The year is 1782. Marco Mondragón, brand inspector in Spanish New Mexico, and his wife Paloma Vega have settled happily into married life on the Double Cross. And yet Paloma is convinced their joy will not be complete until she has a child. She longs to give her husband a baby to soothe his grief over the death from cholera of his first wife and twin sons.
Marco's land grant stands at the edge of the most dangerous region in the Southwest: Comanchería. Both Paloma and Marco have suffered at the hands of the fierce Comanche, losing beloved family members in raids.
Despite their fear and mistrust of the Comanche, one lives among them. Paloma rescued Toshua from slavery and near death. As much as she respects the man now, Paloma wishes he would return to the Staked Plains, Comanche stronghold to the east in Texas. No one knows why Toshua remains at the Double Cross. Is it because his own tribe shunned him, or is he genuinely attached to its owners?
Now a new enemy threatens the Mondragóns' domestic bliss: the Dark Wind--la viruela, smallpox--barreling down on the defenseless royal colony from Comanchería. A mysterious and arrogant English physician named Anthony Gill offers their one hope at salvation... but only if Marco agrees to his Devil's Bargain.
Book Two in the Spanish Brand series, which began with The Double Cross.
About the Author
A well-known veteran of romance writing, Carla Kelly is the author of thirty-five novels, numerous short stories, and four non-fiction works. She has been writing for years. Her first novel was a three-sentence, typed mystery titled, "The Old Mill," written when she was six years old. Her novels are considerably longer now.
Carla is the recipient of two RITA Awards from Romance Writers of America for Best Regency of the Year; two Spur Awards from Western Writers of America for Best Short Fiction; and two Whitney Awards, one for Best Romance, 2011, and another for Best Historical Fiction, 2012. She also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from Romantic Times.
Carla enjoys writing historical fiction, which she sees as a byproduct of her study of history. In addition to her works centered on the American West, she has written many books featuring the Royal Navy during the Napoleonic Wars.
Carla and Martin Kelly live in Idaho Falls, Idaho. Look her up on carlakellyauthor.com.
Read an Excerpt
He must have noticed her hesitation, because he calmed himself, even as she watched. He took her hand and it trembled in hers.
"What, my love? Surely there is nothing worse that Señor Gil could have told you than what we already know is coming our way."
Alert now, wary even, she watched his expression change into precisely that look of false good will that she had been thinking of practicing on him. This would never do. She grasped his hand and tugged him down the hall into Luisa Gutierrez's sala, which she knew was empty now, all the knitters gone. He did not resist as she towed him along, a little woman dragging a tall man who put up no resistance. Good thing the governor could not see his juez de campo now.
She closed the door behind them and sat down on the earthen bench that was part of the inner adobe wall. She patted the spot beside her. When he sat down, she took his hand and clutched it to her breast. "What is it, Marco?"
He tried to smile, then obviously gave it up as a bad business. She could almost see him thinking something through; she knew him that well.
"I have very good news, my love. That man"--he nearly spit out the word, then collected himself with great effort--"that man is a physician. He has the capacity to inoculate you, and he will."
Paloma closed her eyes and felt herself melt like butter, so great was her relief. "Gracias a Dios," she murmured, and touched her forehead to his shoulder. She opened her eyes and looked at him again, mystified by the expression of vast disquietude. Surely he should be happy at this news. True, inoculations themselves could be dangerous, but that was a chance everyone took. There must be more.
"What else?" she asked.
"Nothing else," he said too quickly. "We'll take him with us and see how many of our people, Toshua included, will agree to inoculation. We'll probably have to wait here a day while he inoculates my nephews, but then--"
She put her fingers to his lips, stopping the flow of words. "What else?" she asked again.
"Don't you dare lie to me!" She hadn't meant her words to come out with such force. He winced, and Paloma knew he had never heard that tone of voice from her before. Well, too bad. He was not telling her what was written so clearly in his eyes and in the way his hands still trembled. "Not to me, Marco. Not ever to me."
He leaned back against the wall, something he seldom did, this man who sat so straight, as though he were always in the saddle. He banged his head gently against the wall with increasing force until, horrified, she put her hand behind his head to cushion the blows. He stopped.
"What is he making you do?" she asked.