- Shopping Bag ( 0 items )
San Carlos, Arizona Territory September 1872
The bride was crying.
She allowed the tears to slip down her pale cheeks unchecked. With only moments left until noon, she had given up all hope. There was no way out. No one was coming to save her, to sweep her away to freedom.
To deliver her from evil.
It was a high price to pay, but she would, just as promised, walk down the aisle of this old adobe mission at high noon to become the bride of a man she did not love. Would never love. A man she despised and feared.
A violent chill surged through Mollie's slender frame although the day was still and hot, the tiny back room where she waited stifling. She lifted cold fingers to her aching throat, swallowed with difficulty, and moved once more to the vestry's one small window.
Anxiously blinking back the tears to clear her blurred vision, Mollie looked expectantly down the street as she had one thousand times before.
Just as before, all was quiet in San Carlos. No clouds of dust stirred on the northern horizon; no sounds of hoofbeats heralded a last minute arrival. The street was silent and empty. That long, straight road leading out of San Carlos—distorted by rising heat thermals—shimmered and swayed and took on a dreamlike quality.
Much like her own life.
None of this was real. It couldn't be real. Not the white lace dress nor the old mission nor the waiting bridegroom. This couldn't possibly be happening to her. Not to Mollie Rogers. Surely it was all a dreadful nightmare. Soon she'd awaken and he would still be alive. She would turn and see beside her on the pillow, that dark, handsome face she adored. His beautiful eyes would be open and focused on her. Seeing she had roused, he would wrap his long arms around her and draw her close against his lean, bare body. He would kiss her tenderly with those sexy, sulky lips and make warm, lazy love to her while both remained half-asleep.
Mollie shut her eyes tightly and shook her head forcefully, willing this time, this place, this bad, bad dream to go away.
She opened her eyes.
All was just as it had been. The silent streets of San Carlos. The white lace wedding gown. The hopelessness and despair. In seconds the mission bells would begin their dooming toll and her fate would be sealed. She would be forever tied to a man whom she hated to the depths of her soul.
Mollie shook her head again, this time wistfully, sadly, and thought back to the summer when she was just a girl, not quite fifteen years old. To that hot, hot July night in 1865 when the sound of hoofbeats had awakened her from a peaceful slumber. On that long-ago summer night in Texas her destiny had been determined because a man she did not even know had killed another man she did not know.CHAPTER 2
Marshall, Texas July 1865
At the first faint echo of hoofbeats, Mollie Rogers's violet eyes flew open and she came instantly awake. Heart hammering beneath the worn cotton nightgown, she crept nimbly from the tall four-poster, pushing her tumbled golden hair back from her face. Her slim body tensed, she strained to hear as she crossed the darkened bedroom, slipped out into the hall, and hurried to the stairs.
Feeling her way in midnight darkness, Mollie clung to the polished banister and stole swiftly down the threadbare carpeted stairs. With single-minded determination she headed for the heavy Henry .44 rifle leaning against the front doorjamb. She jerked up the rifle, dashed to a tall front window, eased back the tattered lace curtain, and peered cautiously outside.
The lone nighttime intruder was galloping up the oblong front drive. In seconds he would reach the weed-choked front yard.
Jaw set, eyes squinting in the darkness, Mollie raised the rifle. She poked the long steel barrel through the open window and waited, gun poised, finger curled around the trigger.
At the front gate the trespasser pulled up on his horse, dismounted, and started toward the house. He was now close enough for Mollie to determine his size, but nothing more. He was a gigantic man, tall and strapping and wide-shouldered. He was, she thought fleetingly, almost as big as her papa. Without hesitation Mollie raised the rifle, sighted, and fired a warning shot directly over the head of the approaching stranger.
Cordell Rogers heard the bullet whip over his head, the echoing slam of the rifle fire, and the scream of a woman all at the same time.
"Mollie, child! It's your papa!" he shouted in a loud, booming voice and threw his big hands high into the air.
"Papa?" Mollie blinked and lowered the heavy gun. "That really you, Papa?"
"Yes, it's me! Mollie, Sarah, it's Cordell. I'm home."
Sarah Rogers stood on the landing above her fourteen-year-old daughter, her screams of fright instantly turning to sobs of joy and relief. With shaking hands she lifted the globe of a coal-oil lamp, lighted it anxiously, and started down the stairs. Midway down she saw her deliriously happy daughter being swallowed up in the powerful arms of her long-absent husband.
"Cordell," Sarah Rogers silently murmured, lifting the lamp high so that she might gaze on the dear familiar face, the thick curly red hair and beard, the twinkling green eyes. "Cordell," she repeated, this time audibly.
At the sound of her cultured voice Cordell Rogers looked up, and Sarah suddenly felt shy in the compelling presence of the handsome, massive man she'd not seen for two long years.
"Papa, I almost shot you," Mollie declared, her slim arms wrapped around her father's neck as she hugged him tightly. "Why, I might have killed you. I might have ... oh, Papa."
Eyes only for the frail blond woman slowly descending the stairs, Cordell Rogers said, "You did right, Mollie. Like I taught you." Then he lowered his only child back to her bare feet and stepped onto the stairs.
"Sarah, my love," he said when he reached his wife.
He took the flickering lamp from her shaking fingers, held it away in one big hand while his arm came around his wife's narrow waist and he pulled her into his embrace.
He held her so close Sarah could feel the tarnished buttons of her husband's worn Confederate gray tunic biting into her flesh. But she hugged him even tighter, elated to be safely enclosed once more in his sheltering arms.
"Thank God you're home, Cord," she whispered breathlessly. "At last. Oh, my dear, you've finally come home to us."
Pressing her head to his shoulder, Cordell Rogers gently stroked his wife's golden hair, wondering miserably how he could tell her that he would not be staying home, nor could she. How could he possibly tell this woman he worshiped that they must flee before the morning sun rose?
How could he tell her that he was a wanted man, hunted by both civilian and military law? That his men, riding from the Confederacy's last capital in Shreveport, had shot and killed a Union officer escort guarding a Yankee gold shipment moving through Louisiana? That she must leave this East Texas cotton plantation where he had brought her as his starry-eyed eighteen-year-old bride? That she could take nothing with her, not furniture or paintings or silver or trunks filled with dresses?
How could he possibly tell this gentle soul that they must leave for Mexico with only the clothes on their backs and that they could never return to Texas—or to anywhere else in the United States and its territories?
Dreading the moment, Cordell Rogers waited until Mollie had gone back to bed and he was alone with his wife in the privacy of their room. There he held her in his arms and broke the bad news as gently as possible.
Devastated, Sarah Rogers argued, "But, Cord, if you were not the one who shot the Yankee colonel, then surely you could be pardoned." Her eyes misted with tears.
"My dear, it doesn't work that way. I am responsible. I was the commanding officer and I led my men on the raid." He paused, shook his head, sighed wearily. "There's more. The man who was killed, the late Colonel Hatton, was the nephew of the secretary of war, Stanton."
"No," gasped Sarah, a hand lifting to her throat.
Cordell nodded. "Yes. We've no choice. We must flee to Mexico."
Sarah stared at him and swallowed hard. "Mexico? Couldn't Mollie and I stay here? Then when all this blows over you could—"
"Jesus, Sarah, look what Stanton did to Mary Surratt." Cordell reached out, drew her again into his arms. "He had the poor woman hanged because of the rumor that she helped Booth with the Lincoln assassination." His chin resting atop his wife's golden head, Cordell Rogers closed his eyes and said, "Sarah, Stanton's placed a ten thousand–dollar gold bounty on all our heads. Mine, yours, and Mollie's."
"Dear God, this can't be happening," she choked. "The world's gone mad."
"Oh, my love, I'm so sorry. I'll make it up to you one day, but we must go now, tonight. This is the first place they'll come looking for us."
Sarah raised her head and began to wipe her eyes. "I'll get dressed and start packing."
He nodded. "I'll wake Mollie and tell her we're leaving."
"What reason will you give her?"
"The truth," he said, turned, and was gone.
Within the hour, Mollie, alert and excited, was outside waiting impatiently with her father, her hand stroking the velvet muzzle of her prized Appaloosa mare, Queenie. Cordell Rogers was strapping valises and carpetbags to a couple of pack horses. Only Sarah Rogers remained inside the mansion.
Sarah paused in the center hallway and slowly looked about. The once rose-and-gold pattern of the expensive wall covering imported from Europe was faded and peeling. The tapestry-covered French sofa and matching chairs were worn and threadbare. Overhead, the tarnished doré chandelier, where once indigo-colored candles had lighted the way for arriving guests, sagged and tilted at an angle.
Still, it was beautiful to the sad woman who was leaving it. Sarah Rogers placed a hand on the mahogany banister and looked one last time up the darkened stairs. In that moment she knew that she would never again sleep in her soft four-poster or stand in the main floor foyer while sunlight streamed in through the fan-lighted windows.
Sarah drew a shallow breath and moved toward those doors. She placed the lamp she carried on the hallway table, leaned over, and blew it out. She squared her slender shoulders and stepped out into the early-morning darkness.
But when she turned and carefully closed the massive front doors of her beloved home, she left a part of her heart inside.CHAPTER 3
They left in the dead of night. Heading southwest, they rode through the piney woods of East Texas and across the timbered prairies of central Texas. Through the lush green hill country around Austin and on past San Antone and into far South Texas.
The summer heat was fierce and unrelenting, and Cordell Rogers watched helplessly as his fragile wife became pale and hollow-cheeked. Her beautiful violet eyes grew duller with the passing of each hot, tiring day on the long journey.
He knew that her heart was broken, and that he was responsible. For that he would never forgive himself. It was cold comfort that he was not the one who had actually pulled the trigger. He was the one who had vowed never to stop fighting. It had been he who planned and led a half dozen loyal rebels in the daring daytime raid on the Yankee gold shipment, he who had declared they would take the gold and rendezvous with General Joe Shelby to fight on forever in the name of the Confederate States of America.
Cordell Rogers's wide shoulders slumped, and he shifted wearily in the saddle.
It was his fault, every bit of it. Lieutenant Jeffrey Battles had been the one who shot and killed the Yankee colonel, but he, Rogers, was the commanding officer. Lieutenant Battles was a good, loyal soldier who had saved his life at Fredericksburg. He couldn't fault Battles for what had happened.
"Look, Mother, Daddy, the Rio Grande!" Mollie shouted, pulling up on her Appaloosa mare and pointing excitedly.
"The Rio Grande, darlin'," Cordell Rogers said to his wan wife, hoping to see her smile.
Sarah Rogers drew rein, turned in the saddle, and smiled, but her dulled violet eyes did not light, and her voice broke when she said forlornly, "When we cross that river, we leave Texas behind forever."
"Oh, sweetheart, we'll have a good life in Mexico! You'll see. Maximilian needs trained officers for his French Empire." He drew his mount alongside Sarah's. "They say that the Empress Carlotta is a lovely, intelligent woman. The two of you might soon become good friends. Why, in a matter of weeks you could be spending time at the peaceful Chapultepec palace."
"Yes, of course," she said, attempting to sound enthusiastic for his sake. She wasn't too successful. Her back was aching and her face was afire and she felt as if she couldn't possibly ride all the way to Mexico City. But she said only, "Cord, could we rest here for a while? I'm feeling a little faint."
"Yes, my love," he quickly assured her. "We'll cross the river, camp on the other side. How does that sound?"
"Good," Sarah replied, knowing her husband was worried about her, not wanting him to be.
She loved him. She loved him so much she hadn't berated him for the foolhardy actions that had made it necessary for her to leave her home—the place where she had been born, where as a girl she had spent long summer afternoons reading poetry with her good friend Napier Dixon under the backyard oak on her father's farm. Where, at age seventeen, she had met a young, handsome, red-haired officer at a summertime ball and had fallen madly in love the first time he touched her hand.
"Sounds wonderful, Cord." She brightened and her smile widened when she saw her husband's sun-bronzed face fill with relief.
Mollie Rogers's mood was the opposite of her mother's. A curious, thrill-seeking child who was more rash tomboy than prim young lady, Mollie viewed the move to Mexico from their war-ruined cotton plantation as high adventure, and she couldn't understand her mother's lingering melancholy. Why, already—in the five weeks they'd been traveling—she'd had more fun than in her entire fourteen years.
They had ridden more than four hundred fifty miles, and they weren't yet halfway to Mexico City! It was all too exciting for words, and Mollie hoped it took months to reach their final destination. A rebel at heart, she loved being on the trail. She was free and happy and could ride her mare fast and shoot wild game and watch for savage Indians and hide from the U.S. authorities and do a hundred other exciting things that would surely make her friends back home pea green with envy.
The devil with the palace at Chapultepec or some fine hacienda in Mexico City! She liked it out in the open where she could breathe. She liked sleeping under the stars.
The summer sun was setting as Mollie eagerly swam her Appaloosa across the muddy Rio Grande and up onto the grassy banks on the far side of the river. She let a out a great whoop of joy. Not only was she safe from the pursuing Yankee devils but tonight she, Mollie Louise Rogers, would be sleeping in a foreign country!
It was just too exciting. She couldn't possibly sleep. Not on her very first night in Mexico. Why, she might never sleep again!
"Lieutenant, you must get some sleep."
The motherly, uniformed nurse stepped close to the bed as she spoke. The lamp in her hand gave off the only light in the long, narrow ward where rows of beds lined the white walls. Every bed in the army hospital was filled. In each lay a badly wounded Union soldier.
The nurse set the lamp on the bedside table. She spread the white sheet up over the wide, bare shoulders of the dark-haired, slender man. "It's past midnight, Lieutenant. You need sleep."
"Yes, ma'am," said Lieutenant Lew Hatton.
But he couldn't sleep. Didn't want to sleep until he found the lawless Southern rebels responsible for the murder of his father.
"I'll give you something for the pain, Lieutenant," the nurse said, smiling down at him as she pushed a perspiration-soaked lock of coal black hair back off his shiny forehead.
"No. I don't need anything. I'm fine," Lew Hatton said.
"Sleep then, son," she said, knowing very well that he was not fine,—that in all likelihood, the twenty-six-year-old man lying helpless in this stuffy army hospital ward might never be fine.
The wounds the young Union soldier had suffered in the war's last hours had nearly been fatal. For days he had lain near death, weeks more he had spent confined to this narrow army-issue bed in this crowded Richmond federal hospital. His badly shattered right leg had still not healed properly. It wouldn't surprise her if he lost it yet. And even if he kept the leg, she doubted he would ever walk again.
Excerpted from Nan Ryan Western Romance by Nan Ryan. Copyright © 1997 Nan Ryan. Excerpted by permission of OPEN ROAD INTEGRATED MEDIA.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.