Desperate to save her husband and the solitary life they have carved out of the wilderness, Briar is forced to accept the help of a damaged young man and a notorious female horse trainer. Facing whiskey runners, gold thieves, unpredictable elements, and men who will stop at nothing to get what they want, the unlikely trio must forge an uncommon bond in order to survive. Full of lessons of love, letting go, and the real meaning of family, A Dangerous Woman From Nowhere is a timeless western adventure story about courage, change, risk, and learning how to unlock damaged hearts and live in the sweet moments of now.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.40(h) x 0.90(d)|
About the Author
Date of Birth:September 18, 1953
Place of Birth:Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Education:B.A., University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, 1975
Read an Excerpt
A Dangerous Woman from Nowhere
By Kris Radish
BookSparksCopyright © 2017 Kris Radish
All rights reserved.
The First Morning
Grant City, Colorado Territory
It's impossible not to hear the horses unless you are deaf or asleep. Briar isn't asleep, has ears that are as grand as her perfect eyesight, and when she hears the approaching thunder — hoof to dirt, pounding, precise, the relentless slap of leather against animal skin, and one horse struggling to keep up — she knows this is what she's been waiting for since dusk.
But this isn't what she expected. Something is coming, something fast and hard and bitter and frightening. A test. A struggle of sorts. She knew this even before the long night of waiting that kept her paralyzed in a small bed, in a strange house, in a town that was a forty-mile ride from the ranch.
Something wasn't supposed to be this, yet she knows, like she instinctively knows many things, there is nothing to do but face it.
Briar slips to the floor and moves quietly to the window. The horses are close, and there is no early, bright fall moon to shine on her face and reveal her presence. She left the window open so she can feel the air moving about the tiny room. Even one night enclosed in a strange place has made her restless for open spaces, quiet, and solitude.
Before she looks east, toward the approaching horses, Briar presses her face against the wall so she can look up and down the dirt street. There is nothing but darkness. No shining eyes in other windows. There are no ears like hers either. The town is asleep, which will make her escape easy, if it comes to that.
She remains cautious as the horses pass, and she can see them perfectly. One. Two. Three. The riders are well-armed men wearing spurs that gleam in the darkness, silver perhaps, and expensive white felt hats that look like moving lights in the fading darkness. All three of them ride with their hands on top of their guns — two holstered pistols, one rifle. There is a gap between the third horse and the fourth and last horse, and for good reason. The third rider has a rope laced through the back of his saddle horn that connects him to the fourth rider.
The last rider is beyond reluctant and tied from head to foot with so much rope it will take his captors a long time to get him down from the struggling pony and unwind him. Briar can see his left hand is clutching the saddle horn and his right hand, seemingly useless with only one finger and a thumb, dangles free and unrestricted. This makes her smile, and she takes in a breath and then lets it out slowly as the last horse passes.
Her eyes follow the prisoner until he's swallowed by the darkness and the cloud of dust. Even tethered with all the rope, the hatless man with the long blond hair rides with a kind of grace that makes him look as if he were part of the poor, undersized animal. There's a leather band tied around his head, pulled tight on his mouth so he can't scream out for help. His hat is long gone.
Briar knows this man.
He would never scream, and she knows this because she is married to him.
The horse and her husband disappear in seconds, and Briar closes her eyes to memorize every detail of what has just moved past her window. Sometimes the smallest thing — a broken branch, a torn shirt, the color of a saddle — can help when there's a problem to solve, and this is a problem. If there were time, she might sketch what she's just seen, but her mind's eye will have to do. Time is now most important, but hurrying without a plan would be useless.
When Briar has planted more details into her mind, she moves away from the window and sits on the edge of the small bed. The room is also very tiny. Perhaps it was a child's bedroom long ago, but it's clean and the sheets and blankets have been freshly washed and there is cool water in the basin. She rests her hands just below her waist. Even though she must leave, Briar knows she must also take a moment to think about what she might be giving up now before her business in town has finished.
There is no way Briar can imagine her life without the man tied to that saddle. She smiles when she realizes this is the first time she has openly acknowledged the depth of her love and meant it, and there is a surge of something foreign that washes through her, a river of emotion, that makes her feel lightheaded. She drops her head, lets her hands fall away, and makes a silent vow that she also knows may change everything she's come to be and know.
There is absolutely no choice then — the captive husband has galloped away, and the business in town will have to wait yet again. This isn't the first time something has come between her and what she has come to the small town to do, but fate, she realizes, controls everything unless you're willing to be bold, to risk, to surrender and sacrifice. Briar knew hours ago when a feeling of uncertainty — a kind of dizzying uneasiness — and the notion that something was approaching fast and hard swept over her. It was as if a ghost had walked right through the closed door and told her to prepare, to be ready, to anticipate.
And why she thought it might be something besides what she'd just seen galloping past her window is already haunting her, because they've come for him before and warned they would steal him away eventually. She left him alone for just this one day, unguarded, unaware, and so they came.
Damn. Damn. Damn.
The old woman upstairs rolls over in her bed, and Briar waits to see if she will get up before she begins to dress. The wooden floor above her is also her ceiling, and when Briar looks up, she can see the outline of everything in the room above. Chair. Bed. Shoes. Rug. Baskets. Her one-story log house on the ranch is solid, and it always amazes her how thin the walls and floors are in the frame houses she visits in towns like this. There is no privacy at all, and the thought of living in a house like this forever, even when she's old, makes her shake her head from side to side.
The woman doesn't get up, and Briar waits a few more minutes because she thinks she may leave a note. But what would she say? She dismisses the thought and unbuttons her sleeping gown, slips it off, and dresses. Her long brown skirt rides to the floor, and she puts on her black blouse, cinches a belt around her waist, pulls on her tall leather boots over the cotton stockings she wore to bed, and then turns to look at herself in the lone wall decoration — a long mirror cracked in half but still perfectly fine for viewing oneself. She takes a step forward and then leans in so she can see in the dim light.
There is no mirror at the ranch, and Briar is always amazed when she sees herself. She touches her light-brown hair and then quickly twists it into a knot so it will fit under her riding hat. When she leans over to pull it into place, she notices there are still strands of red, auburn to some, and a sudden horrid memory threatens to stall her progress. Briar strengthens her resolve, reaches for the wide-brimmed hat, speckled with dirt and dust and years of wear, pulls the chin strap tight, and then dares to lean in for one more look. Who knows how long it will be before she can return and is able to finish what she started here, and what she'll look like when she does return?
In the darkness, her light-green eyes still seem catlike to her, even though others say they are stunning. Stunning isn't a word Briar ever dares to call herself. Her fair skin has turned an amazing shade of dark brown from the past summer's work with the cattle, horses, and garden. I could be an Indian or an Italian immigrant or anyone without these eyes, she tells herself, unable to keep her hands off a face she barely recognizes.
There is a parade of freckles dancing from chin to cheek on both sides that she's never seen before. Oh! Her husband tells her she's beautiful, and she always looks away when he says this because for many, many reasons, she remains uncertain about who she is, where she has come from, what may lie ahead. Except for this task ahead, the man she must now save. That is absolutely certain.
Her small traveling bag fits under her arm, and before she turns to step into the hall, she stops and looks at the room, wondering if and when she will be back. The woman upstairs, a kind soul, will worry, and Briar decides to leave her dressing gown on the bed so it looks as if she will return. She stretches it out near the pillow, pats it lightly — an unlikely gesture of tenderness — and then slips out the door.
The house is dark, but it's easy for her to guide herself down the hall, through the kitchen, and to the back door. The old woman already has a plate set out for morning breakfast, and knowing what she is about to face, Briar stops to cut some bread and smoked meat from the platter on the counter. She fills a cup from the porcelain water pitcher and then drinks it quickly, refills the glass and drinks again, and then tucks the food into her bag and steps into what remains of the night.
Outside and away from the dark and suffocating walls, there is more light, and Briar easily walks around the side of the house and across the street toward the stable. It doesn't matter if anyone sees her, but she knows it would be odd for a woman to be out so early — or late, depending on who you are — and alone with a traveling bag under her arm.
Briar is no fool. This is no time to risk anything, and even though she wants to hurry, she keeps close to the shadows. Not everyone in this town is as kind as the old woman, and not everyone would be alarmed to see her husband roped to the saddle of a galloping horse.
"Damn them all" she says, barely moving her lips as she crosses behind the dry goods store and around a stack of wood piled behind and up against the back door.
The town is only three streets wide, but it stretches for several blocks, and when night passes, it's easy to see that Grant City is the gateway to a nest of mountains to the west. But during the night, it's just another Western town that wishes the great railroad would hurry up and bring what all the other railroad towns have — more saloons and more people and more things to fill up houses — and in Briar's mind, that just means more trouble and more greedy men with guns.
She's old enough to remember when the town was only one street and then two streets and when there was mostly kindness and when even she was a better person. One must do and be what one must do and be.
Thinking of anything but what has to happen next is useless now. Thinking about the past is especially useless. Time, which is already slipping away, and a rescue plan is everything.
Briar dashes behind the house next to the stables when an unseen dog, tied to the back porch, begins barking at her. It's a big, black animal, and when she lifts her skirts to run, she has no idea how long its rope is and if it will reach her. There's nothing to do but go, and when she moves past it, she can see its white teeth, and then someone begins to shout, "Shut up. Shut up. Shut up!" She drops behind a barrel when she hears a door open and then the dog squeal and a man say, "There, you bastard, there."
Even after she hears the door slam and the dog crying, Briar lies unmoving for a long time. She is breathless, and one part of her thinks what has just happened is funny. Her husband would laugh and laugh if he saw her running in the dark past a big dog who would like to bite her again and again and again to make up for all the cruelty it has faced since the day the horrid man brought it home.
Briar lies with her head on the cold ground and knows her husband would free the dog. He has such a way with animals and all creatures, even bad men, that he can usually win them over with his gentle nature. Briar's husband would kneel and talk softly until the animal calmed and then he would unlatch it and whisper in its ear, "Run free. Go toward the river" And the big dog would leap away and never ever again know the feel of a rough board against its hind legs.
Now she worries about the dog, and she decides once her husband is free, she will tell him about this abused creature and the rope and the man who probably could use a board against his own backside.
The quiet spreads out long enough for Briar to feel comfortable, and she rolls over onto her hands and knees and begins to crawl against the side of the stable and away from the dog. Before she turns the corner, where she can already see the feet of her beloved horse, she decides to crawl back and throw the poor dog a slice of bread.
There. She throws the piece of bread into the air, and for a second, it disappears into the late-night sky, but then it lands close enough so the dog can reach it. Briar's husband has told her animals smile, and she sees the dog smile, its lips moving just a tiny bit, the second it smells the bread, and in spite of her present condition and what awaits her, she wants to laugh again. "There" she says one more time, quietly. "Have the bread, and I promise we'll come back to save you."
The dog doesn't swallow the bread at first, but it looks at the bread for a moment as if it can't believe it's really there, and then it looks up at Briar. She will remember this and tell this story for the rest of her hopefully long life.
The dog looked at me and it looked back at the bread five times. Then it turned its face to the left, dropped its head, and then lifted it quickly and showed me its teeth, or some of its teeth. It was a dog smile, and only the top teeth were showing. It wasn't the same teeth showing as when the dog was protecting its yard and saw me the first time. Then the dog dropped the bread, licked it three times, and swallowed it with one swift bite.
Briar stands, convinced she will see this dog again one day, and watches as it rolls into a ball, dreaming for certain about more bread dropping from the sky.
Animals like Briar almost as much as she likes them, and she knows her husband also has the gift for knowing all creatures, no matter how many legs they possess, because in the beginning, it was their only link. That was a very long time ago — before this day and the ones that are now waiting for her the second she scoots around the stables and greets her waiting horse.
The stable is half empty, and Briar's beloved horse, Willow, a huge gelding, has heard her approach. When she walks into the stable — a simple shed with room for only ten horses, a blacksmith, and a very small carriage — Willow begins pawing at the dirt floor in sweet anticipation of her return.
"I'm back. I'm back," she tells him, leaning into his side, mouth pressed against his warm neck, fingers gripping his untrimmed mane. She wants to tell him she's sorry for what they are about to face — hard rides, danger, maybe something worse — but Willow has seen all of this already, and a sweet warning will change nothing.
But Briar can't bear to think of something bad happening to her beloved pony, the horse she's had since the morning a man named Porter Logan walked it into the yard, passed her the reins, and said, "There. Now you have two creatures who will love you until the day they die."
Speechless for a long time, Briar finally took the reins and, through her tears, said, "Logan, is this the way men make marriage proposals these days?"
Since that moment, Briar has felt as if the horse and the man were one because she feels deep love, a miracle in itself she now realizes, for both of them. Her husband knows this, and she believes most of the secrets between them have vanished except the ones she keeps buried and the others that are waiting for the right moment to share. When she finally shared some of the most bitter and horrid tales of her life, all he could say was, "I already know. It has only made me love you more"
Logan. Logan. Logan. Briar dares not think about what must have happened in her absence when he was captured. They wouldn't physically abuse him until his talents were no longer needed, and at least he knows she's safe this moment, but that also means they've been watching the ranch, and for that, Briar blames herself. Logan always lets down his guard when she's gone. But he is wise in so many other ways.
There will be clues. Logan will have done something, left her some kind of message. The types of men who would kidnap and then kill, because they always kill, are often careless and always underestimate their opponents.
Time, she reminds herself. There is much to do.
Excerpted from A Dangerous Woman from Nowhere by Kris Radish. Copyright © 2017 Kris Radish. Excerpted by permission of BookSparks.
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