Marco Mondragón and his wife Paloma are living hectic but happy lives at the Double Cross, on the edge of Comanchería. Five years after the death of Comanche leader Cuerno Verde, cautious diplomacy between the tribe and the colonists is underway to end Comanche raids into New Mexico. Paloma's time has been fully consumed by her two toddlers and newborn son and Marco's by spring planting.
The Seven Year Audit of 1784 arrives and with it comes auditor Fernando Ygnacio. After years of incarceration for a crime he did not commit, Señor Ygnacio is a broken man. Although his daughter Catalina is bitter about his mistreatment by his superiors, her storytelling abilities captivate the household, including a frequent visitor from the nearby presidio, El Teniente Joaquim Gasca, who has been undergoing his own reformation from rascal to leader.
Unknown to him, Marco has peculiar enemies plotting his downfall. When Paloma and Catalina set out on a visit to Marco's sister, meant to give Paloma relief from her busy life, the women are kidnapped. Devastated, Marco is torn between love and duty. He yearns to search for his wife, but feels bound by colonial duties to accompany his friend Toshua to Río Napestle, where Comanches have gathered to debate the region's fragile peace. In his absence from the Double Cross, will Joaquim Gasca and Toshua's wife Eckapeta be able to find the missing women?
About the Author
A well-known veteran of the romance writing field, Carla Kelly is the author of thirty-one novels and three non-fiction works, as well as numerous short stories and articles for various publications. She 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; two Whitney Awards, 2011 and 2012; and a Lifetime Achievement Award from Romantic Times. Carla's interest in historical fiction is a byproduct of her lifelong study of history. She's held a variety of jobs, including public relations work for major hospitals and hospices, feature writer and columnist for a North Dakota daily newspaper, and ranger in the National Park Service (her favorite job) at Fort Laramie National Historic Site and Fort Union Trading Post National Historic Site. She has worked for the North Dakota Historical Society as a contract researcher. Interest in the Napoleonic Wars at sea led to a recent series of novels about the British Channel Fleet during that conflict. Of late, Carla has written two novels set in southeast Wyoming in 1910 that focus on her Mormon background and her interest in ranching. You can find Carla on the Web at: CarlaKellyAuthor.com.
Read an Excerpt
"It's hard for me to even imagine a peaceful room with no one barging in, demanding this and that."
"I think you can imagine it quite well!" Catalina teased. "Start now by taking a nap."
Paloma yawned and close her eyes. "I'll never get to sleep this way," she murmured, just moments before she did precisely that.
Catalina closed her eyes, too, thinking of years of smarts and slights and rudeness. For some reason she had turned to them for nourishment, letting the sourness of unfair treatment fill her belly. Maybe she lashed out first to keep meanness at bay. She took the idea one logical step forward; it might be time to stop. With a sigh of her own, she relaxed and rested her head against the side of the carriage.
She had no sense of time passing until she felt the spring sun high overhead. But that wasn't what woke her.
The carriage had come to an abrupt halt. Catalina opened her eyes to see Chato the coachman through the small opening, but only dimly, because the overhang of the carriage roof was in shadow.
The shadow moved and she saw a knife sticking out of Chato's neck. The shadow moved again and she saw a horseman, the cause of the shadow, beside the carriage now. She put her hand just above Paloma's mouth and patted her arm.
"Something is happening," she whispered.
Paloma opened her eyes and her own hand went immediately to her sleeping son in his cradle at her feet. She sat up carefully and sucked in her breath when she saw how the coachman leaned.
Both women clung together when the carriage door slammed open and a bearded man with dead eyes leaned inside. To their astonishment, he opened his mouth wide and his eyes wider and slammed the door shut. They listened to shouts of "Idiot! Fool! A mistake!"
Juanito began to stir and whimper. Paloma picked him up and hastily unbuttoned her camisa, nursing him to keep him silent.
"Eckapeta and I ... we train the little ones not to cry," she whispered, her blue eyes huge in her pale face. "Juanito is too young for such a lesson." She bowed her head over her child, trying to feed him and protect him at the same time.
The pitiful gesture went straight to Catalina's heart and shoved back her own fears. She reached for Paloma, as vulnerable now as a woman could ever be, and patted her shoulder.
"I'm going to find out what's going on," Catalina whispered, as she wondered at her sudden wellspring of bravery.
With amazing clarity, she knew someone had to protect Paloma and her baby, and there wasn't anyone else around except her. For years her father had depended on her--perhaps too much--but that was nothing compared to this need, growing stronger by the second, to help someone even more vulnerable.
"I do this for you, Marco," Catalina whispered under her breath.
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