Authors: Georgina Gentry
Christmas Rendezvous (anthology)
Song of the Warrior
To Tame a Savage
To Tame a Texan
To Tame a Rebel
To Tempt a Texan
To Tease a Texan
My Heroes Have Always Been Cowboys (anthology)
To Love a Texan
ToWed a Texan
To Seduce a Texan
Diablo: The Texans
Published by Kensington Publishing Corporation
ZEBRA BOOKS are published by
Kensington Publishing Corp.
119 West 40th Street
New York, NY 10018
Copyright © 2011 by Lynne Murphy
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any means without the prior written consent of the Publisher, excepting brief quotes used in reviews.
If you purchased this book without a cover you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the Publisher and neither the Author nor the Publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”
All Kensington titles, imprints and distributed lines are available at special quantity discounts for bulk purchases for sales promotion, premiums, fund-raising, educational or institutional use.
Special book excerpts or customized printings can also be created to fit specific needs. For details, write or phone the office of the Kensington Special Sales Manager. Attn.: Special Sales Department. Kensington Publishing Corp., 119 West 40th Street, New York, NY 10018. Phone: 1-800-221-2647.
Zebra and the Z logo Reg. U.S. Pat. & TM Off.
eISBN 13: 978-1-4201-2261-9
eISBN 10: 1-4201-2261-4
First Printing: February 2011
10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1
This story is dedicated to the memory
of the six hundred men of the
Saint Patrick’s Brigade
of the Mexican-American War
who went over to the other side.
Whether they were protectors of the faith
or traitors to the United States
is up to my readers and history to decide.
Mixcoac, Mexico, September 13, 1847
Padraic Kelly looked around at the cactus and barren land, then chafed at the hemp rope around his neck that also tied his hands behind him. The oxcart he stood in creaked under his feet as the animal stamped its hooves in impatience and the smell of blood and gunpowder.
In the gray light of dawn, the roar of cannons and the screams of dying men echoed across the desert battleground.
Ah, but by Saint Mary’s blood, the delay would not be long enough for the thirty condemned soldiers. Padraic turned his head and looked down the line of other men standing in oxcarts, ropes around their necks. Some of them seemed in shock, some had their eyes closed, praying to the saints for a miracle.
There’d be no miracles this morning, Padraic thought bitterly and wished he could reach his rosary, but it was tucked in the breast pocket of his uniform. It was ironic somehow that he had fled the starvation of Ireland to come to America and now his new country was going to execute him.
The colonel walked up and down the line of oxcarts, the early sun glinting off his brass buttons.
“Beggin’ your pardon, sir,” Padraic called, “for the love of mercy, could ye hand me my holy beads?”
The colonel sneered, his tiny mustache wiggling on his ruddy face. “Aw, you papist traitor! You’ll not need your silly beads when the flag falls. We’re sending all you Irish traitors to hell, where you belong.”
He should have known better than to ask the Protestant officer for help. Hadn’t he and most of the other officers treated all the new immigrants with disdain and bullying, which was the very reason some of the St. Patrick’s battalion had gone over to the Mexican side? It hadn’t seemed right, fighting fellow Catholics just because America had declared war on Mexico.
A curious crowd of peasants gathered, most with sympathetic faces, but the American soldiers held them back. There was nothing the unarmed peasants could do to rescue all these condemned men.
Padraic mouthed a silent prayer as he stared at the distant castle on the horizon. The early sun reflected off steel and gun barrels as the soldiers of both sides battled for control of the landmark. Smoke rose and men screamed and Padraic held his breath, watching the Mexican flag flying from the parapet.
“Yes, watch it!” The colonel glared up at him. “For when it falls and is replaced by the stars and stripes, you cowardly traitors will die!”
The Mexicans seemed determined to hold the castle as the hours passed and the sun moved across the sky with relentless heat, throwing shadows of the condemned men in long, distorted figures across the sand.
Padraic’s legs ached from hours of standing in the cart and his mouth was so dry, he could hardly mouth prayers anymore. Behind him he heard others in the oxcarts begging for water. Padraic was proud; he would not beg, though he was faint from the heat and the sweat that drenched his
blue uniform. He knew they would not give the condemned water anyway. Their guards did bring water to the oxen and Padraic tried not to watch the beasts drinking it.
In one of the carts, a man fainted and the colonel yelled for a soldier to throw water on him. “I don’t want him to miss that flag coming down!” he yelled.
Padraic could only guess how many hours had passed from the way the sun slanted now in the west. The castle itself was cloaked in smoke and flames. He began to wish it would soon be over. Better to be dead than to stand here waiting all day in the hot sun for the hanging.
Sweat ran from his black hair and down the collar of his wool Mexican uniform. God, he would give his spot in Paradise for one sip of cool water. Well, his discomfort would soon be over. He didn’t regret that he had fled the U.S. Army; he had done it because of his love for a Mexican girl. That love had transcended everything else. He did regret so many had followed him, some of them so young and barely off the boat. They had been escaping from the potato famine, but now they would die anyway.
The heat made dizzying waves across the barren landscape and he staggered a little and regained his footing. If he must die, he would go out like a man.
The crowd of sympathetic peasants was growing as word must have spread that the Americans were hanging their deserters. Padraic looked around for Conchita, hoping, yet dreading to see her. He did not want his love to see him die this way.
Hail Mary, Mother of God … He murmured the prayer automatically and he was once again a small boy at his mother’s knee as they said their beads together. Now she would never know what happened to her son who had set off for the promise of America. It was just as well. He’d rather her think he was happy and successful than know he had been hanged like a common thief.
The riches of the new country had not been good, with so many Irish flooding in and everyone hating and sneering at the immigrants. If he could have found a job, he wouldn’t have joined the army, but no one wanted to hire the Irish.
The fighting in the distance seemed to be slowing, though he choked on the acrid smell of cannon smoke and watched the castle burning in the distance. The Mexican flag flew bravely on the parapet but he could see the bright blue of the American uniforms like tiny ants as the invaders attacked the castle. It wouldn’t be long now. The ropes bit into his wrists and he would give his soul for a sip of cold water, but he knew better than to ask. He closed his eyes and thought about the clear streams and the green pastures of County Kerry. He was a little boy again in ragged clothes, chasing the sheep toward the pens with no cares in the world save hoping for a brisk cup of tea and a big kettle of steaming potatoes as he ran toward the tumbledown stone cottage.
If only he could see Conchita once more. He smiled despite his misery and remembered the joy of the past three months. The pretty girl had been the one bright spot in his short, miserable life. He closed his eyes and imagined her in his arms again: her kisses, the warmth of her skin. He hoped she had not heard about the court-martial and the public hangings. He did not want her to see him die, swinging and choking at the end of a rope like a common criminal.
The rope rasped against his throat, the ox stamped its feet, and the cart creaked while Padraic struggled to maintain his balance. The colonel had stood them here all afternoon and now he almost wished the cart would pull ahead because he was so miserable, with his throat dry as the barren sand around him and his arms aching from being tied behind while his legs threatened to buckle under him.
he reminded himself,
you are going to die like a man, and a soldier. You just happen to be on the losing side.
In the distance, he could see the blue uniforms climbing ladders up the sides of the castle as the fighting grew more intense. Screams of dying men mixed with the thunder of cannons and the victorious shrieks as the Americans charged forward, overrunning the castle now as the sun became a bloody ball of fire to the west.
The ruddy colonel grinned and nodded up at Padraic. “It won’t be long now, you Mick trash. I knew I could never turn you Irish into soldiers.”
“If ye’d treated us better, we wouldn’t have gone over to the other side, maybe,” Padraic murmured.
The colonel sneered. “And look what you get! We’re hanging more than the thirty I’ve got here. General Scott asked President Polk to make an example of the Saint Patrick’s battalion. If it’d been up to me, I’d have hung the whole lot, especially that John Riley that led you.”
“Some of them would rather have been hung than to have been lashed and branded,” Padraic snarled.
“It’s better than being dead,” the colonel said. Then he turned and yelled at the soldiers holding back the Mexican peasants. “Keep those brown bastards back. We don’t want them close enough to interfere with the hanging.”
Padraic watched the peasants. Some of them were on their knees, saying their rosaries, others looking up at them gratefully with tears making trails down their dusty brown faces.
“Paddy, dearest!” He turned his head to see Conchita attempting to fight her way past the soldiers.
“Hold that bitch back!” the colonel bellowed. “Don’t let her through the lines.”
“Get your filthy hands off her!” Padraic yelled and struggled to break free, although he knew it was useless. Conchita was so slim and small and her black hair had
come loose and blew about her lovely face as she looked toward him and called his name.
There was too much roar of battle now as the Yankees overran the castle for her to hear him, but he mouthed the words,
I love you.You are the best thing that has happened to me since I crossed the Rio Grande.
She nodded that she understood and her face was so sad that he looked away, knowing that to see her cry would make him cry, too, and he intended to die like a man.
A victorious roar went up from the American troops as they finally fought their way to the top of the distant tower. It would only be a few moments now.
“Take her away,” Padraic begged his guards. “I don’t want her to see this!”
The colonel only laughed. “No, we want all these Mexicans to see what happens to traitors. Why don’t you beg, Kelly? Don’t you want your little greasy sweetheart to see you beg for your life?”
In the distance, the American soldiers were taking down the ragged Mexican flag, but even as it came down, one of the young Mexican cadets grabbed it from the victors’ hands and as they tried to retrieve it, he ran to the edge of the parapet and flung himself over the edge to the blood-soaked ground so far below. The Mexican peasants sent up a cheer, which the colonel could not silence with all his shouting. The cadet had died rather than surrender his country’s flag to the enemy.
Now the American flag was going up, silhouetted against the setting sun. The peasants shouted a protest as soldiers climbed up on the oxcarts and checked the nooses. “No! No! Do not hang them!”
Conchita screamed again and tried to break through the line of solders holding back the crowd. “Paddy! My dear one!” She couldn’t get to him, although she clawed and fought.
Padraic smiled at her and gave her an encouraging nod. If only things were different. He would have built a mud hut on this side of the Rio Grande and lived his life happily with this woman. If only he could hold her in his arms and kiss those lips once more.
Conchita looked up at him, her brave, tall man with his fair skin and wide shoulders. She made one more attempt to break through the guards, but they held her back. A roar of protests went up around her from the other peasants. He was her man and they were going to execute him and there was nothing she could do to stop it. She screamed his name and tried to tell him the secret, shouting that she carried his child, but in the noise of distant gunfire and the peasants yelling, she wasn’t sure he understood, although he smiled and nodded at her and mouthed
I love you, too.
“Your child!” she shrieked again. “I carry your child!”
At that precise moment, she heard the officer bark an order and all the oxcarts creaked forward. For just a split second, the condemned men swayed, struggling to keep their balance, and then the carts pulled out from under the long line of soldiers and their feet danced on air as they swung at the end of their ropes.
Conchita watched in frozen horror and tried to get to her Paddy as he fought for air, but the soldiers held her back. Her eyes filled with tears and the sight of the men hanging grew dim as they ceased to struggle.
“This is what the U.S. Army does to traitors and deserters!” the colonel announced to the crowd with satisfaction.
Conchita burst into sobs. She was in great pain as if her heart had just been torn from her breast. She did not want to live without her love, but she must, for his child’s sake. She was not even sure he had heard her as she tried to tell him he would be a father. If it were a boy, she would raise that son and call him Rio Kelly for his father and the river that made a boundary between the two civilizations. And then she
would go into a cloistered order and spend her life praying for the souls of her love and the other condemned men.
The soldiers were cutting the thirty bodies down now, and she broke through the line of guards and ran to her Paddy as he lay like a tattered bundle of rags on the sand. She threw herself on the body, weeping and kissing his face, but his soul had fled to his God and he could no longer feel her kisses and caresses.
Only now did she realize he had died smiling and so she knew he had heard her and knew he would have a child.