Authors: Teresa Southwick
Tags: #Romance, #Historical, #Fiction
Arizona Territory, September 1883
Cady Tanner blew out
the oil lamp on the table by the window and resigned herself to another sleepless night in the little pitch-black adobe. Even more than September’s stifling heat, worry about her brother Jack kept her awake. Where could he be? She’d sent word weeks ago that she was coming. This was her seventh night alone in his cabin, and with each passing day her apprehension grew. What if Jack hadn’t received her telegram? What if something had happened to him?
The canvas floor was rough against her feet as she felt her way to the cot pushed against the wall. Compared to her own intricately carved bed frame and fine linen sheets at home in New York, it was simple. In fact, if it hadn’t been for the Tanner family photograph on the table, she would have thought the army detail she’d asked to bring her here had left her in the wrong
spot. Mama would never have agreed to let her come if she’d known Jack lived in such a primitive place.
Cady didn’t care. Her life back east was more stifling than the heat in Arizona Territory. She was glad to be away from her parents’ social restraints, no matter how uncivilized the frontier might be. Soon she would realize her dream to be a teacher. Even more exciting, she’d be using the skills she’d learned where they were needed most.
At the women’s college she’d attended, she’d discovered that the West desperately needed teachers. That was all she’d had to hear to make up her mind. Eager for adventure, she’d packed her things and said good-bye to her family. The trip had been long and tiring, but she’d finally arrived. Everything would be perfect if only Jack—
Without warning, the wooden door slammed open.
“Who’s there?” The deep voice was more growl than anything else.
Cady’s heart thudded against her ribs. A man’s figure was silhouetted in the doorway. She could see the barrel of a rifle. She hadn’t heard any noise, any warning of his approach: no footsteps, no horse, nothing. She took several steps before she realized there was no place to run.
Two years ago, in 1881, when she’d first visited the Territory, she’d stayed either in town or in a private railroad car. Help had been close by in case of trouble. This time Cady was alone. Papa had warned her about the dangers she would face, but Mama had said that Jack would be there to protect her.
At this moment, she wished with all her heart and soul that she’d listened to Papa.
As she slowly retreated, the backs of her legs touched the cot. She cried out, then caught her breath as she nearly tumbled.
“Hold still,” the man snapped. “Start talkin’ before I blow a hole in you big enough to drive a wagon through.”
A lump in her throat expanded until she wasn’t sure she could get any words out, but she knew she’d be dead if she didn’t.
“Don’t shoot, please, sir. I’m C-Cady Tanner. This cabin belongs to my brother Jack.”
The rifle barrel lowered toward the floor. “Cady? What in the name of God are
“Jack?” She peered into the darkness, toward the voice, familiar now without the growl. “It
you, isn’t it?”
“Sure is. Stay put while I light the lantern.”
“All right.” Her legs were still shaking too badly to move anyway.
She heard the scrape of boots across the canvas floor. As her brother moved toward the table, the odors of horse, leather, and smoke mixed with the scent of the lilac soap she’d used to wash up before bed. With the scratch of a match the lantern glowed to life, illuminating his tall form. He turned, and in spite of the dusty black hat and forbidding dark mustache, she recognized her brother.
“Jack,” she whispered. “You nearly scared the life out of me!”
“Cady.” The name was spoken in the gentle tone he used only for her.
She threw herself into his arms. “Oh, Jack!” she said, her voice muffled against his soft cotton shirt.
He hugged her tightly and rested his cheek against the top of her head. His whiskers caught in her hair. The last time they’d been together, she’d teased him for shaving twice a day to keep his face smooth for all the ladies who drifted in and out of his life. The new mustache
was only one of the changes in him. He was broader through the chest and the muscles in his back were more defined, as if he did hard physical labor every day. This was not the same man she’d known three years ago in New York. But it didn’t matter. He was still her brother Jack and she was glad he was safe.
He gripped her upper arms. Calluses on his fingers pulled at the fibers in her nightgown. He had never worked with his hands when he’d been employed by their older brother in his railroad company. What kind of life did Jack lead now?
He set her away from him. “Tell me what the hell you’re doing here before I paddle your backside.”
She shook her head disapprovingly. “I’ll be sure to tell Mother that you haven’t stopped swearing.”
He pulled on her braid. “I see
haven’t stopped being a pigtailed, pigheaded little brat.”
She laughed. “You always had a way with words. Is that why you greet your guests with a gun?” She tossed her long braid over her shoulder.
His expression darkened. “Out here, yes. You learn to shoot first and ask questions later.”
“I’m very glad you didn’t shoot. Where have you been, Jack? I’ve been here a week, getting more frantic every day. I even went to the fort, and the young officer I spoke to said he’d alert the daily patrols to watch for you.”
“Cady, for God’s sake. Why didn’t you let me know you were coming? You’ve got to quit being so impulsive. Dammit, I almost killed you!”
“But you didn’t. God knows you’ve threatened often enough to do me bodily harm.” She planted her hands on her hips and glared at him. “For your information, Jackson Tanner, I did say I was coming. I sent a telegram weeks ago.”
“Which I never got. I’ve been away. Did it ever occur to you to wait for a reply?”
“It’s not my fault you spend so much time looking at rocks in the mountains.”
“It’s called prospecting.”
“Whatever. Aren’t you even a little bit glad to see me?”
“Sure, I’m glad to see you. Lord, you’ve grown up. Some man might just look at you twice now.” He studied her, and a tender expression slipped into his dark eyes. “But I wish I’d known you were coming. I’m only going to be here long enough to gather supplies. Then I’m going back up into the Superstition Mountains.”
“Why do you have to leave?”
“I just learned there’s a canyon up there filled with gold. Only the Apaches know where, but they don’t mine it. Something about being disrespectful to their gods. I plan to find that canyon.”
“If they don’t mine it, I can’t imagine they’d be too happy about you doing it. Sounds dangerous. Maybe you shouldn’t—”
“I have to.” He leaned against the table by the window. Outside, a half-moon cast an eerie glow on the desert. “We can have a short visit, then I’ll take you down to Phoenix and put you on a train for home.”
“I’m not leaving. I have a job to do here.”
“A job?” He snorted. “You can’t stay in Arizona. It isn’t safe for a woman by herself.”
Well, she wouldn’t go back and let her father run her life. He meant well, but it was time to stand on her own two feet. “I’m not a little girl anymore. Don’t tell me what to do. I’m sick to death of men ordering me around.” Anger made her cheeks burn. “First Papa, and now you.”
Another man had told her what to do once, two years before. She remembered that time as if it were
yesterday. She’d come to visit their older brother, Jeff, while he was building a bridge for the railroad. On a night with the moon so big and yellow she could hardly believe it was the same one she saw at home, and the stars so bright they sparkled like diamonds on blue velvet, she’d kissed a dashing army officer. She’d kissed him until her knees turned to butter and she could hardly breathe. She’d kissed him and knew she’d follow him to the ends of the earth and back if he asked.
When that same man had told her to go home because she wasn’t cut out for life in the Territory, he’d hurt her terribly. In one evening, she’d given her heart away and had it returned in pieces.
Now she’d come back, eager to take charge of her own destiny. No one was going to tell her what to do ever again.
“I didn’t accept a teaching position at Fort McDowell and come all this way just to turn around and go back,” she said.
His eyebrows lifted. “So you’re a teacher now? In her letters, Mother said you were studying, but I didn’t know it was official.”
“Well, it is and I’m here to work.”
“If you had waited for me to respond to your telegram, I could have saved you the trouble.”
“If I had waited to hear from you, someone else might have taken the job.”
He snorted. “Not likely. The last teacher was an enlisted man who showed up for school drunk after only a week. After that, he was relieved of his duties. The funny thing is, he’d never touched a drop of liquor before, and as far as I know he’s been sober as a judge since.”
“You told me about him in your last letter, and that’s why I’m here. It’s clear the man didn’t want to be a
teacher. I do. And it suddenly came to me where my training would best serve.”
“Remind me to be more careful what I put in my letters from now on.” There was a teasing light in his eyes. This was more like the Jack she remembered.
“I will.” She fanned her hand in front of her face, trying to create some air to cool her.
“Let’s sit on the porch,” he said. “This time of night it’s more comfortable out there.”
She nodded and reached for her cotton duster on the end of the bed.
“What do you need that for?”
“Because a lady always dresses modestly.”
“This isn’t the East.” He grinned. “There’s no one for miles around to see you.” It was good to see him smile, even if it was at her expense.
They walked out on the porch, and a lovely breeze dried the moisture on her flushed face. The half-moon revealed the dark shape of mountains in the distance. Cactus and scrub and sand filled the desert floor in between. She could feel the warmth of the wind as she sat on the step. With her back against one of the cottonwood poles holding up the roof, she studied her brother.
He leaned his shoulder on the support across from her. The pose was casual, but she sensed uneasiness churning below the surface. That had always been in him, but it was sharper now and edged with a fervor she didn’t understand.
“How’d you talk Mother into letting you come?” His lips thinned. “She does know where you are this time, doesn’t she?”
“Of course. She agreed quite readily to this plan for two reasons.” She took a deep breath. “Number one, you’re here.”
“I knew it. She expects me to nursemaid you.”
“That’s not true. I’m perfectly capable of looking after myself.”
“Let’s put that aside for a minute,” he said. “What’s the second reason?”
She hesitated. This was the hard part. “The scandal.”
He went completely still, then carefully looked her over, stopping at her abdomen. “Could you be a shade more specific?”
“I’m not in the family way,” she said. “Although I was engaged to be married. Did you know that?”
He shook his head. “Who?”
“His name is Lieutenant Will Hardesty. He’s in the army, stationed near the teaching college I attended in Baltimore.”
His gaze darted to her left hand. She held it up and wiggled her naked ring finger. “Nothing there.”
“What happened?” he asked.
“I couldn’t go through with it.”
“A lot of reasons that don’t matter now. I just knew it wasn’t fair to him.”
“Could it have anything to do with that captain you met when you ran away from school two years ago, the one Mother told me about? She never did mention his name.”
“And I can’t remember it.” The lie tasted bitter, but she was pleased that her voice sounded carefree and almost normal. She was surprised that Jack had mentioned her brief encounter with Captain Kane Carrington. She’d tried hard to forget him, including almost marrying someone she didn’t love. But maybe she owed him thanks for one thing.
She thought she had left school for good, two years ago, but that was before Kane told her in effect that she was useless. His assumption that she was a pampered rich girl sent her home eager to gain some skills. She’d
realized it wasn’t the studying she hated as much as the exclusive, snobbish school she’d been sent to. She had no tolerance for those who judged people by how much money they had or how high up they were in the social order. So she’d simply enrolled in the best women’s teaching college she could find.
If Kane hadn’t pushed her away, she might never have found what she really wanted. She’d also never have hurt that poor young lieutenant. That was why she planned to avoid affairs of the heart and put all her energy into teaching—the reason she’d come to the Territory in the first place.
“So you left your intended standing at the altar.”
“Not quite, but very nearly.” She sighed. “Then your letter came, and I knew where my training would do the most good.”
“So it really is my fault you’re here.”
“Mother was angry—not at me,” she added quickly. “She encouraged me not to go through with the vows if I had the slightest doubt. But there was a lot of gossip. She would have agreed to almost anything to get me away from ‘all those narrow-minded biddies.’ Her words, not mine.”
“Sounds like her.”
“So I sent you a telegram and here I am. Easy as pie.”
“I wish Mother hadn’t let you do it.”
“I had to, Jack. I couldn’t sit there like a bump on a pickle and wait for life to come to me. I have to find my own way. They told us at school that teachers are scarce in the Arizona Territory. It’s a patriotic duty to go west.”
“What’s that got to do with you?”
“I’m here to settle the frontier.”
He looked at her for a second and then threw his head back and roared with laughter. “Do you plan to settle it single-handed? Or can anyone help?”
“You know what I mean.”
“Yes.” His mouth thinned to a grim line. “That’s why I can’t let you stay.”