Cherish, p.1
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       Cherish, p.1

           Catherine Anderson
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Cherish


  CATHERINE ANDERSON

  Cherish

  To my son, Sidney D. Anderson Jr., and his wife, Mary Hamilton, who were joined in holy wedlock in AliceSprings, Australia on July 19, 1997. We hold you both close to our hearts even though you are thousands of miles away. May your days begin and end with a smile for each other, and may the hours that stretch between be filled with love. If you have love, you have everything, so that, dear ones, is my prayer for you.

  And also to my brother Tom La May for all the times you have filled our lives with the sound of music. There is no sweeter gift than a song that touches the heart. When I think of you, I will always picture you strumming on your guitar and singing to our mother. Thank you for all the times you made her smile, brother dear. To me you’ll always be a superstar, and my favorite song will always be your rendition of The Little Mohee.

  Contents

  Prologue

  Moonlight bathed the rolling pastureland, its silvery glow turning the…

  Chapter 1

  There was nothing quite as distinctive as the scent of…

  Chapter 2

  Race didn’t have enough hands. While firing one Colt in…

  Chapter 3

  Eyes closed and feeling oddly disembodied, Rebecca came slowly awake.

  Chapter 4

  Back to the wall, Rebecca sat with her knees drawn…

  Chapter 5

  Race stood near the drop-down work station at the rear…

  Chapter 6

  Hands locked on the wagon gate, Rebecca stared after the…

  Chapter 7

  Race crawled to within forty feet of Rebecca, but even…

  Chapter 8

  Oh, dear God! Race Spencer was going to die, right…

  Chapter 9

  Race wasn’t sure how long he might have sat there,…

  Chapter 10

  In truth Race figured he’d had a hell of a…

  Chapter 11

  The last thing Rebecca wanted to do was go to…

  Chapter 12

  Wind whistled across the grasslands, blowing particles of dirt into…

  Chapter 13

  “This here will have you feelin’ better in no time!”…

  Chapter 14

  A long journey home. Those words became a litany in…

  Chapter 15

  Light from the fire played on the canvas, casting a…

  Chapter 16

  It was obvious to Race the instant he touched his…

  Chapter 17

  This is where you was always meant to be.

  Chapter 18

  “Race?” Rebecca said in a twangy voice. “You, um…removed the…

  Chapter 19

  Kissing. Race’s lips made Rebecca feel as if as if…

  Chapter 20

  It was a good hour since dawn had burst over…

  Chapter 21

  Three days. Sitting on a stool beside the bed, Race…

  Chapter 22

  Race smiled to himself as he ran the currycomb over…

  Epilogue

  Folding the letter into its envelope and stowing it in…

  About the Author

  Praise

  Other Books by Catherine Anderson

  Copyright

  About the Publisher

  Prologue

  Pennsylvania, 1868

  Moonlight bathed the rolling pastureland, its silvery glow turning the weathered fence posts gray and making the sections of sagging wire look like ribbons of tinsel. Not caring that the hem of her black skirt was growing heavy with evening dew from the tall grass, Rebecca Morgan strolled over the uneven ground, her hands clasped behind her back and her gaze drinking in every detail of the landscape. Everything looked the same as it always had, yet so very different. For one thing, no cows dotted the clearings amongst the trees now. The last of the livestock had been sold yesterday.

  The night seemed oddly silent without the constant lowing of cattle all around her. An ache filled Rebecca’s chest. She had lived on this church farm all of her twenty-one years, and it wasn’t easy for her to say good-bye. A sad smile touched her mouth as she drew up near the fence. Propping her arms atop the post, she studied the old elm in the pasture beyond, her eyes stinging with nostalgic tears. She could scarcely believe that all of this land had been parceled off and sold.

  All of her memories had happened here, yet now the earth beneath her feet belonged to other people, and in the morning, she would have to leave, never to return. She couldn’t help but recall the happy hours she’d spent climbing on the sturdy branches of that elm as a very young child. Where had the years gone? It seemed to her that time had passed so swiftly, taking her from childhood to adulthood in a twinkling. Now an entirely new chapter of her life was about to unfold.

  Turning her gaze westward, Rebecca wished she felt lighter of heart at the prospect. For reasons beyond her, every time she thought about the long journey that she, her parents, and the other ten church members would embark upon in the morning, she was filled with foreboding. Silliness. Last year all the other church families had made the trip to Santa Fe without incident. There was absolutely no reason for her to feel so anxious.

  The others weren’t transporting money, though, and we will be, a little voice whispered at the back of her mind.

  For at least the dozenth time, she wished other arrangements could have been made to transport the funds. Once divided into parcels, this community farmland had sold to several different buyers for a great deal of money—far more than was wise for a small, unarmed caravan of travelers to carry. What if something happened? Rebecca’s lifelong friend Matthew, who was a bit of a rascal and was forever breaking the rules by reading secular publications, had told her all manner of horrific tales about the west. Between here and Santa Fe, there were men who actually earned their bread by stealing, robbing not only banks and trains but unwary travelers as well. It struck Rebecca as being foolish to take any unnecessary chances. It would have been easier and far safer to send the proceeds from the sale of the church farm to New Mexico by stage under armed guard. If anything happened to that money, their new church farm in New Mexico territory would be doomed. The church members who awaited them there would be unable to buy livestock, farming implements or seed to plant crops next spring.

  But, no. Despite all of Matthew’s warnings, the brethren had voted against hiring someone else to transport the cash. As Rebecca’s papa had so patiently explained to her, the use of weaponry to defend themselves or their property was against their beliefs, and hiring armed guards would be a roundabout way of breaking that rule. The brethren trusted in God, not a Colt .45.

  Rebecca understood the brethren’s reasoning. Truly, she did. And she believed as they did, completely and with her whole heart. But even so, her friend Matthew’s warnings rang in her ears. None of the brethren in her traveling party, her papa included, were equipped to handle trouble. In the event of a robbery, what on earth would become of the church?

  Dragging in a breath, Rebecca said a quick but heartfelt prayer for more faith. Her papa and the other five brethren were intelligent men and would take every precaution during the journey west. They even planned to hide the money under a fake floor in one of the covered wagons they would purchase once they reached St. Louis. All would be well. She was just letting all the stories she’d heard about gunmen and hostile Indians unsettle her. The heavenly Father would protect them, just as He always had, and she was being foolish to worry.

  It wasn’t as if they had a choice about leaving, after all. Relocating to Santa Fe was necessary for the good of all the church members, especially the younger ones. Even she could see that. Philadelphia had been growing by leaps and bounds. With each passing year, this farm’s boundaries had been
more closely encroached upon by landowners of secular persuasion. While working outdoors, Rebecca frequently glimpsed strangers passing by out on the road, and occasionally their new neighbors were even so bold as to trespass on church property. The elders’ concern for the younger church members was legitimate, for even Rebecca had caught herself gazing with longing at the colorful clothing worn by females not of her faith. Worldly temptation was knocking at their door on a regular basis, no question about it, and sooner or later, the younger people might be led astray.

  After living all her life in one place, Rebecca supposed her uneasiness about the move was due to the fact that she was more easily unsettled by changes than most people were. She’d grown up here, gone to sleep in the same bed for as long as she could recall, and had believed she would die here. Now all that seemed familiar and safe was being stripped from her life, and she was about to strike out for parts unknown. The farthest afield she had ever been was to Philadelphia, and then she’d always gone with her papa or one of the other brethren. Now she was about to travel nearly two thousand miles. The mere thought seemed frightening to her.

  Once she was happily settled at the farm in New Mexico, she would laugh at all these misgivings, she felt sure, and before she knew it, she would grow as fond of her new home as she was of this one. There was much to anticipate in the near future. She would soon be officially betrothed to Henry Rusk, and next June she would become his wife. In no time, she would probably have a brood of children. How foolish of her to cling to the old when her new life would be so much more exciting.

  Releasing a weary sigh, Rebecca took one last look at the elm tree, then turned to go. Dawn would come early, and she would have to do a lot of walking beside the wagon tomorrow. Like everyone else, she needed to get a good night’s sleep. There were probably last minute things to be done before leaving in the morning as well, and her mother was undoubtedly wondering what had become of her.

  As Rebecca approached the church common, she saw that golden lantern light illuminated the windows of the half dozen occupied houses, the warm glow all the more marked because the other homes looked so dark and empty. Another wave of nostalgia washed over her. With only a handful of people still here, there were no voices or laughter to greet her. It struck her as being even sadder that the church bell, which had called her to prayer several times each day for as long as she could remember, would never be rung here again.

  Realizing that she was about to cry, Rebecca straightened her shoulders and raised her chin a notch. Enough of this. She didn’t want her parents to see her with a long face. In preparing for the trip, they had enough on their minds without having to worry about her.

  Even at a distance, she could see her papa checking the load on their buckboard, his shoulders jerking as he tugged to check the ropes. For days, he’d been fretting because her mother had insisted on packing so many of their things. A buckboard could bear only so much weight, and they were bound to encounter some rough roads before they could purchase a larger, sturdier conveyance in Missouri.

  A smile curved Rebecca’s mouth as she surveyed the lofty jumble of possessions piled in the wagon. Even after sorting and tossing out a fair half of their household contents, they still had an incredible amount of stuff to take with them. Her papa was right; Ma was a little pack rat. Just the thought of having to transfer all that stuff into a covered wagon once they reached St. Louis made her feel weary.

  As she crossed the common, Rebecca resisted the urge to look over her shoulder at the pastures that stretched almost as far as she could see behind her. The time had come to look forward, not back, and she meant to do so with a glad heart. No more anxiety. If she began thinking about the frightening stories Matthew had told her again, she would give herself a good scolding and pray for serenity. A good Christian had utter confidence in the Almighty. She would do well to follow her parents’ example and trust in God to watch over them.

  Chapter 1

  Southeastern Colorado, 1868

  There was nothing quite as distinctive as the scent of human blood, Race Spencer thought grimly. Warm and slightly sweet with a coppery tang, it put him in mind of his childhood and the stolen pennies he’d often clutched in one grubby fist.

  All his life, he’d heard men tell of seeing things so terrible it curled their hair. Race, whose wiry, jet-black locks were as straight as a bullet on a windless day, had always believed those tales to be flapdoodle. Until now. Judging by the prickly feeling under his collar, the short hairs at the nape of his neck were curling as tight as the topknot on a bald-faced calf.

  Even his horse Dusty was all het up, withers twitching, ears cocked, freshly shod hooves nervously striking partially buried slabs of rock on the sandy rise. Race leaned forward in the saddle to stroke the buckskin’s muscular neck. Not that he figured on it doing much good. Dusty knew the smell of death, and like any living thing with a lick of sense, the horse had a hankering to make fast tracks.

  “Easy, old son,” he murmured to the mount who was also the best trail partner around. “Give me a minute to eyeball this here mess before we decide to hightail it.”

  In the arroyo below, a half dozen wagons sat in a loose circle around a lone candelabra cactus. The stretch of sunbaked, yellow clay between the wagons was littered with all manner of possessions and so many dead people Race had trouble counting them in a sweeping glance. All were dressed in black clothing, with large, crimson patches staining the yellow earth under their spread-eagle bodies.

  Though a few rays of fading sunlight were still visible over the distant peaks of the Rocky Mountains, Race felt chilled to his marrow. A shudder did a do-si-do up his spine, and his skin went as knurly as a plucked goose.

  Over a mile back, he had started catching whiffs of the blood. Knowing it was fresh and most probably human, he should have been braced for the sight that greeted him now. But to say these people had died violently was like saying Methuselah was sort of old. This was a massacre, nothing less, the type of thing Apache warriors might do, only as far as Race could see, there hadn’t been a single scalp taken.

  All totaled, Race counted eleven bodies in the rubble, six middling-aged men and five women. Citified folks, he reckoned, lured west by the promise of free land and wide-open spaces. It was disheartening to think that high hopes for a better life had led them to such a sorry pass.

  From the looks of things, they’d traveled a far piece, probably clear from St. Louis, a hell of a journey for both man and beast. A fellow lying in the foreground wore boots with patched soles, indicating that he’d walked many a mile, and the canvas on the rattletrap wagons was tattered and sported so many holes, it reminded Race of the punctured Arbuckle can that his biscuit roller, Cookie Grigsley, used as a strainer.

  The poor damned fools. What craziness had led them to leave the main wagon train? And after doing that, why in the hell had they ventured off the Santa Fe Trail? He supposed they might have taken a wrong turn. The Mountain Branch of the Santa Fe Trail meandered in a north-westerly direction for quite a spell before it dove south toward New Mexico, and sometimes inexperienced travelers got to thinking they were headed the wrong way. When they tried to correct their course, they often got lost.

  He heaved a weary sigh, knowing even as the questions circled darkly in his mind that he’d come up with no answers. None that made sense, anyhow. After hiring out his gun to Santa Fe Trail wagon masters for ten long years, Race knew that all westward-bound travelers were warned repeatedly that it was dangerous to light out on their own. Unfortunately, in almost every caravan, there were those men whose high opinions of themselves outflanked their common sense. For whatever reason, these folks had broken off from the main group.

  It would be their last mistake.

  In his thirty years of living, Race had seen more things to turn his stomach than he cared to recollect, but this beat all. Even most of the oxen had been slaughtered, only two of the creatures still standing. Whoever had done this was plumb loco.

>   The ticklish sensation at the back of Race’s neck suddenly became more pronounced. He scanned the surrounding terrain. He wasn’t alone in this place.

  Another man might have pooh-poohed the notion, but Race had learned when he was knee high to a tall grasshopper never to question his hunches. Maybe it was the dash of Apache flowing in his veins, but he had always possessed keen senses. Like his being able to smell blood from well over a mile off. No how, no way could he explain that, yet to him the ability was second nature.

  Putting all else from his mind, he pricked his ears to listen, his body motionless, his breathing slowed almost to a stop. What he saw and heard—or in this case, what he didn’t see and hear—was mighty worrisome. On a prairie grassland at this time of evening, the horned larks and prairie chickens usually twittered to beat the band, and small creatures always darted to and fro through the foxtail barley and blue grama grass. Not so in this place. An eerie quiet lay over everything. Even the wind seemed to be holding its breath. Not so much as a twig moved in the tall stands of saltbush that dotted the sand hill at the opposite side of the arroyo.

  Shifting in the saddle, Race slowly reached back to loosen the strap that secured his Henry in the rifle boot. At close range, his pearl-handled Colts were his weapons of choice, but they were as useless as teats on a boar hog for long-distance shooting. The two-legged animals responsible for this piece of work wouldn’t be the kind to face him. They’d stay under cover and try to pick him off with their rifles.

  Race wanted to kick himself for not bringing a few of his hired hands along. But he really hadn’t anticipated trouble. A half hour or so back, when he’d heard all the gunfire, the shots had been so close together and similar in pitch that he figured it was someone target practicing. He had decided to circle out from his cattle herd to have a look-see only because rapid, evenly spaced gunshots could be a distress signal. Granted, the usual way to signal for help was to fire only three shots, then pause for a spell before shooting again. But who was to say a greenhorn would know that?

 

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