Hearts in Defiance (Romance in the Rockies Book 2) (5 page)

BOOK: Hearts in Defiance (Romance in the Rockies Book 2)
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“Eleanor here has called in a favor,” Earp said, a scowl
expressing his opinion of this development.

Billy didn’t understand. His
gaze ricocheted back and forth between the two.

“It is within my capacity as
marshal,” Earp continued, “to drop the charges and return to you your fine
horse.” A pair of keys materialized in his hand and he unlocked the cell door.
He looked at Eleanor. “We’re square?”

Eleanor slapped him on the
arm. “We’re square.”

Earp cast an irritated
glance back at Billy. “Your horse is out back. Now, get out of Dodge.” He
didn’t wait for a response. Earp turned and let himself out into the orange
glow of sunset.

Eleanor shifted away from
the cell door. “Earp confiscated the bets. They’re in your saddle bag—minus my
winnings. Seems that since you
finished
the race, you won it.”

Billy shook his head in
amazement and pushed open the door. His freedom and his money had been given
back to him through the kindness of a woman he’d met only hours before. “Why
are you helping me?”

Eleanor shrugged, dropped
her gaze to her feet. “It’s what needed to be done.”

“But why?”

He waited, needing to hear
her explanation. She pursed her lips, thinking. “I was a Hannah.” She raised
her head as the confession left her lips, her eyes swimming with memories. “But
no one ever came for me.”

Billy felt as if he’d been
punched again by Earl H. Goode. For the first time, he noticed the sadness in
the lines of her face, and it cut him deep.

What kind of man left a
trail like that?                      

A man like me.

Holy God, had he done that
to Hannah? The thought horrified him. He’d never contemplated for one second
the ashes he might have left her in. Oh, sure, she would have cried, but he’d
figured she’d go on with her life. What if he’d left Hannah empty and used up
like Eleanor? Had the sparkle left
her
shimmering ocean-blue eyes? Did
the smile on the sweetest lips he’d ever tasted mask a broken heart now? If he
found Hannah to be a shell of a girl like this, he’d spend the rest of his life
trying to make it up to her.

But what if there was no
coming back from this? What if Hannah was in Defiance, wasting away? Hell or
high water, he had to make this right and give her a measure of peace.

Deeply troubled, he took
Eleanor’s hand in his. “Thank you, Eleanor. Thank you for giving me a second
chance. And tell Earp I’ll keep swinging.”

~~~

 

 

Five

 

 

Hannah Frink snapped a red-checked tablecloth into the air and let
it drift like a snowflake onto the table
. As it
floated down, it revealed Emilio stacking firewood in the dining room’s
fireplace. The spring day was warm, but here in the Rockies the temperature
plummeted after sunset. One of Emilio’s duties as the hotel handyman was to
keep the fireplaces and stoves always ready for a fire. Felling trees and
chopping them into firewood not only made the girls’ lives easier, the job had
turned a scrawny, teenage boy into a young man with broad shoulders.

Surprised by her thoughts,
Hannah blinked, flung her long blonde ponytail over her shoulder, and commenced
smoothing out the wrinkles in the tablecloth. Lately, her friendship with
Emilio, the boy she and her sisters had rescued from a life in Mr. McIntyre’s
saloon, had changed. Or at least in
her
mind it had. She would find
herself admiring those shoulders or that warm, sweet smile he always had ready
for her and her son, Little Billy. Emilio had one dimple on his left cheek that
only showed when he grinned a certain way. And being so fair herself, she was
captivated by his tawny skin and straight, shoulder-length black hair, evidence
of his Mexican heritage.

Emilio cleared his throat,
drawing Hannah’s attention. He had emptied his arms and stood before her,
crushing his dusty hat in his hands. “I was wondering, Miss Hannah, if you and
Billy would like to go with me to pick yarrow?”

At first Hannah heard only
his voice, not his words. She loved the deep velvety sound of it and the way
his accent touched every syllable. Rather soft spoken, his voice fell like a
gentle spring rain.

She was taken aback by the
request, though, because of the subtle hope in his penetrating, dark eyes.
“Yes, of course … wait. What?” Why did this request feel different from the
dozens of times he’d asked her to help fetch firewood or supplies before? She
was babbling but couldn’t help it. “I’m sorry … help you pick what?”

His smile broadened, and
Hannah’s heart fluttered. A good two inches taller now than this time last
year, Emilio had turned into a handsome young man right in front of her. He
filled out that red plaid shirt nicely too. She rather liked the way his
muscles strained against the fabric as he shook his coal-black hair out of the
way and placed his hat back on his head. “Yarrow. Tomorrow, after the lunch
rush.” He dipped his head to pardon his exit, and rushed from the room like a
little boy with a secret.

Perplexed by the emotions
dancing around inside her, Hannah plucked another tablecloth from the stack on
the table beside her. She hadn’t even thought about another man since Billy had
run off. Goodness, she was sixteen, not sixty. Maybe it was time to be a young
girl again with a handsome beau on her arm. Well, two beaus, if she counted the
seven-month-old boy upstairs in his crib. She giggled at the thought and
decided to go check on the little cherub. These tablecloths weren’t going anywhere.

~~~

 

 

As promised, after lunch the next day, Hannah met Emilio out back
of the hotel, and he did indeed have a surprise. A small, but well-muscled,
black-and-white pinto nibbled greedily at an apple in his hand.

“Oh my, Emilio, where did
you get him?” She approached the horse slowly, hand extended to stroke his
nose.

Emilio wiped his hand on his
trousers and grinned proudly. “I saved all winter for him. He is good for
riding, and he can pull a small wagon.” She rubbed the animal’s nose gently and
wondered about the wisdom of putting such a small horse in hitch. “I was going
to lead him, but if you are not bringing Billy, do you want to ride?”

Hannah moved her hand to the
horse’s halter and hooked her fingers round it. She hadn’t been in a saddle in
over a year. Did she dare?

“He is very gentle,” Emilio
added. “That’s one reason I got him. In case you or your sisters need to fetch
the doctor. If Billy gets hurt, we don’t need to go for help on foot.”

Hannah glanced up, impressed
that Emilio had thought of that. Her admiration must have shown, for he cleared
his throat and moved away to check the stirrups and cinch. “I call him
Cochise,” he said, tugging on the right stirrup and, she thought, fastidiously
avoiding eye contact. “I met him once, the great Apache chief. He told me his
name means ‘strong like oak.’” Emilio moved around to the other side of the
small horse, trusting that Hannah still held the halter. “I thought that was a
good name for this boy.”

Warmed by Emilio’s
thoughtfulness, Hannah waited contentedly as he yanked and tugged on the
saddle. Moving on, he lifted the horse’s feet one by one to check the shoes.
She had a strong suspicion that he had already done this and was going through
the steps again to appear busy. Compliments and admiration of any kind made
Emilio uncomfortable.

“You have to tell me two
things, Emilio.”

He dropped Cochise’s rear
hoof and rested his arms on the horse’s rump, waiting expectantly.

“You have to tell me what
yarrow is, and you have to tell me how you met Cochise.”

~~~

 

 

“I told you once that banditos raided my parents’ ranch when I was
five.”  

Hannah tried to listen to Emilio, but contentment distracted her.
Riding behind him on Cochise, she closed her eyes and listened. As they crossed
a high mountain meadow, the soft buzz of bees and the musical whistle of spring
birds filled her mind. A few strands of hair had come loose from her pony tail
and danced in the light spring breeze, tickling her nose.

“They took Rose and me with
them. I don’t remember much, just traveling around with them, tending to their
horses.”

With her arms wrapped around
Emilio’s waist, she couldn’t help noticing how lean and strong he felt. And
he’d bought Cochise in case they needed to fetch a doctor for her son. Emilio’s
concern for Billy cast him in a more grown-up light, a more attractive light.

“Cochise came into our camp
one day to trade for horses.”

The mild day and the horse’s
rhythm relaxed her, and she smiled to herself as her cheek came to rest on
Emilio’s back. Almost dreaming, Hannah could see him as a small boy, feeding
the animals and fetching and toting for the bandits. She doubted it was a good
life, especially with his sister, that witch Rose, shouting orders at him. She
was so glad he had come to live with her and her sisters.

“I like that,” he said
rather huskily. “It makes me feel strong.”

She jolted away from him but
didn’t relinquish her grip around his waist. “What? Oh, I’m sorry, I almost
drifted off.” She replayed his words and the gentle tone he’d used. Unsure of
what he meant, she said simply, “You
are
strong, Emilio.”

They rode in silence. After
several minutes, she heard him sigh. “I know. I am like a brother.” He sounded
… disappointed?

Hannah’s head was spinning.
If this was anyone else but Emilio, she would swear he was trying to drop a
hint.

“Emilio,” she began.
Do
you think I’m pretty? Emilio, do you like me?
But she muttered instead,
“Sometimes I don’t know what you are.” She hadn’t really meant to let that out,
and her fingers clenched with embarrassment. His tan sweat-stained cowboy hat
bobbed as his gaze went to her hands. She wondered if she should pull them
away, but didn’t.

“I think …,” he spoke barely
above a whisper, “that may be a good thing.” 

Hannah could hear the smile
in his voice and leaned around his shoulder to peek up at him. Sure enough, he
was grinning.

She settled back in the
saddle and pondered him, hiding her own smile. “Emilio, you wouldn’t by any
chance be thinking about—oh!” He had kicked Cochise into a trot, and she had to
tighten her grip around him to keep from back-flipping right off the horse.

Courting me,
she had started to ask, but her courage had back-flipped off the
saddle. They trotted on for a good half hour. When they emerged from the trees,
the horse slowed to an easy walk.

“I dig the yarrow here.”

He tugged on the reins and
Cochise stopped. Emilio threw his leg over the saddle horn and slid to the
ground in a fluid, natural move. Hannah scanned the sun-washed alpine pasture
splashed with a vibrant palette of wildflowers. What did yarrow even look like?
“So now will you tell me what it is?”

“Medicine.” He helped her
dismount and then handed her Cochise’s reins. Spotting a plant, he bent down
and plucked a long green weed with lacey blossoms in a bunch on top. He held it
up for her to see, displaying it with pride as if it were a trophy. “Now is the
time to collect yarrow if you want to stop bleeding. You can also use the
leaves to make medicine for a cold and upset stomach. If you plant it in the
garden, it will also make your soil better.”

Impressed with his knowledge
of the herb, Hannah took the plant and studied it. The leaves were spindly, the
flowers small and delicate. She’d been doing a little nursing for Doc and told
herself she should ask him about this plant. It sounded like it had several
uses.

“In late spring we can use
it to make potions that will help heal skin rashes and make swelling go down.
You can even make snuff out of it.”

Hannah realized her mouth
was hanging open and snapped it shut. “How in the world do you know all this?”

He hesitated. “Rose knows
more than I do.”

The mere mention of his
sister gave Hannah a chill. Rose knew about herbs because she used them in her
witchcraft. Sitting in the state prison in Denver for shooting Mr. McIntyre,
she wasn’t doing much conjuring right now, much to Hannah’s satisfaction.

Emilio’s chin dipped a
little, as if apologizing. “Rose always collected the plants that made her
customers see things or go to sleep. But I found the herbs that could help
people.”

Hannah smiled. Emilio had to
be about the nicest boy she’d ever met. Billy Page was a fading watercolor of a
memory compared with him. Emilio’s stare shot past her and his face clouded.

“Get on the horse, Hannah.”

She didn’t miss the unease
in his voice and swiveled to see what had alarmed him. She sucked in a breath
at the shape of a man sitting above them on a ridge. Silhouetted by the sun,
she could make out the long lance he carried and the movement of feathers in
his hair.

“Get on the horse
now
.”

Hannah obeyed and hoisted
herself astride Cochise.

Emilio followed immediately,
sitting behind her this time, and kicked his mount into a gallop before Hannah
could blink. She squeezed the saddle horn with a death grip, amazed at the
animal’s speed.

“Emilio, what’s the matter?
Who is that?”

They entered the woods and,
from the safety of the shadows, he turned Cochise to take another look. The
Indian still sat motionless on the ridge. “His name is One-Who-Cries. He won’t
live on the reservation, and he has killed many white people.” He tugged on the
reins and turned Cochise back toward the shadowy woods. “We have to let Mr.
McIntyre know.”

~~~

 

 

Something about manual labor spoke to McIntyre’s soul. Or maybe it
was just the thought of building his own home on his own land. He lodged the ax
in the peeled log he was notching and stepped back. He wanted a moment to
appreciate the beauty of his valley, surrounded by the towering San Juan
Mountains. Ponderosa pines as tall as mythical giants ringed him on three
sides, and the smell of evergreens and damp ground wafted to him. The Animas
River, miles of it, wound through his land. The longest and calmest stretch
rolled right past this spot—his home site. He watched the sun dance off the
moving water and listened to the gentle gurgling as it headed off into the
valley. Not so loud as to drown out approaching visitors, but a soft sound to
accompany one’s outdoor activities. This was a perfect spot for fishing or
splashing in the water with children.

He smiled.
Children
.
He could almost see them, his and Naomi’s offspring wading carefully with their
arms outstretched, slipping and squealing with shock as they hit the ice-cold
water. Before Naomi, before God, he’d never dared think his life might take
such a path. He’d thought he was too far gone, not fit to be a husband, much
less a father.

The thud of hoofbeats
intruded, snatching him away from the pleasant imaginings. He eyed the tree
line and listened. An easy lope by the sound of it, nothing that should alarm
him. Still, he moved to where his gun belt was draped over a tree stump, slid
the belt around his waist, and faced the woods where the rider would emerge.

Moments later, Emilio, his
pinto’s white mane and tail dancing in the breeze, shot out from the trees, and
he waved at McIntyre. The boy slowed his horse and trotted over to him, the
sound of squeaking leather rising over the gurgling of the stream. “Your
telegrams came,” he said, pulling two folded notes from his pocket.

BOOK: Hearts in Defiance (Romance in the Rockies Book 2)
4.46Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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