Authors: Fran Baker
San Antonio Rose
is a work of fiction. Names, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously.
2013 Loveswept eBook Edition
Copyright © 1991 by Fran Baker.
All rights reserved.
Published in the United States of America by Loveswept, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, a Penguin Random House Company, New York.
is a registered trademark and the L
colophon is a trademark of Random House LLC.
eBook ISBN 978-0-345-53517-7
Originally published in the United States by Loveswept, an imprint of Random House, a division of Random House LLC, in 1991.
A car was coming, judging by that cloud of dust down the road, and the restless girl watching from her second-story bedroom window could hardly wait to see who was driving it.
It wasn’t bad enough that she could see her mother’s grave, with a single yellow rose marking the spot, from the window. Or that her father had buried himself under a mountain of paperwork in his first-floor office. But even the ranch manager, who doted on her as if she were his own flesh and blood, had packed up his saddlebags the morning after the funeral and ridden off into the hills to mourn alone.
Callers of any stripe, then, were a welcome
sight as far as the twelve-year-old girl was concerned.
With a toss of her head, she flipped her twin blond braids over her narrow shoulders. Then she crossed her arms on the windowsill and kept her eyes peeled for the vehicle that was creating that dirty cumulus in its wake.
She didn’t have long to wait. No sooner had she settled herself, in fact, than a badly dented maroon Studebaker with two blue doors on the driver’s side turned onto the gravel lane leading to the ranch yard. The old car bounced and belched smoke something terrible before it finally came to a stop in front of the house.
When a man in a battered straw hat, baggy work clothes, and sandals made from tires got out, followed by a boy wearing a bright red bandanna, she realized they were probably migrant workers looking for a job. Crowded into the backseat were a woman and two other youngsters, hope warring feebly with the expectation of another rebuff on the faces they pressed to the window.
Trying to beat the doorbell, the girl went tearing out her bedroom and down the stairs. She yanked open the front door, startling the man who was standing there. At the same time her father, who’d probably seen the Studebaker from his office window, came out.
No one moved or spoke for several seconds
as the cattle rancher glared impatiently at the two callers. A fifth-generation Texan who’d been wet-nursed on the atrocities at the Alamo, the rancher had no earthly use for Santa Ana’s descendants. Worse yet, he was a recent widower with no sons to carry on his name and a daughter to raise. A daughter who, with her golden hair, gray eyes, and baby-powder skin, was the spitting image of his late wife.
“Speak your piece and speak it in English,” he commanded gruffly. “And then get the hell off my land.”
The boy stiffened as if he’d just been struck. He was older than the girl by four years or so, and several inches taller. He wore denim jeans and a clay-red shirt, both faded by numerous washings. His hair was as black and shiny as a crow’s wing. His skin had the coppery hue of his Spanish ancestors, his straight nose and high cheekbones the noble structure. But it was his eyes that fascinated her, for they were the most beautiful shade of midnight blue she’d ever seen.
Suddenly aware that the boy was examining her as closely as she was him, the girl blushed and dropped her gaze to the scuffed toes of his tennis shoes. But her heart took wing and her stomach went weightless, and she felt forever changed by their moment of mutual curiosity.
Three days later the Mexican moved his wife
and children into the largest unit of the furnished fourplex that housed the help. Six years and two broken hearts after that, the entire family just up and disappeared in the middle of the night.…
Half the people gathered in the family cemetery had come to pay their last respects to a true son of Texas. The other half had come to make damn sure that Big Tom Crane was dead.
Rafe Martinez parked his ’63 Corvette Stingray in the only available space in the ranch yard, between a Ford F-150 pickup brandishing a gunrack in the back window and a flashy pink Cadillac flaunting a pair of long-horns on the front grille. He thought about gunning the motor—just once, for old time’s sake—then thought again and switched off the ignition.
Eleven years in exile had transformed him, but it certainly hadn’t tamed him. The thick black hair skimming his white shirt collar
was still too long by any cattleman’s standards; the matte-metal shades resting on his cheekbones raised more than one eyebrow; and that small silver stud glittering in the lobe of his left ear was a real shocker.
Those remnants of rebellion aside, Rafe had a style all his own. In the land of Stetsons and Western-styled suits, he went bareheaded and wore European-cut clothes that emphasized his broad shoulders, trim waist, and long runner’s legs. A hand-painted silk tie replaced its traditional string counterpart; woven ramie suspenders took the place of a gaudy gold or silver belt buckle. The expensive watch on his wrist told him the time and told everyone else he’d arrived.
His single concession to Lone Star fashion was a pair of hand-stitched black lizard boots. Not only did the soft leather pamper his long, narrow feet, but the extra two inches the heels added to his lean six-foot frame would give him a better view of the gringos’ bald spots when they respectfully removed their hats.
Rafe took off his sunglasses and put them in his breast pocket, then got out of his car and joined the solemn procession across the gravel lane to the grave. He walked with confidence, each movement flowing naturally into the next, as befitted both a successful attorney and a rising star on the political scene.
A state senator, famous for courting the
Hispanic vote and then promptly forgetting his promises, went out of his way to shake Rafe’s hand. More jobs for minority contractors on the Alamo Sportsdome, the Anglo legislator pledged with sweaty-palmed desperation. And an appointment to the aquifer task force for the person of Rafe’s choosing.
It was a classic case of too little too late. His countenance as hard and full of mystery as the face of an Aztec lord, Rafe extricated his hand. He silently renewed his vow to see the senator defeated in next year’s primary.
But primary day was a long way off, and he had business to tend to now. Sun dapple and shadows enveloped him when he passed through the open, ornate gates that cordoned off the cemetery where Big Tom would be laid to rest beside his long-deceased wife, Laurrinda.
If nothing else, Rafe thought as he crossed the soft carpet of spring grass, it was a flawless day for a funeral.
The Hill Country had shed its January dullness and draped itself in April’s brilliance. Live oaks and pecan trees sported tender green leaves. The birds wore their brightest plumage. Bluebonnets and Blackfoot daisies blanketed the broad-topped hills as far as the eye could see.
The ranch house, a Victorian monstrosity within sight of the family cemetery, resurrected memories of a sweeter spring when
virile juices had pumped through Rafe’s body and young love had blossomed in his heart. The bitter winters that followed had seared his pride and scarred his soul. They had also strengthened his resolve to prove himself. And prove himself he had. Beyond anyone’s wildest dreams, his own included.
Rafe had left his San Antonio law office at nine that morning and driven the forty miles northeast with the Corvette’s windows open and its powerful engine purring like a cat with a bellyful of cream. He reached his highway exit in record time. Or maybe it only seemed that way because he was running on gasoline these days instead of his glands.
The road he took then—originally a bison path, later an offshoot of the thousand-mile
—had been paved at some point since his departure. No matter. He knew its curves as intimately as he’d known those of the girl who used to wait for him at trail’s end.
Like Rafe, the state of Texas had undergone tremendous change in recent years. Crude-oil prices had dropped to a depressing low in the unlamented eighties. As had consumer demand for well-marbled steaks. On the bright side, at least to his way of thinking, language barriers had diminished. And Hispanics had demolished long-standing hurdles in San Antonio politics by taking intermittent control of city hall and the county courthouse.
Only the Circle C had remained unchanged,
he realized immediately upon his arrival. Except for the necessary improvements, the sprawling ranch looked virtually the same as when he’d left it—a wire-fenced stronghold that had weathered everything from Comanche Indian attacks to a crippling downturn in the economy.
It remained to be seen how well it would weather Rafe’s return.
Noticing that the mourners had formed a wide arc around the grave, he deliberately but politely worked his way to the front.
A municipal court judge whose ruling he’d appealed just last week nodded silently to him. Cattle ranchers who’d bent many an elbow with Big Tom eyed him suspiciously, while cowhands who’d ridden for the brand with Rafe tipped the brims of their hats in a welcome-back salute. The barons’ diamond-bedecked wives gaped at him in stunned surprise; their designer-dressed daughters gave him the once over … twice.