Table of Contents
THE HILLS ARE ALIVE
Something wasn’t right. Fargo slowed to a walk. He didn’t think they had seen him, but then again, all it would take was one warrior with eyes as sharp as a hawk’s to look back at just the right moment.
His skin prickling, Fargo placed his hand on his Colt. He would go on a little ways yet, and if he didn’t spot them, turn back.
The last Fargo saw of the six, they were winding between a pair of wooded hills. Both hills were about the same size and shape, and reminded him of a woman’s breasts. He grinned at the notion, and thought of Rebecca Keever, of her full bosom and winsome figure.
The next moment Fargo promptly lost his grin when the trees to his right and the trees to his left disgorged shrieking warriors brandishing lances and notching arrows to sinew strings.
He had ridden right into a trap.
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First published by Signet, an imprint of New American Library, a division of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
First Printing, July 2009
The first chapter of this book previously appeared in
, the three hundred thirty-second volume in this series.
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eISBN : 978-1-101-05776-6
Beginnings . . . they bend the tree and they mark the man. Skye Fargo was born when he was eighteen. Terror was his midwife, vengeance his first cry. Killing spawned Skye Fargo, ruthless, cold-blooded murder. Out of the acrid smoke of gunpowder still hanging in the air, he rose, cried out a promise never forgotten.
The Trailsman they began to call him all across the West: searcher, scout, hunter, the man who could see where others only looked, his skills for hire but not his soul, the man who lived each day to the fullest, yet trailed each tomorrow. Skye Fargo, the Trailsman, the seeker who could take the wildness of a land and the wanting of a woman and make them his own.
The Black Hills, 1861—woe to the white man who
invaded the land of the Lakotas.
It was like looking for a pink needle in a green and brown haystack.
Or so Skye Fargo thought as he scanned the prairie for the girl. She would be easy to spot if it weren’t for the fact there was so
prairie. A sea of grass stretched from Canada to Mexico, broken here and there by rivers and mountain ranges.
North of him, not yet in sight, were the Black Hills.
Fargo didn’t like being there. He was in Sioux country, and the Sioux were not fond of whites these days. More often than not, any white they came across was treated to a quiver of arrows or had his throat slit and his hair lifted so it could hang from a coup stick in a warrior’s lodge.
Fargo was white, but it was hard to tell by looking at him. His skin was bronzed dark by the relentless sun. He had lake-blue eyes, something no Sioux ever did. He wore buckskins. A white hat, a red bandanna, and boots were the rest of his attire. A Colt with well-worn grips was strapped around his waist. In an ankle sheath nestled an Arkansas toothpick. From his saddle scabbard jutted the stock of a Henry rifle.
Rising in the stirrups, Fargo squinted against the glare of the sun and raked the grass from east to west and back again. It wasn’t flat, not this close to the Hills. A maze of gullies and washes made spotting her that much harder.
“Damn all kids, anyhow,” Fargo grumbled out loud. He gigged the Ovaro and rode on, vowing that there would be hell to pay when he got back to the party he was guiding.
A shrill whistle drew his gaze to a prairie dog. It had spotted him and was warning its friends.
Fargo swung wide of the prairie dog town. The last thing he needed was for the Ovaro to step into a hole and break a leg. He intended to keep the stallion a good long while. It was the best horse he ever rode. Often, it meant the difference between his breathing air or breathing dirt.
“Where could she have gotten to?”
Fargo had a habit of talking to himself. It came from being alone so much. He was a frontiersman, or as some would call him, a plainsman, although he spent as much time in the mountains as he did roaming the grasslands. Wide spaces, empty of people, was how he liked it.
He came to the crest of a knoll and drew rein again. Twisting from side to side, he still couldn’t spot her. Frowning, he indulged in a few choice cuss words. He began to regret ever taking this job.
About to ride on, Fargo glanced down, and froze. Hoof-prints showed he wasn’t the first on that knoll. The tracks were made by unshod horses, which meant Indians, and in this instance undoubtedly meant Sioux. There had been five of them. They passed that way several days ago. That was good. They were long gone and posed no danger to the girl.
There were a lot of other dangers, though. Bears, wolves, cougars, rattlesnakes, all called the prairie home. Most times they left people alone, but not always, and it was the not always that worried him. To a griz she would be no more than a snack. A hungry wolf might decide to try something new. As for cougars, they’d kill and eat just about anything they could catch.
“The ornery brat,” Fargo groused some more. He kept riding and was soon amid a maze of coulees.
Fargo could see the headlines now.
SENATOR’S DAUGHTER RIPPED APART
BY WILD BEAST!
HUNTING TRIP ENDS IN TRAGEDY.
FAMOUS TRAILSMAN LOSES CHILD
That last one was the likeliest. Journalists loved to write about him, often making up stories out of whole cloth. The more sensational the tale, the better. All to boost circulation. Were it up to him, he’d take every scribbler alive and throw them down a well.
Fargo rounded a bend, and drew rein. In the grass ahead lay something yellow and pink. Suspecting what it was, he dismounted and walked over, his spurs jingling. The girl’s doll grinned up at him. He picked it up. The blond curls and pink dress were a copy of the girl and the dress she often wore.
She had been there and dropped the doll. That worried him. She never went anywhere without the thing. She even slept with it. She wouldn’t run off and leave it.
A scream split the air.
Fargo was in the saddle before it died. He reined sharply in the direction the scream came from. Half a minute of hard riding and he found her at last. She wasn’t alone.
Gertrude Keever had her back to a dirt bank and was kicking at the creatures trying to sink their teeth into her. There were two of them: coyotes. Ordinarily their kind stayed well shy of humans but this pair was scrawny. Either they were sickly or poor hunters, and they were hungry enough to go after Gerty.
Fargo drew his Colt and fired into the ground. He had nothing against the coyotes. They were only trying to fill their bellies. At the blast, one of them ran off. The other didn’t even look up. It kept on snapping at the girl’s legs and missed by a whisker.
“Kill this stupid thing, you simpleton!” the girl yelled.
Fargo almost wished the coyote had bit her. He fired from the hip and cored its head.
Gerty glared at him. “Took you long enough.” She stepped to the dead coyote, squatted, and stuck a finger in the bullet hole. The she held her finger up and grinned as she watched the blood trickle down.
“What the hell are you doing?”
The girl held her finger higher for him to see. “Look. Isn’t it pretty?”
Swinging down, Fargo walked over, gripped her elbow, and jerked her to her feet. “You damned nuisance. Wash your face with it, why don’t you?”
“I’m going to tell Father on you. He won’t like how you talk to me. He won’t like it one bit.”
Fargo sighed. For a thirteen-year-old, she was as big a pain as some women twice her age. “I’ll do more than talk if you don’t start showing some common sense.”