Amanda Ross returns from her Boston finishing school to claim the Texas ranch her parents died fighting to protect. Determined to protect the land that has been in her family for generations, Amanda resents the Comanche people for taking away her loved ones.
Clay McAlester may be a Texas Ranger, but he identifies most strongly with the Comanche tribe who raised him. A proud man brought up by a proud people, he has little sympathy for a woman filled with nothing but hate. But when Amanda’s fiancé abandons her in her hour of need, it is McAlester and a nearby Comanche camp that comes to her aid. Will Amanda learn forgiveness in the arms of this fierce and fearless man, or will her anger consume her?
“Superb . . . Grabs you by the throat and won’t let go . . . I loved it!” —Joan Johnston, New York Times–bestselling author of Surrender
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Boston: June, 1973
* * *
"I am sorry, Maria," the young man said softly as she reread her step- uncle's awkwardly phrased letter. "I did not wish you to be alone at such a time."
Guilt washed over Amanda Mary Ross, followed by an empty ache beneath her breastbone. Her aloof, aristocratic Spanish mother was dead. She closed her eyes and sat very still, recalling the bitterness between them, the bitterness that had kept them estranged for nearly ten years. If she lived to be a hundred years old, she did not think she would ever forget the day her mother had tried to explain why she was marrying Gregorio Sandoval. "He is like me — we are both of the old families — we are not Anglos, Maria," she'd said. "Please try to understand — as much as I loved your father, we were of different worlds. And I am not a young girl any longer."
The plea had fallen on the eleven-year-old girl's deaf ears, for she had idolized Big John Ross, and she bitterly resented the unctuous Señor Sandoval. But Gregorio and her mother never understood Amanda's bitter opposition. "Maria," Gregorio had assured her, "no matter what happens, the Ybarra-Ross will be yours. I have accepted that Doña Isabella can bear no more children."
In the end, the rancor between mother and daughter had been too much for either of them, and Amanda had been sent to live with her father's sister, Katherine Ross Ryan, in Boston, ostensibly for a good Catholic education, but after graduating she'd never returned. She'd never wanted to. Without Big John, she told herself, the sprawling Ybarra-Ross was nothing to her.
She looked down at the letter again and shivered almost convulsively at Alessandro Sandoval's words. "Your mother and my brother had not the chance," he'd written. "They were discovered out alone by the Comanche devils. Gregorio we buried where we found him, but your mother was not so fortunate, and they took her captive. By God's mercy, she died before they reached the Pecos River, and we were able to bring her back to Ybarra for a proper Catholic burial. You will be pleased to know that we meted out God's punishment to the war party that took her, may they all rot in hell."
"I am so sorry, Maria," Ramon repeated, cutting into her thoughts. "My father had hoped to ransom Tía Isabella through the Comancheros, but it was too late. The Indians killed her when she could not keep up with them. But at least none of those savages got back across the Pecos alive."
"Yes, of course," she said tonelessly. She looked up, catching the sympathy in his dark eyes, and she blinked back tears. "Poor Mama. She was so afraid of Indians," she whispered. "So very afraid of them. God only knows what terror she must have felt."
"And with reason. For what it means to you, Gregorio fought to save her. He was tortured unspeakably before they killed him." Ramon shuddered visibly. "They are devils, Maria, devils. If it had not been for his boots, we could not have recognized my uncle."
Gregorio Sandoval was dead. A brief image of her handsome stepfather passed through her mind and was gone. While she had resented him, she had certainly never wished him to die. "I shall, of course, write my condolences to your father," she managed. "The loss of his brother must've been a terrible shock to him."
"Write to him?" For a moment Ramon stared blankly at her, then he recovered. "No, Maria, you do not understand. I am here to take you home to Texas. The Ybarra is yours now. You must come home to it — you must. I have traveled all this way for that reason."
"The Ybarra-Ross, you mean," she reminded him. "It was my father who made it what it is. Without John Ross it would still be nothing but a desert full of rattlesnakes."
"Forgive me, Maria — it was not my intent to slight Senor Ross, I assure you," he said quickly. "If I have called it the Ybarra merely, it is that your mother's family held it long before Senor Ross was born," he added smoothly. "To us, it has always been the Ybarra."
The Ybarra-Ross. One hundred eighty-five thousand acres of rugged rock and treacherous desert claimed by ancestors too far away to realize the danger of Indians. It wasn't until after his marriage to Isabella de Bivar y Colona-Ybarra that Big John had made a vast but seemingly useless stretch of land into a prosperous cattle ranch right in the heart of a Comanche war trail.
While he'd lived, the Indians skirted it, never actually daring to attack the high adobe-walled fortress he'd built there. Instead, they'd contented themselves with butchering a few longhorns for food and continuing their raids farther south. And as for rustlers coming up from Mexico, most of them had wound up swinging from a stout rope. To Indian and Mexican alike, John Ross was the law on the Ybarra-Ross.
She swallowed, fighting the pain she still felt every time she thought of him. "My father loved Mama, you know," she said softly. "He wanted to give her everything. Aunt Kate told me he was smitten the first time he saw her." Her mouth twisted as she tried to smile at the memory. "They eloped, Mama said. She was so very beautiful then, and he would not wait long enough to persuade my grandfather that he was worthy of her. She was only sixteen then, and he was twenty-five."
His hand clasped her shoulder comfortingly. "Come back to Ybarra-Ross, Maria," he coaxed. "It is your home." When she did not answer, he looked directly into her eyes. "For Tía Isabella. For Señor Ross. For my father. For me, Maria." As her eyes widened at the intense warmth in his, he released her and stood back. "It is yours, and we wish to help you take your place there."
"There you are, Amanda," Aunt Kate murmured, coming into the formal parlor. Taking off her kid gloves, she began untying her fashionable bonnet. Setting the hat on a table, she smiled brightly. "You really should have gone with me, dearest. Mrs. Rush was quite right — there was imported lace to be had for four cents to the yard, and the best French velvet was selling for a dollar and a half. Oh, I know it is out of season, but it is never too early to think ahead. Who knows ...," she added slyly, "but what you might be making up your trousseau quite soon. All of the Donnellys are quite taken with you, you know — I had that from Margaret herself."
"Aunt Kate ..."
It was then that Kate Ryan noticed Ramon Sandoval. For a moment she was at a loss, then she recovered enough to smile. "Well, gracious, what you must think, sir — Charles did not tell me we had company." Looking to Amanda, she chided, "You might have stopped me from rattling on long enough to present the gentleman."
"Aunt Kate, Mama is dead."
The older woman's smile froze, then faded. "Dead?" she echoed hollowly. "But she cannot be — I mean, she wasn't even forty. Surely —"
"She was murdered by Comanche devils," Ramon explained.
"Indians!" As the import of his words sank in, Kate Ryan collapsed into the nearest chair. "Oh no! Oh, my poor Isabella! She was such a lovely creature — so refined — so elegant —"
"And they killed Uncle Gregorio also, señora."
"Poor Isabella," she said again. "Of course I did not know him — Señor Sandoval, that is — but I would not wish — Comanches! How utterly awful!" She looked up at him. "You are one of the Sandovals, then?"
He bowed slightly. "Ramon Sandoval. My father has managed the Ybarra ... the Ybarra-Ross," he corrected himself hastily, "... for the last five years, señora."
"But I thought Isabella's husband —"
"Uncle Gregorio did not have the heart or head for the cattle business, so Aunt Isabella engaged my father to help with everything. And he did very well for her, señora. Last year we shipped five thousand head of cattle to Chicago — and that did not include the beeves we sold by contract to the government," he added proudly.
"My brother always said there was a fortune to be made in Texas, but it seems as though the money is cursed," the older woman murmured, shaking her head. "Johnny did not live long enough to enjoy all that he worked for," she said sadly. "And now poor Bella." Turning her attention back to her niece, she clucked sympathetically. "Oh, my poor dear, I am so sorry."
"I know. It just doesn't seem possible, does it?"
"It is the God's truth, Maria," Ramon insisted. "I am saddened to be the bearer of the news, but my father did not want you to be alone when you read his letter."
"Well, we must not dwell on the circumstances, but rather on the fact that no matter what she endured, your mother is in God's care now. And we shall, of course, have a memorial Mass said for her," Kate decided.
"Yes, that would please Mama."
Her aunt rose and went to Amanda. Clasping the younger woman's hands, she squeezed her fingers reassuringly. "Would it help if Charles sent for Father Riley? Or for Mr. Donnelly?" she asked gently.
Again, Amanda felt empty and guilty. She shook her head. "No — now that I have been told, I should rather be alone."
Ramon Sandoval reluctantly reached for his hat. "You must think about Ybarra-Ross, Maria. I will call again tomorrow and we will plan the best way to get you home."
"Amanda, surely you aren't thinking of returning to Texas!" Kate gasped. "Not after this ... this terrible thing!" But as she looked into her niece's eyes, she felt a certain foreboding. "Besides, what of Mr. Donnelly?" she argued. "After all, it is common knowledge that he expects to marry you and ... and ... well, it simply won't do to jilt him! Not when he has been most particular in his attentions, dearest. Why, there are girls all over Boston who would give their eyeteeth to snatch Patrick Donnelly. Charles says there is no other young man in Boston with half so much promise!"
"Please, Aunt Kate — I don't want to think about that just now."
"Senora, I will take care of Maria," Ramon promised. "She will be safe with me."
Kate Ryan's expression hardened. "Mr. Sandoval —"
"Please — not now. I have a headache, and I just want to go to my room."
"But —" Realizing that she risked setting Amanda's back up, Kate retreated. "Yes, of course, dearest." Turning to face Ramon, she extended her hand half-heartedly. "When you come tomorrow, you really must stay for dinner — provided there is no more talk of taking my niece to Texas, of course. Good day, Mr. Sandoval."
Having been so quickly dismissed, there was nothing he could do but bow over her hand. "Until then, senora." To Amanda, he nodded. "I shall count the hours," he declared, smiling warmly. "Despite the sadness of my mission, it has been a pleasure to discover my lovely cousin."
As the door closed behind him, Kate exhaled her relief. "Well, I must say he behaves rather familiarly, doesn't he? A cousin, he called you, when it is no such thing. Do you even remember him from Texas?"
"No. But perhaps he considered step-cousin a bit standoffish."
"Just the same, lest he gets any notions, I shall expect you to scotch them right in the bud. Oh, dear — I think Mr. Donnelly is to be dining with us tomorrow. And what he is to think of Mr. Sandoval — well, I am sure I don't know. Perhaps I ought to warn him, for I cannot think he knows any Mexicans."
"Why would he have to think anything?" Amanda asked, betraying a certain annoyance. "And the Sandovals are Spanish — like my mother."
"Well, I don't know, but I wouldn't want him to believe Mr. Sandoval any sort of rival."
"I have no interest in either of them, Aunt Kate," the younger woman responded tiredly. "Indeed, I find Patrick too full of conceit for bearing. I can scarce get my own opinion into any conversation. Not that he cares, of course, for he quite expects everyone to agree with him."
"Amanda Mary Ross, how dare you say such a thing? Why, he's going to have a brilliant career in politics! You ought to be on your knees before the Blessed Virgin, thanking her for his interest in you! Patrick Donnelly is everything I could wish for you — everything!"
"Aunt Kate —"
"And if you must know, I have prayed and lit two candles every evening for a twelvemonth, just hoping he would notice you," the older woman admitted. Seeing the mutinous set of Amanda's jaw, she added defensively, "Well, I had to do something — it is one and twenty you are already. In another year or two there'll be none eligible as will look at you, and you'll have to be settling for a widower like Mr. Kelly — and him with five children already."
"If Pat Donnelly is the best your prayers can get me, I'd as soon you spared the breath," Amanda muttered. "And I would never consider Mr. Kelly — with or without the children."
"Here — is that any way to be talking? If John Ross were alive, he'd already have attended to the business. Indeed, Isabella wasn't even seventeen when she caught his eye, and —"
"I don't want to hear about Mama just now. Or Papa either. Please — I do have a headache."
Kate's manner changed abruptly. "Oh, my poor child! What am I thinking of? — and at a time like this! Are you quite certain you don't want to have Father Riley come?"
"Yes." Rising, Amanda took a step toward the door. "I shall be in my room."
"Yes, of course. What you must be feeling ... why, I —"
Amanda cut her off. "Right now, I feel nothing but sadness for Mama. She scarce wrote to me after she married Gregorio. Sometimes, I have thought she wanted to forget Papa so much that she forgot me."
"Now how can you be saying that, I ask you? Your Mama loved Johnny, and well you know it! And if she didn't mourn him the way you wanted, well, just perhaps she was like you and couldn't deal with her grief."
"I cried for Papa for a year, Aunt Kate. And if she loved him so much, she wouldn't have gotten herself another husband."
"Now there you are wrong. If anything, Isabella loved John too much. She was far too lonely after his death. I only wish she would have come back here for a while, for I am sure I could have helped her."
"She was so lonely that she could not wait a decent year after Papa died to marry again," Amanda muttered. "But I don't want to talk about it. If you don't mind, would you ask Molly to make me some willow bark tea for my headache?"
Making good her escape, she climbed the stairs to her room, where she sat facing the lace-curtained window, looking out over the garden below. The sun shone brightly, as though everything was right with the world, as though it didn't care that Isabella Sandoval had left it.
For a long time she did not move, telling herself that it didn't matter, that her mother had loved Gregorio more than her. She closed her eyes, trying to recall Isabella — her perfect profile, her shining black hair, her delicate olive skin, her petite, slender figure. The image of her mother came to her, and once again she felt the brief brush of Isabella's lips on her cheek, her last kiss before she left for Boston.
When she'd been small, when Big John had still been alive, she'd wanted to be just like her mother. But it hadn't happened. No, she was tall, and instead of black hair, hers was auburn like Big John's. Instead of her mother's perfect complexion, she'd inherited her father's fairness down to the smattering of freckles across her nose. All she'd gotten of the Ybarras were her brown eyes, and even those weren't nearly so dark as she remembered her mother's.
What a pair they'd made — the beautiful Isabella and the big, handsome Irishman. Even after more than ten years Amanda still couldn't think of him without wanting to cry. While her mother had given birth to her, it had been Big John who'd given her life, who'd cherished her, who'd shared his great, grand plans for Ybarra-Ross with his daughter.
And he'd made Ybarra-Ross, like everything about him, seem bigger and better than anything else. There were three things in this world he'd found worth loving, he'd told her — his wife, his daughter, and his land.
Tears welled in her eyes, spilling over — tears not only for him, but now also for her mother. Leaning forward, she rested her head against the windowsill and finally let a dam of ten years' making break. And once it happened, she cried and cried, sobbing until her breath came in gasps. Big John was gone forever. And she'd never see her mother again, not even to make peace with her. All that was left of them was the Ybarra-Ross they'd both loved.
"Amanda?" Her aunt followed with a rap on the door. "Amanda, Mr. Donnelly has come to see you," she called through the door. "He wishes to express his condolences to you."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Comanche Moon"
Copyright © 1995 Anita Mills.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
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.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Clash of Indian & white cultures both well represented Dialogue & leads insecurities were real life Exciting action packed plot you feel emotion in the Romance liked very much to me better than lonesome Dove series because of HEA!
Skipped the sex scenes. They weren't necesary to make this a great read.