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Authors: Norah Hess

Mountain Rose

BOOK: Mountain Rose
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Mountain Rose

 

Norah Hess

 

 

PASSION DENIED

 

"Come sit down, Raegan," Chase said, "we must talk." Raegan reluctantly took a seat across from him, an angry defiance in her eyes. "I don't know what we could talk about. You made yourself perfectly clear last night. I got your message clear enough, and you can bet I'll never come near your bed again."

"I wish you wouldn't take that attitude about what I said last night," Chase said in a low, regretful voice. "Surely you can see it wasn't right, you bein' —"

With a dark, scathing look Raegan finished his sentence. "Anne's daughter! That's a poor excuse and you know it. Why don't you be honest and admit that you found me lacking as your bed partner, that I fell short of what you're used to.'' "That's not true. I have never before found such complete satisfaction as I did with you last night."

 

 

 

 

 

A LEISURE BOOK
®

March 1993 Published by

Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc. 276 Fifth Avenue New York, NY 10001

 

If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as "unsold and destroyed'' to the publisher and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this "stripped book."

 

Copyright
©
1993 by Norah Hess

 

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including photocopying, recording or by any information storage and retrieval system, without the written permission of the Publisher, except where permitted by law.

The name "Leisure Books" and the stylized "L" with design are trademarks of Dorchester Publishing Co., Inc.

 

Printed in the United States of America.

 

 

To Sissy, my first born

 

 

Chapter One

 

1868 Idaho/Oregon

 

In mid-March the weather changed in Idaho. The wind came from the south, bringing a warm rain. After two days of steadily falling rain, the winter snow was gone.

 

Red-headed Raegan O'Keefe, her feet crunching on the stones and gravel, left the foothills and followed a rough trail that wound up the mountain. In a few minutes, she came to a large boulder that over looked Minersville in all its squalor.

How many times had she come here? she asked herself as she climbed to the boulder's flat top and sat down. Dozens of times, she knew, drawing up her knees and wrapping her arms around them. Her vision blurred with uncontrollable tears as she gazed unseeing at the clear blue sky through a break in the tall spruce.

She knuckled the wetness from her eyes. There were facts that had to be faced. Her mother was dying and she could do nothing about it. For over a year now, death had beckoned Anne O'Keefe, and soon she would go to meet it. The slow consumption that had eaten away at her lungs for several years was winning the battle.

"Oh, Papa," the grieving girl cried out to her father, now dead two years, "couldn't you see that dragging her from one gold field to another, living under terrible conditions, was killing her?"

Raegan promptly put the accusing thought from her mind as she remembered her father— big and splendid, his throaty laughter, his deep love for his wife and daughter. She shook her head sadly. William O'Keefe's unquenchable belief that at any time he would make a rich strike had blinded him to everything else. The day he was shot and killed by claim-jumpers, he left his small family nearly destitute.

She patted the rough head of her pet, who scrambled up beside her and nudged her leg for attention. "What is to become of us, Lobo?" she asked the big wolf. The animal licked her hand as though in sympathy.

Raegan raised her slim, work-roughened hand to massage the knotted muscles at the back of her neck. Mama had said once that if Raegan were ever be left alone, she should go live with her grandparents, or with her Uncle Chase. But she didn't know Mama's relatives, had never seen them. These grandparents—would they want her? They must be up in age now and might not like like the idea of having a young person thrust upon them.

She picked up a brittle stick, unconsciously breaking it into small pieces. As for her Uncle Chase, she doubted she would like him, or that he would be very fond of her. He and Papa hadn't gotten along. Papa had said once that Chase Donlin was as ornery a cuss as he'd ever seen.

But Mama had shaken her head, claiming that Chase wasn't mean-tempered at all. He was only a teenager when Papa had known him and had acted the way he had because he resented the man who was taking his big sister away from him.

"I'm sure he's grown into a fine young man," she'd added. "He's probably married by now and has a nice family."

Papa had snorted and teased, "I doubt there's a woman in those hills who would take him on as a husband." Mama had smilingly ruffled his hair and the subject was dropped.

"And that's all I know about this uncle, Lobo. He's bad-tempered and may be married. And— oh yes, it was mentioned once that he trapped for a living." Raegan put an arm around the animal's thick, rough neck. "What if he, or his wife, doesn't want us?"

Raegan dropped her head to her knees, tears gathering in her eyes and spilling down her cheeks. An uncertain future lay ahead of her. Was she strong enough to meet and conquer it?

Back in the two-room shack Raegan had called home for the past two and half years, her mother was composing a letter. Frail and looking much older than her thirty-six years, Anne O'Keefe sat propped up in bed, her thin fingers clutching the stub of a pencil, moving it slowly across the paper. Her usual neat letters were almost a scrawl this early spring day.

It was a time-consuming and arduous chore, writing this message to a family she hadn't seen in twenty years. She paused often, gripped with spasms of coughing that wracked her rail-thin body. Then, after spitting the blood-streaked phlegm into a rag she kept tucked under her pillow, she had to rest before forcing herself to continue the letter.

She was coughing up her life's blood and she knew it. It was imperative that she get this missive off to brother Chase as soon as possible. She must not die and leave her lovely Raegan alone in this rough mining town.

After another bout of coughing, a tear slipped down her gaunt cheek as her fingers played with the frayed edge of the blanket lying across her waist. "Oh, William." She sighed. "Why did you have to go away and leave us?"

Anne had grieved deeply at the loss of her husband, not once blaming him for dragging his family all over Idaho, ever searching for that elusive gold strike he'd always been so sure of making one day. She did not let herself remember her parents' warning that life would be hard with the big, laughing man. Nor had she blamed him that he had left his family with empty pockets and a nearly bare larder. He had been a good and faithful husband with never a harsh word

 

to her, and she had loved him dearly.

 

But even as she had grieved, Anne knew that somehow she must provide a living for herself and her daughter. Pride would not allow her to return to those who had warned her against William, to let them know that their predictions had come true. Not that they would remind her that they had been right. Mama and Papa Donlin weren't like that. But in their hearts they would think it, and she would do anything to protect her daughter from the fact that William had allowed their prophesy to come true.

A week after her husband had been laid to rest, when very little food remained in the shack, Anne made a decision. She hung a sign on the shack's outside wall, advertising that she would do the miners' washing for a reasonable fee. O'Keefe had made many friends in the mining community, and these rough men readily brought his widow their mud-crusted clothing to be laundered.

For two years, she and Raegan had bent over great tubs of hot, soapy water, scrubbing all sizes of masculine garb, thus managing to keep body and soul together.

Then Anne's persistent cough had finally sent her to the old doctor, whose office was upstairs over a saloon. After carefully listening to her lungs for several minutes, he gently told her what she had suspected. She had consumption in its last stages.

Her health had deteriorated rapidly after that until there came a morning two months ago when she didn't have the strength to get out of bed. As she grew weaker and weaker, she swallowed her pride for her daughter's sake and now sat writing to brother Chase. He would come for Raegan, she knew, and take her to her grandparents.

The loud crashing of some animal in the chaparral below brought Raegan out of her pensive mood. She should be getting back down the mountain. She had left the old Indian woman, Mahalla, with her mother, and though she was as adept as Raegan when it came to helping Mama when one of her coughing spells came on, Mahalla was not strong enough to climb the mountain to look for her should Mama's condition worsen.

Raegan left the spot she often came to for solace and, with Lobo at her heels, began to retrace her steps. What would become of this old woman of the Shoshoni tribe after .. . after Mama was gone? There was no one who would take care of her, give her food and shelter. She had outlived her husband, and her only son had been killed in a battle with another tribe. Sadly, and to Raegan's irate disbelief, Mahalla's son-in-law had refused to take his wife's mother into their home.

Her eyes sparked angrily as she remembered finding the white-haired woman up in the mountains six months ago. She had been lying under a ledge, curled up, waiting to die. What a slow trip it had been, getting the old soul down off the mountain. Mahalla, weak from hunger and stiff of joints, could not climb up on the mare, and she could not walk alone. Raegan had been forced to half cany the thin little body into Minersville.

But what a blessing it had been, the old Indian's coming into the O'Keefe's lives. Through nourishing food and plenty of rest, Mahalla soon regained her health and much of her strength. With her great knowledge of herbs and barks, she had concocted a syrup that had, at first, helped Raegan's mother. And when the day came that Anne could no longer leave her bed, their new friend had tended to her needs, leaving Raegan free to launder the clothing she found stacked on the rickety porch each morning.

It was not unusual for Raegan to find other things on the porch as well—a haunch of venison or a couple of skinned rabbits wrapped up in a piece of paper. And at least twice a week there would be a string of fish joining the game.

Raegan wondered about the fish. She knew that none of the miners would take time from their diggings to stand and wait patiently for a fish to bite at a lure thrown into the water. On the other hand, it would be a simple matter to bring down a deer or rabbit that ventured too close to where they panned for gold.

She had a sneaky suspicion that the fish came from Mahalla's two teenage grandsons. The grandmother spoke fondly of them, and Raegan was sure the affection was returned. Had those boys been grown men, she doubted their grandmother would now be living with two white women.

Raegan entered the single winding street of Minersville, walking through ankle-deep dust and soil. In the daylight hours, the hurriedly thrown-together town was almost ghostly, she thought, returning a greeting from an occasional woman leaning in the doorway of her shack, answering that there was no change in her mother's condition. There was no one on the street, and all was quiet around the store that carried almost anything a miner and his family might want. Inside the long building was also a place where letters could be dropped off by men passing through. Mail was a hit-or-miss affair, and sometimes letters sent by relatives never reached their destination. Consequently, the residents of the shack and tent settlement didn't receive much mail. It didn't really matter to them, though. Most had left their real names behind and couldn't have been reached had anyone cared to do so.

It was equally silent inside the saloon and brothel situated at the opposite end of the street. Her lips twisted wryly. The "girls" were sleeping a no doubt richly deserved sleep. But once darkness fell and the men left their diggings, the women would be busy. After a couple drinks of raw whiskey at the saloon and a fast bite to eat at the Chinaman's Diner, the men would head for the pleasure house. There would follow drunken singing and laughter until the wee hours of the morning. Much gold dust would be left in the greedy hands of the whores.

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