Named a Romantic Times Book Reviews All-Time Favorite, this sprawling historical novel picks up where Tennessee Bride left off.
Emma and Joe’s daughter Rachael Rivers has returned to Austin to teach school after training for three years in St. Louis. In 1845, as Texas moves toward statehood, the Texas Rangers try to keep order. But one Ranger, the cruel and crooked Jason Brown, is more interested in having his way with the proper young schoolteacher.
Brand Selby is a half-Comanche, half-white rancher with a small spread just north of Austin. From the moment he sees Rachael, he knows he wants nothing other than to win her heart. But hatred for the Indians runs deep in these parts where renegade Comanches as well as outlaws and unscrupulous Comancheros still run wild and lawless.
When Rachael rebuffs the advances of the Texas Ranger, he vows revenge. But Rachael and Brand’s love has already been sealed, and not even the prospect of Rachael being cast out from her own kind, nor the threat of violence against Brand, can extinguish the flames of desire in their hearts.
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A hot Texas wind blew the hemline of Rachael Rivers's dress, dusting the bottom of the deep blue skirt and spoiling the polish of her high-button shoes. It was a warm spring day, 1845, and Rachael was hot in her long-sleeve dress, but it was her best dress, and she had wanted to look nice for her homecoming. The dress fit her tiny waist perfectly, billowing below the waist with several slips beneath it; the perfectly placed darts of the bodice accenting her full, round bosom. Her blond hair was swept up under a small hat, part of its long tresses hanging in curls down the back of her neck.
Rachael ignored the heat. Her blue eyes saw only the inscription on the new gravestone beside her mother's.
HERE LIES JOSEPH RIVERS, KNOWN TO SOME AS RIVER JOE. BIRTHDATE UNKNOWN. DIED FEBRUARY 12, 1845. A GOOD HUSBAND AND FATHER.
Sand, carried on the wind, stung Rachael's pretty face. Texas was hard on fair skin, hard on everything. Rachael's mother, Emma, had been dead since 1840. She was only 30 years old when she died in childbirth, taking the baby with her. But she had left behind three sons and a daughter.
"At least they're together now," said twenty-year-old Joshua Rivers as he moved closer beside his grieving sister. "Ma and Pa didn't have a lot of years together, but they sure did love each other," he added.
Thirteen-year-old Luke stood across from his sister and older brother, sniffing and wiping at new tears that spilled out of big, blue eyes. He ran a hand through his dark hair. It didn't seem possible his father had already been dead for two months. Now, seeing Rachael grieving over their father, his own painful loss was reawakened.
Fifteen-year-old Matthew leaned against the big cotton-wood tree that shaded the graves. His thick, blond hair blew every which way, and his blue eyes were watery with tears that the boy was too stubborn to let fall. Luke and Matthew were both built big for their ages, good-looking young men who had learned about hard work early in life.
"If only I had come back sooner," Rachael spoke softly, hardly able to get the words past the painful lump in her throat. "I just never imagined a man like Father dying, Josh. He was so big and strong and able."
"I know," Joshua answered. "It got extra cold last January and the pond froze over. Pa went out to chop a hole in it for the horses and more ice broke. He fell right in. A couple days later he came down with a fever and he just never got better — got hit with a terrible cough to where he just couldn't breathe anymore. Maybe if Ma was still alive he'd have tried harder. But I think he just got so sick he started thinking about maybe giving up and going to be with Ma. He was never a happy man after she died anyway."
Rachael turned, half collapsing against her brother's chest. He hugged his weeping sister supportively. Joshua was tall and broad like his father, a handsome young man, with Joe Rivers's dark eyes and winning smile. His hair was a soft, sandy color, a grand mixture of his dark father and his blond mother.
"Go on about your chores," he told Luke and Matthew gently. "I know you want to visit with Rachael, but this is pretty bad news for her right now. Supper will be a better time to get your visiting done."
Luke fidgeted with a floppy leather hat that hung limply from his calloused hands. He came around to the sister it seemed he hardly knew anymore. "I'm glad you're home, Rachael," he said awkwardly. "I'm sorry about Pa."
Rachael turned to him, giving him a quick, tearful hug. She glanced at Matthew, who still stood leaning against the tree.
"We'll get reacquainted at supper, like Josh said," she told Matthew, finally finding her voice. "I'm proud of you and Luke both, for staying on here with Josh and taking care of the ranch. I know it's hard work."
Matthew nodded, quickly turning away to hide a tear that finally slipped out. He hurried off to do his chores, barking at Luke to come and help.
All four Rivers children were named after biblical characters. "It's fitting," their mother had often said. "I learned to read with a Bible, back in Tennessee when your pa and I lived among the Cherokee. The Cherokee raised your pa, even though he was white. They were family to him, so they became family to me, too."
Rachael could easily remember Emma Rivers telling them stories about how she grew up, how she met Joe Rivers, things that happened back in Tennessee; how the Cherokee got sent away by the government; how she and Joe came to live in Texas to start a new life. That had taken great strength and courage, and the sons and daughter of Joe and Emma Rivers were nurtured to carry those same qualities, necessary characteristics for survival in a harsh land.
"Oh, Josh, I wish I could have been here," Rachael said. She took a handkerchief from the pocket of her dress and blew her nose.
"Pa would understand," Joshua answered. "Besides, you were doing what Ma wanted. She wanted you to go to that school back East. Now look at you, a fine lady, anybody can see. I expect my sister is the prettiest girl in all of Texas."
Rachael smiled through her tears. "That's what Father used to say to Mother," she said, her voice shaky. "Remember how he used to make her blush?" Joshua grinned. "I sure do. Now you're doing it."
She shook her head, laughing and crying at the same time. "Josh Rivers. Don't you start."
Joshua folded his arms. "Well, the only thing I regret is that Pa can't see you now. You look more like Ma than ever. And Ma would be so proud to know you'll be teaching in Austin. You did right by her memory, Rachael, coming back here to teach."
Rachael wiped at her eyes, taking a good look at her brother. She had arrived at the Double "R" no more than a half hour earlier, paying the stage driver a little extra to bring her directly to the ranch after his stop in Austin. She had discovered the shocking news of her father's death upon her arrival. There had barely been time to visit with her brothers, or even to take a true inventory of how they had changed.
"And look at you," she said then. "Josh, you're a grown man."
"Three years can make a big difference. You've changed a lot, too, you know. You left here a shy, sixteen-year-old girl. Now you're a woman."
Rachael sniffed, studying her brother lovingly. "Now what, Josh? You moving into town?"
"Heck no. Pa loved this ranch. We're staying right here on the Double 'R.' We helped Pa enough over the years to know what to do."
"But the ranch has never brought in much money, Josh. The weather is so unpredictable. A crop can be wiped out overnight, cattle can starve, let alone the problems with Indians stealing the strays. That's what I worry about most — the Comanche renegades."
Joshua shrugged. "Pa was a hell of a fighter, and so are me and Matt and Luke. We all can handle our repeaters just fine. We'll handle those skulking savages."
"Josh! You know Father never would speak of them that way. You know how he felt about Indians."
"Comanche aren't like other Indians. Pa liked to think they were — said they were just afraid of losing all their land and all. But I rode on a patrol once last year with Jason Brown. He's a Texas Ranger now. Did you know that?" Rachael stiffened. "No," she answered, wiping at her eyes again.
"We rode out to check on other settlers," Joshua continued, "and I saw what the Comanche did to a nice family north of here. I tried to tell Pa about it, but he just said I have a lot to understand about Indians and why they do some of the things they do. Then he went into that story again about what happened to the Cherokee. 'It didn't do them any good to try to keep their land the legal way, the peaceful way,' he'd say. 'Other Indians know that, so they're going to fight their own way to keep what's theirs.' But I'll tell you, if you saw what I saw, you wouldn't have any sympathy for the Comanche."
Rachael frowned, blowing her nose once more. "Why on earth did you go riding off with Jason Brown? He's an Indian hater, Josh, and you know it. Of course he's going to show you the worst. I never liked him much, and neither did Father."
"Well, maybe now that you're older, you'll change your mind. Jason asks about you all the time, Rachael. He never forgot you. And he's a good man, a capable man and a good Ranger."
Rachael turned, looking at the gravestone again. "I don't want to think about him right now, Josh. I just want to think about Father. Do you mind leaving me here alone for a while?"
Joshua put a hand on her shoulder, squeezing gently. "Sure. I'm sorry you had to come back to this, Rachael. I reckon you have a lot to think about right now. I'll be up at the house." He patted her shoulder and left.
Rachael gazed at her parents' graves, as tears stung her eyes.
"I did it, Mother. I'm a teacher now, just like you always dreamed and planned for me. I know how much importance you put on a formal education. Now I have one, and I'll be teaching other children."
A hawk drifted overhead. Rachael glanced up at a wide, blue white sky. She wondered if she was crazy to come back to Texas, to leave the comfortable, convenient lifestyle she had enjoyed back East. But she had missed her family; wanted to see them all again. More than that, Austin was a city that was growing fast, and it was rumored that as soon as Texas became a state, which was expected to happen within the year, the town would become its capital. There were a lot of children in the Austin area who needed schooling.
Rachael had kept in touch with Lacy Reed, a friend of the family who owned a boardinghouse in town. It was Lacy who had written Rachael to tell her Austin had built a school and that another teacher would be needed. They had already hired a male teacher, but he spent a lot of time riding a circuit around Austin, visiting outlying ranches and teaching children who could not get to the school in town.
To Rachael's surprise and delight, those in charge of setting up an educational system for Austin's youth had approved of allowing her to come there to teach. Rachael didn't know if it was because she was from Austin, or if it was a matter of desperate need. She knew only that she was being given a chance to teach. She realized there were plenty of other places in this desolate land where teachers were needed, but since this position was close to her family Rachael was more than happy to take the job.
She bent down, touching the earth over her father's grave. New grass had begun to grow there, but the dirt was so dry Rachael wondered how the little blades had managed to take hold.
"I'll do a good job," she promised her parents quietly. "I'll make you proud of me." She sighed deeply. "I loved you so much, Father. I'm so sorry I didn't get back in time to see you again."
She broke into new tears. The wide, quiet land around her only enhanced her own lonely need to see Joe Rivers just once more. But that would never be. She breathed deeply to regain her composure, reminding herself life must go on and she had a job to do now. She would spend some time with her brothers, then get back to Austin and get to work. School would soon close for the summer, but there would be time to get to know the children before the next school season opened.
She rose, wiping at her eyes and looking toward a corral where Luke and Matt were trying to rope a mustang from amid its wild friends. She could not get over how her younger brothers had grown. Joshua was right. Three years could make quite a difference.
She turned back to the graves. "I love you both." She walked toward the house then. It stood there as she had always remembered it — a moderate, white frame house that Emma Rivers had strived to always keep tidy in spite of the Texas dust. Rachael had tried to do the same after her mother's death, until she had left for St. Louis at sixteen. Joshua stood on the slightly sagging front porch, watching her approach. Rachael could feel only pride at how her handsome brother had grown and matured. This was the first time in her life she had seen him as a man instead of as a boy.
She moved up the creaking wooden steps, facing her brother. "I'd stay here and keep house and cook for you and the boys, Josh, but I have to be near Austin."
Joshua nodded. "That's for sure, and it's fine with me, Rachael. The horses and cattle are enough attraction for them renegades. One look at you and they'd kill us all to get to you. You're better off in town."
Rachael blushed slightly, looking away. "I wish you'd sell this place and take jobs in town too, Josh. Father was probably right about the Indians having reasons for what they do. I can't really say they're wrong myself. But at the same time, I don't want anything to happen to my brothers."
"Actually, it's been pretty quiet here. A few renegades show up once in a while wanting some tobacco or some food. I don't worry much about them anymore. We can take care of ourselves."
She faced him, smiling. "I'm not saying you aren't capable, Josh, but I can't help worrying. After all, you're all I have now."
"Oh, I don't know. You did good on your own back East. And now you're an independent woman with a job and all. Besides, you sure won't have trouble finding a husband."
Rachael shook her head, folding her arms. "Don't be so anxious to marry me off."
Joshua moved from where he leaned on a support post and put an arm around her shoulders. "Where will you be staying?" "With Lacy Reed."
Josh nodded. "Well, in spite of the danger, I hope you'll stay a couple of days, at least. The house could use a woman's touch."
Rachael laughed lightly, grateful for the diversion from her grief. "And you could stand to eat a woman's cooking, right?" "That's for sure." Joshua stooped to pick up her bags.
"Maybe I should stay longer, Josh. I didn't expect to come home to a fresh grave. Maybe I shouldn't leave you so soon."
"It's okay. It's best that you go, much as we'd all like you to stay. I'll rest easier once you're gone and I know I don't have to worry about leaving you alone at the house while we go out in the fields. We'll try to stay close while you're here. In the meantime I'll have to figure out a safe way to get you back to town."
Rachael opened the front screen. The hinges squeaked, just as they always had. The familiar sound reminded her of girlhood days, when she would run in and out of the door to play or do chores. After she stepped inside the house she immediately realized how right Joshua had been. The place definitely needed a woman's touch. Dishes sat everywhere, some clean, some dirty. Clothes hung over chairs, and a vase of flowers long wilted sat on the table.
"Sorry about the mess," Joshua said. "We really can keep it pretty nice, but we've been awful busy lately — spring roundup and all, Rachael. If I had known you were coming —"
"It's all right. I understand. You go do what needs doing and I'll make you and the boys a real good supper."
Joshua set down her baggage, sighing deeply, a trace of tears in his eyes as he looked her over once more. "I'm glad you're back, Rachael."
Rachael smiled sadly. "I only wish I would have come back a couple of months sooner."
Joshua smiled through tears and quickly turned away. "I'd better get to helping Matt and Luke." He left, and Rachael looked around the main room of the little frame house. She ran her hand along the wooden table Joe Rivers had made with his own hands. She glanced at the coat hooks near the door to see that his doeskin jacket still hung where it had always hung. Joshua probably didn't have the heart to do anything with it. She walked up to it, touching the worn spot on one sleeve where his elbow had long ago wiped away the original light color of the pretty doeskin and had left a dark, shiny spot. Emma Rivers had made the jacket for her husband, using skins from deer Joe had shot for food. Rachael remembered how her mother patiently taught her how to properly dry and stretch the hide, how to smoke it to make it soft.
It seemed so impossible Joe Rivers could be dead. Such men weren't supposed to die. But Texas had a way of claiming most living things prematurely, even men as strong as her father. She rested her face against the jacket, breathing deeply of its scent of the outdoors, of wild things, of leather and skins. That was the kind of man Joe Rivers was.
"Father," she whispered, the tears coming again.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Texas Bride"
Copyright © 1988 F. Rosanne Bittner.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
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