The McBride Brothers #2
By: Scarlett Dunn
Releasing December 29, 2015
Zebra kLean Reads
A trail of danger and dreams…
She may be an heiress, but Parker Promise Sinclair cares more about living an adventurous life than snaring a suitable husband. So it’s no surprise when she joins a Wyoming wagon trail—only to survive a massacre that leaves her with no memory, a target on her back—and her abiding faith tested by the only man who can possibly protect her.
His gunfighting skills and trail savvy have saved U.S. Marshal Jake McBride more times than he can count. And his instincts tell him the only way to keep Promise alive is to take her along on his high-stakes cattle drive. But she soon proves she can ride and shoot with the best of them—and Jake finds it increasingly difficult to keep himself from falling for her. Soon, with danger closing in, they'll have only one chance to face their doubts, their fears—and their growing love…
As he drew closer, Preacher laid his ears back and started sidestepping. Jake’s senses went on high alert. His horse was as good at detecting danger as any U.S. Marshal he’d ever seen. He stroked Preacher’s neck as he assessed the situation. The riders were well out of sight, so he didn’t know what had Preacher so worked up. “Settle down, boy. I don’t see anyone moving about.” He focused again on what he thought were flags, and realization dawned. Covered wagons. They were turned over on their sides and the canvases had been ripped apart, leaving the tattered pieces to flap in the wind like sails on a ship.
“Come on, boy. Let’s see what this is about.” Preacher snorted at him as though he disagreed with the command, but he moved ahead. Jake counted six wagons overturned as he reined in at the nearest one. Dismounting, he held on to Preacher’s reins just in case he needed to make a fast getaway. What happened here? Indians? Is that who was riding away? They hadn’t encountered any Indians so far, but that only meant one thing; they were due. One thing was certain, if Indians were around, he figured he’d see them soon enough. Not many places to hide out here in the open, but they sure had a way of appearing out of thin air.
The thunder and lightning had lessened considerably, so he figured he could hear trouble if it came calling. Scanning the area, he saw all manner of items from the wagons scattered about. Judging by the destruction, and some costly articles left behind, it occurred to him that whoever did this was looking for something in particular. Spotting a man on the ground near the first wagon, he released Preacher’s reins and hurried to him. As he approached, he saw the blood covering the front of his rainsoaked shirt. He didn’t need to touch him; his eyes had the vacant stare of a dead man. There was a rifle beside the man and Jake picked it up to see if it had been fire. It hadn’t. The man’s pistol was still in his holster. He walked to the overturned wagon and peeked inside. There was a woman lying half out of the front of the wagon, so he
hustled around to check her. Shot dead. A few feet from her was another man lying dead on the ground. What in heaven’s name happened here? He ran to the other wagons, praying to God he would find someone alive. He found six more bodies. Everyone shot—no arrows, but Indians had guns, he reminded himself. Questions circled his mind. Why weren’t they traveling with a larger group? Had they been ill and left behind? And why in heaven’s name had they stopped out here in the open? Not the best place to stop for the night if they needed to defend themselves from an attack.
Reaching the last wagon, he saw a woman lying facedown near a large overturned trunk, and a man lying several feet from her. Again, he scanned the horizon to make sure no one was waiting to shoot him in the back. Approaching the woman first, he kneeled down and gently turned her over. Pushing aside her long wet hair from her face, he saw that her eyes were closed and blood oozed from her temple. He placed his palm on her chest to see if she had a heartbeat. Alive! Her heartbeat was faint, but it was there. Thank God. Wiping at the blood on her temple, he tried to see how badly she was injured. It looked like a bullet had grazed her, but fortunately it wasn’t lodged in her head. He searched her limp form for additional signs of injury, but finding none, he stood and pulled off his slicker to cover her. It didn’t make a lick of
sense since her clothing was drenched, yet it made him feel better. He walked to the man lying nearby to see if he was as lucky as the woman. He wasn’t.
He whistled for Preacher, who came trotting up beside him. He pulled a clean shirt out of his saddlebag and quickly tore it into long strips. Gently, he propped the woman against his thigh and wound the cloth around her head. Two thoughts struck him at once: how fragile she was, and how good she smelled. Odd, under the circumstances, that he’d noticed her fragrance, but he figured it was because since he’d left Texas the only things he’d smelled were cattle and wet earth. While he worked on the bandage, it occurred to him that she was much younger than the other women he’d found. The man lying near her was also younger than the other men. He must have been her husband. Why would anyone shoot all of these people? What were they searching for? If Indians had attacked, they would have taken some of the items littering the ground, like the tools or sacks of sugar and barrels of flour. They would have taken the young woman too. He’d seen a lot of evil in his ten years as a U.S. Marshal, but nothing as senseless as this. He took hold of her hand, wishing he could will her to wake. Her hand was so delicate and soft against his calloused skin that he glanced down to look at her palm. This was not the hand of a woman who worked a farm, though he did feel some rough spots on her fingers, which he figured were from holding a horse’s reins.
He glanced at the man again. No gun. Realizing that only one man had been armed offered up another set of questions. It was possible that the killers had taken their weapons. Did they also take the horses, or had the horses simply run off when the shooting started? He felt sure the killers didn’t take the time to unhitch the teams, so these folks had stopped for some reason.
He could see hoofprints in every direction, but right now he didn’t have time to study them other than to make a mental note that they were shod. He knew the rain would wash away the tracks of the men he saw riding away, but his first responsibility was to care for the woman. He’d take her back to meet up with the drive so his cook could tend her. He’d hired Shorty not only for his cooking skills but because he also possessed some doctoring knowledge. Shorty had been on six cattle drives and had tended various injuries, so Jake hoped he would know what to do for her. Once the woman was in Shorty’s care, he’d bring some men back to bury the dead. Then he’d have time to try to make sense out of this massacre.
Preacher caught his attention when he snorted and sidestepped closer. “What is it, boy?” Jake looked around and immediately spotted Indians on a knoll less than two hundred yards away. Damn, if they can’t sneak up on a man! He counted ten braves, and though he wasn’t sure, he thought they were Comanche. “Okay, boy, we’re leaving.” Just as he was about to lift the woman in his arms, he saw a leather-bound book underneath her skirt, and next to it was a Colt .45. He picked up the pistol and smelled the barrel before tucking it in his belt. He grabbed the book and stuffed it inside his shirt to keep it dry. Once he was settled in the saddle with the woman securely in his arms, he pulled his slicker over her head to keep her bandage dry. He turned his gaze on the Indians and breathed a sigh of relief when he saw they were not riding toward him. It was odd how they were just watching, almost like they were afraid to ride closer. He looked around to make sure no one else was lurking about. Before he rode away, he glanced once more at the destruction around him. He was certain of one thing: The Indians hadn’t done this. Not one scalp was missing.
Scarlett Dunn lives in Kentucky surrounded by all manner of wildlife, and enjoys long "God walks" where most inspiration strikes. Possessing an adventurous spirit, and a love of history, particularly the pioneers of the West, she has a special place in her heart for all cowboys, past and present. Readers can visit her website: www.scarlettdunn.com.
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