cantrell

Diversion Books
A Division of Diversion Publishing Corp.
443 Park Avenue South, Suite 1004
New York, NY 10016

Copyright © 1993 by
Theresa DiBenedetto
All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book or portions thereof in any form whatsoever.

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events or locales is entirely coincidental.

For more information, email
[email protected]

First Diversion Books edition October 2013

Also by Raine Cantrell

The Homecoming
Silver Mist
Western Winds
Desert Sunrise
Tarnished Hearts
Darling Annie
Whisper My Name

To Ange and Kathy, special daughters, special friends, who have found their own McCreadys in Jim and Bob.

Chapter 1

“M-maggie! Maggie! Come runnin’ with your gun. They stole your groom.”

The door to the one-room cabin burst open before Mary Margaret O’Roarke could move. Pamela Burton stumbled inside, clutching her side. “I ran … all the … w-way.” The young woman’s chest heaved with every breath she drew.

“Was I hearin’ you right?” Maggie turned from the cracked mirror over the washstand. The dreamy look brought on by her approaching wedding disappeared. She felt as breathless as Pam looked, swaying for a few seconds. But Maggie never let any feminine weakness show, and wouldn’t do so now.

“Oh, Maggie, you look so … so pretty.”

“Never mind me. What happened to Quincy?”

“Your groom was nervous as a church mouse waiting for you,” Pam explained, fanning herself with one hand. “Pa said for him to take a walk around, but Quincy didn’t want to get his boots dirty. Then the circuit preacher arrived, and Miss Mae showed him into her parlor when in they came from the back door.” Pam spread her fingers and rested her hand over her heart. “Five of them, guns drawn, mean and ugly sounding. Two grabbed hold of poor Quincy and dragged him outside. Miss Mae was near to fainting.” Wringing her hands, she added, “I didn’t know what to do first. But Pa’s getting together some men to go after them.”

Maggie winced as Pam’s voice climbed with shrill excitement. She knew the girl’s father had declared his intent to see an end to the lawlessness in the rough New Mexico mining camp. Andrew Burton hadn’t been able to do much in the few months he’d been there. First Maggie’s uncle had been murdered, and now her groom had been stolen just minutes away from their wedding. With Quincy gone, it could mean the end of her dreams.

A low growl came from beneath the single wooden bunk built against the corner of the cabin, causing Pam to flinch.

“Hush up, Satin,” Maggie ordered, ripping out the flowers she had labored to secure in her short riot of red curls. She tossed them into the washbowl with a stab of regret, then comforted herself with the thought that they had looked silly. Maggie knew she was not a woman for frills no matter how much they mattered to Quincy.

. For a moment Maggie forgot Pam, forgot what happened. Quincy loved her. He had told her so. He was going to take her East and show her how ladies dressed and behaved. Her hands would never be raw and scraped or stiff with the numbing cold of mountain streams again.

“Maggie? Are you all right?”

Coming to with a start, Maggie nodded. “That I am. You’d be knowin’ I’m hard enough to handle all that comes me way.”

“You don’t look hard today. You look soft and pretty, the way a woman should.”

With a shake of her head Maggie denied the glow that Pam’s words brought to her. Soft and pretty? She eyed Pam, who was still twisting her hands together in a helpless manner. Maggie shuddered. Is that what Quincy expected from her? To be soft and pretty and helpless as Pam? If she was, she wouldn’t be getting her groom back for sure.

“Did you get a look at them, Pam?”

“Not at their faces. They were all wearing dark bandannas over their mouths and had their hats pulled low so I couldn’t even see their eyes. Don’t think anyone had the time to get a good look at them. It all happened so fast.”

“What about their horses?”

“Horses? Maggie, I was so busy fanning Miss Mae that I didn’t even think about watching them ride off. Anyway, what good would seeing their horses do? Horses all look alike.”

Saints save her from weak-kneed females
. Maggie finally realized she was wasting time while the thieves got away. Without a care for the half-done buttons up the back of her new calico gown that was to have been her wedding dress, Maggie lifted her gunbelt off the stubby bedpost and strapped it on.

“Can’t understand why someone just didn’t shoot them.”

“They couldn’t, Maggie. None of the men there had their guns. It wouldn’t have been fitting for a wedding.” With a delicate shudder Pam gnawed her lower lip. “Maggie, don’t you think you should change? I mean,” she explained, motioning with one hand, “you’re sure to ruin your gown.” Maggie’s glaring look silenced her, but Pam knew that Miss Mae would be hurt after she had rushed to make Maggie’s wedding dress.

With a shrug Maggie said, “Guess you’re right. But I can’t be worryin’. McCready ain’t gettin’ away with stealin’ me groom.”

“McCready! Oh, Maggie, what makes you so sure that he had anything to do with this?”

“Know that polecat better than anyone. He’s behind this. I’ll cut that snake’s liver out and feed it to him this time.”

Pam gasped, one hand clutching her throat. Maggie had picked up a wickedly honed knife from out of the clutter on the table and tucked it into a sheath concealed in her boot.

Wisely, Pam refrained from answering her. She knew that Maggie’s wasn’t an idle boast. Maggie had learned to skin hides from her father before she had learned to ride, and could, if she was of a mind to, skin McCready alive before he downed a glass of that whiskey he was so fond of.

Maggie straightened and buried her regret for the second time today. She had thought this day would be special, a new beginning. Here she was once more forced to defend what was hers. She lifted the Beal Army Model revolver from its holster. The .44 caliber gun with its eight-inch-long barrel and polished walnut grips was made the year she had been born. Twenty-one years of use, first by her father, then herself, told its own tale of the lawless lands she had lived in.

While Maggie fiddled with her gun, Pam sighed with pity to see the discarded black kid high-buttoned shoes. Maggie was never going to be Quincy’s ideal lady if she refused to give up her worn boots to wear proper shoes. But then, Pam reminded herself, the last few weeks of trying to turn Maggie into Quincy’s idea of a lady had been just that: trying.

Satin crept out from under the bunk, and Pam cringed when the dog dragged forth the mangled remains of a bustle only to drop it as Maggie headed for the door. Pam stood aside to let her pass, wincing, then refusing to listen to the plans Maggie had for McCready’s body. She wouldn’t have minded making a few plans of her own for the man, but McCready wouldn’t look twice at her. The Lord knew she had tried, but with his wicked smile and those incredible blue eyes holding her a breathless captive, he had stated flatly that sweet, nice, respectable young women were not for the likes of him. Pam squeezed her thighs together, flushing with the warmth that filled her at the thought of McCready.

Satin’s muscular furred body brushed Pam’s skirt and forced her flat against the rough-logged door. Another low warning growl came from the mongrel bitch’s throat. Pam heeded the warning. Satin hated anyone getting too close to Maggie.

Shutting the door behind her, Pam followed Maggie and the trailing dog across the wooden bridge over the swift flowing waters of Mineral Creek. She was embarrassed when Maggie, with her accustomed lack of understanding for proper ladylike behavior, hiked her hem above her knees. Shaking her head, Pam thought that if McCready was behind the kidnapping of Quincy, as Maggie believed, he had gone too far this time. It didn’t take the brain of a peahen to see that Maggie was riled, stomping through mud ruts without care, heading down the gulch to what passed for the street.

Pam thought about calling out to Maggie and telling her that the back of her gown was only half-buttoned. With Maggie’s short hair, the flapping gown revealed an indecent amount of skin. But an angry Maggie meant no one in Cooney Camp with a lick of sense tried to tell her anything or tried to stop her unless they had a death wish.

In the four months they had lived here with her father, Pam had witnessed Maggie taking on hard miners who outweighed her and coming out without a scratch. Her first sight of Maggie, who she thought was a young boy, had been of her straddling a mud-strewn man while she fed him a handful of the mud that covered them both. It was later that she had learned the man called Maggie as crazy as her uncle and as likely to wind up dead if she didn’t stop thinking she was as tough as a man. Maggie was strong, but even as Pam sometimes envied that strength, she would never give up her own dainty ways.

Tents, log cabins, and shacks crowded against one another along the main street. Ahead, Pam saw Maggie’s shouted command stop a group of mounted men. Since her father was among them, Pam hurried closer to hear what was being said. “Where’s the sidewinder, Andrew?”

Lean as a pole fence, Andrew Burton tipped his hat back, revealing the same straw-colored hair as his daughter. He and the men with him didn’t ask who Maggie called a sidewinder. They all knew what she thought of McCready.

“Well, now, he was over to Miss Mae’s with us. No one wanted to miss your wedding. But after those men grabbed hold of Quincy, he headed back to the Rawhider.”

“Likely laughing himself into a fit over pullin’ this off,” Maggie muttered.

“Ain’t so sure, girl,” Ira Jarvis said, rubbing his sparsely whiskered chin. “Know all ’bout his threats to stop the weddin’, but he was a mite taken back when those men busted in and stole Quincy.”

“An’ you believed his actin’? The man comes from a long line of Scot thieves. Did you expect him to be admittin’ that he planned this? You all know that varmint wants me mines, and he’ll do anythin’ to stop me from gettin’ enough money together to open them. Didn’t he undercut me freightin’ prices so that I had to close down? But I swear I’ll fix him. That Scot reiver won’t win with his lies.”

“Now, Maggie,” Ira cautioned, “don’t be lettin’ that temper of yours get you into—”

“Maggie’s right.”

The simple statement drew all attention to Lee Warren. He walked his horse up from the back of the group. “It was McCready who insisted that all weapons be left at his saloon. If we’d been armed, those men would’ve had a fight on their hands when they came for Quincy. And McCready’s the one that delayed opening the door so we could have our guns and let them get a good start on us. Funny, too, he ain’t riding with us.”

Several men nodded, and reluctantly Ira had to agree. “Gotta point. But Mohawk and McCready were friends. Don’t see Maggie’s uncle trustin’ a scoundrel.”

“More’s the pity he did,” Maggie said, turning to Lee. “Thank you for agreein’ with me. I’ll hope that you find their trail. I’ll catch up after I see McCready.”

“Want me to come with you, Maggie? Don’t cotton to you facing him alone.”

Maggie heard the iron beneath his softly voiced offer. She studied his lean, dark face, the features cut as sharp and clean as a knife blade. She took no offense at his words. Lee was one of a handful of men who had come to know her, accepted her as she was, and respected her abilities, even if at first he tried to be more than friends. She shook her head and stepped back out of the way, remembering the rumors that followed Lee’s arrival in the mining camp four months ago just when the Burtons arrived. Lee’s claim to be a miner was riddled with holes. He didn’t know enough about mining to fill one of Miss Mae’s thimbles. Now, if someone had told her that he rode the outlaw trail, she wouldn’t have fluttered an eyelash. Lee was mighty comfortable with his gun, as she had seen for herself when he joined in the hunt for her uncle’s killer. Satin whined at her side, and Maggie absently scratched behind the dog’s ear.

“All right, girl. Let’s go find that bastard.”

Pamela smiled at each man as he rode by her. She debated with herself over following Maggie down to the Rawhider saloon to witness the kill. Wisdom dictated otherwise. Pam headed for the three-room log cabin that housed her father’s mercantile. Her delicate stomach couldn’t stand the sight of blood. Especially if it was going to be McCready’s.

Maggie walked in the center of the road that wound its way through the canyon. The Mogollon Mountains cast their rugged shadows over this second mining camp. Clairmont on Copper Creek had been the first. Her uncle had told her tales of the constant Indian raids the miners suffered while they exploded the ledges of the canyon in hopes of finding gold-bearing ore. A sudden chill swept over her. The same sense that had warned Mohawk Pete when the Apache would attack and kept him alive, the sense he claimed she had, now warned her that trouble was coming.

She shrugged it off in seconds. She knew from the moment the news of her uncle’s death reached her that she would have trouble aplenty. Pete’s claims were rich. How rich, no one really knew. All she needed was enough money to begin mining them. Money that marrying Quincy Kessnick was going to provide.

And McCready wasn’t going to find a hole to crawl into anywhere in the New Mexico Territory if he didn’t return her groom.

Dutch Malone, the Rawhider’s barkeep, six feet tall and half as wide, barred Maggie’s way up the three planked steps leading to the saloon.

“Step aside and let me by.”

“Maggie, I can’t let you inside with a gun.”

“I know that lyin’, cheatin’, no-count jackass is hidin’ in there. You afeared I’ll shoot him on sight?”

“Yeah. That’s a first thought. The second being that you might be the one to get hurt.”

“Then come inside with me, Dutch, and see that I don’t, if it’ll set your mind at ease. But around you or over you I’m goin’ inside.”

Dutch planted his hands on his hips, glaring at her. He liked Maggie, truly he did, but when the boss put him between them, like now, he wished he had stayed in New York.

“Ah, Maggie, ’pears you’re in a fine temper.”

“That I am.” She tried to dodge around him, not wanting to draw on Dutch since he was only following McCready’s orders, but Maggie knew that if Dutch didn’t want to step aside, nothing short of shooting him would get him to budge.

“Dutch, you and Pete were such good friends. How can you be protectin’ that polecat from me? I never thought to see the likes.”

“Don’t be turning that Irish charm on me, Maggie. The man pays me a fine wage to see that his orders are carried out.” Folding his massive arms across his chest, Dutch stood firm. “Since you’re the one reminding me that I was good friends with your uncle, I need to say that McCready wants to see you safe and settled, Maggie. More than once I’ve heard him say that you needed a man to be … er, well, helping you. Even Pete said as much.”

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