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Authors: Stacey Coverstone

Trail of Golden Dreams

BOOK: Trail of Golden Dreams
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TRAIL
OF GOLDEN DREAMS

 

By

 

STACEY
COVERSTONE

 

TRAIL OF GOLDEN DREAMS

 

Copyright 2012 by Stacey Coverstone

 

Visit Stacey’s website at:

http://www.staceycoverstone.com

 

 

This is
a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the
product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any
resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events,
or locales, is entirely coincidental.

 

All
rights reserved. No part of this ebook may be used or reproduced in any manner
whatsoever without written permission of the author. This ebook is licensed for
your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be re-sold or given away to
other people.

 

August 2012

Cover Art by Sheri L. McGathy

 

At
nineteen, Josie Hart has lived a hard and lonely life on her New Mexican
farm.  A cryptic map smuggled to her from her pa before he’s hanged gives her
a chance to change all that and guides her on a perilous journey toward freedom
and a fresh start.  But there are others who want what she’s after and
will stop at nothing to get it.

 

Grey
Paladin seeks justice after having had his fortune stolen from him from that
thief, Leroy Hart.  He’ll do whatever it takes to retrieve what’s
rightfully his and reunite with the only family he has left.  That is,
until Leroy’s feisty daughter stands in his way and makes his life more
complicated.

 

When
Josie and Grey form an uncertain partnership, they must battle outlaws, nature,
and each other while riding two hundred miles of dangerous trail to reach their
destination and find the gold nuggets that will make their dreams come
true.  What they discover at the end of the trail is something that’s been
sorely lacking in both their lives, leading them each to rethink what the
future could hold.

 

 

Dedication

 

To
Linda Otto, my lifelong friend, who bravely climbed the steep, narrow, and sometimes
treacherous canyon walls in the hot New Mexico sun to the real Nambe Falls so I
could do research for this novel.

 

And to
Paul, my husband and steadfast partner in the journey of life, love, and the
pursuit of a little peace and quiet.

 

 

 

Chapter One

 
Spring 1882, New Mexico Territory

Josie Hart stood in the garden leaning on a hoe with sweat trickling down
the back of her work shirt.  She stared as the boy’s lathered horse
skidded to a stop in front of her small cabin.  Ben bounded off his big
quarter horse and waved hello to her.  She waved back, wondering what had
brought him from Dry Gulch on such a hot day.  Visitors were few and far
between to the farm.  When they did come, trouble usually followed.

With her brow furrowed, she watched his smooth gait eat up the distance
between them.  He was the fourteen-year old son of the town’s storekeeper.
 Despite being five years younger, he stood a good six inches taller than
her. Half Tewa Indian, Josie was short and petite like her deceased mother. 
Also like her mother, she had long black hair that she normally wore in a braid
down her back. She met Ben halfway across the barnyard and stood in his shadow.

“Good afternoon, Ben.  What brings you all the way out here?” 

“Afternoon, Miss Hart.”  The boy drew a deep breath into his lungs.
It was obvious he’d ridden hell-bent for leather across the desert.

“You’re exhausted,” she said, striding toward the well. “Let me get you a
dipper of water.”

“That’s mighty nice of you, Miss Hart.  I’d be grateful for a cool
drink.”  Ben wiped his dusty face with the back of his hand and joined her
at the well.  Josie dunked a tin cup into the half-full wooden bucket and
offered it to him.  He guzzled it down in one long draw.  “Thank you.”

The beats of Josie’s heart picked up their pace, while her gaze remained
glued to Ben.  Her eyes were the one physical trait she’d inherited from
her pa—they being a deep indigo blue color.  She’d been told more than
once that she cut a pretty figure of a woman, with that shiny black hair and
those bright eyes that flashed like twinkling stars when she got angry. 
Unfortunately, the sweet talkers were mostly old men who thought she was easy
prey because she was alone much of the time.  Ma had died when she was a
child.  Pa was rarely home.

Leroy Hart had spent most of Josie’s childhood in the mines hoping to
strike it rich or moving from town to town, committing petty crimes to keep him
in whiskey and good horseflesh.  Josie was nineteen now, and had been
left, more or less, to fend for herself on their fledgling farm since she was
thirteen. Unfortunately, she’d had to do what was necessary to survive alone in
the wild New Mexican territory. That meant forsaking her feminine qualities and
becoming as tough as a square-headed nail.  Once in town, she’d stuck her
double-barreled derringer up the nose of a surly cowboy who’d refused to let
her pass on the sidewalk.  Another time, she’d stomped the shin of a
two-bit gambler who’d let a rude comment fly in front of children. 

 Pa’s neglect had caused deep hurt and loneliness, but at least she
could thank him for one thing.  Being abandoned at a young age had taught
her how to take care of herself.  Her sun-baked mind wandered as Ben
chugged down a second cup of water.   He used his shirtsleeve to mop
up the drips that slid from the corner of his mouth.

Josie snapped back to reality and placed her hands on her hips. 
“Why were you in such a hurry to get out here, Ben?  I saw the way you
were riding—like an Injun was after your scalp.”

Ben’s eyes bulged.  Normally, she would have bit back a grin, but
she hadn’t been trying to make a joke.  Her pulse raced with
anxiety.  The heat around her suddenly felt suffocating.  She watched
him shift his weight from one foot to the other, and then he looked her square
in the face.

“I fear I bring bad news.”

Josie removed her cowboy hat and smacked it against her thigh.  Dust
flew off and floated into the sultry air. Sighing, she said, “Is there ever any
other kind?”

Silence filled the space between them.

“Go ahead and tell me straight out,” she urged.  “What is it this
time?  Did my pa come back to town, get drunk and forget to pay his saloon
tab?  Or was he in another fistfight?  Did he get hauled to jail
again?”

Ben’s mouth drew tight. She could tell he hated to be the bearer of bad
tidings, but she’d told him to come out with it—so he did.  “Your pa’s
being hung this afternoon, Josie. My pa thought you’d want to know.”

She gawked at him open-mouthed. The news was not altogether a surprise,
but it knocked the air out of her lungs just the same.  Leroy had slipped
through the law’s hands for years.  Everyone had known it would only be a
matter of time before they caught up to him and finally made him pay for his
sins.  Still, the heat ignited in her stomach like a furnace and crept
into her neck and spread down her arms.  That kind of news would have been
a shock to anyone.

“Why’s he being hung?” she asked.

“Marshal Kendall claims he stole a horse.”

Josie felt bile rising in her throat. Her stomach gripped like someone
had slung a lasso around her middle and tied a tight knot.  “After all the
immoral and downright despicable acts my pa has supposedly committed throughout
his lifetime, I can hardly believe he’s going to meet his Maker for stealing a horse.” 
The corners of her mouth drooped, and she shook her head.

Ben shoved his hands in his pockets.  It seemed he didn’t know what
to say.

“Will he be dying alone?” she asked.

“No.  There was another man caught with him by the name of
Williams.  Do you know him?”

She responded with a shake of her head.

The two of them stood for a while, not speaking.  Ben looked up and
watched a hawk circling above. Then his gaze set upon the desert, where cones
of heat and dust devils spiraled up from the red floor.  When she finally
extended her hand, Ben shook it firmly, like a man.  She was sorry about
the sweat and dirt that creased her palm, and told him so. 

“I don’t mind,” he replied with a smile.  “It’s not often I get to
hold a pretty girl’s hand, dirt or no dirt.” 

She didn’t acknowledge the compliment.  Her mind was already
somewhere else.  She set her jaw and tossed the hoe onto the ground. “I
guess I’d better saddle up and get into town.  What time is the hanging?”

“Two o’clock.”

“Two o’clock,” she repeated, feeling blank inside.  She took a step
toward the cabin, and then whirled around, remembering her manners. 
“Thank you, Ben. I appreciate your taking the time to come tell me.”

He nodded and sauntered toward his horse.  “Oh!” he exclaimed. 
“I nearly forgot.” Rushing back to her, he pulled something from his coat
pocket.  “He wanted you to have this.” He offered her a crinkled envelope.

“Who wanted me to have it?”

“Mr. Hart.”

Josie’s eyes widened.  “You saw him?  You talked to my
pa?” 

“Yes, ma’am.  He asked me to give this to you, just in case.”

“In case of what?”

“In case you can’t make it to the hanging.  But he sure hopes you
will.”

She took the envelope from Ben and stared at it a moment before sticking
it in the waistband of her work pants.  Then she thanked him again and
tossed him a wave as he mounted his steed and rode off.  Her heart
hammered inside her chest. Leroy had never been much of a father, but he was
still her pa.  Apparently, he wanted her with him in his last moments. She
wouldn’t let him down. 

Stepping into the cabin, she quickly washed her face using water in the
porcelain bowl that sat on a table near the door.  The bowl was the one
thing she had left that had belonged to her ma.  There was a hairline
crack running along the edge, but the bowl was still beautiful to her eyes.
 She ran her finger around the rim and conjured up the sweet, round face
of her mama. The memories were sparse, only that Ma had warm brown eyes and a
soft breast that jiggled when she laughed.  That and how loved Josie had
felt by her. 

After changing out of her work clothes and into her one decent skirt with
petticoats underneath, Josie hastily gathered up a few personal belongings in
case she decided to spend the night at the hotel in town.  She stuffed the
items into her leather saddlebags, including the envelope, which she did not
bother to open right then.  Whatever her pa had written would have to
wait.  He could say what he needed in person when she got to Dry
Gulch. 

Ben was long gone when Josie strutted outside. After filling a canteen
with water from the well, she cinched her stampede string tight up under her
chin and headed to the barn.  “We’re going on a little trip,” she told her
mule, Traveler, while saddling him. He replied with a loud bray.

After tossing the saddlebags over the saddle horn, Josie stuck a foot
into the stirrup and heaved herself onto the mule’s back. She slung her right
leg over the saddle to straddle it and tucked the folds of her skirts between
her thighs so they wouldn’t get caught in the stirrups. 

“Yaw!” she hollered.  Her boot heels dug into Traveler’s sides, and
she nudged him into a fast lope toward town. 

* * * *

Josie rode Traveler slowly down Dry Gulch’s main street.  A hanging
always brought a little excitement to the small town where boredom often
prevailed, and today was no exception.  Although Leroy Hart was mostly a
two-bit hustler, the streets swarmed with curious onlookers and folks in town
for a bit of entertainment. 

She halted Traveler at the jailhouse, swung off his broad back, and tied
the big gray mule to a hitching post.  She slung her saddlebags over her
shoulder and glanced down the street.  The gallows stood at the far end,
two nooses knotted and ready for swinging.  The Dry Gulch Cemetery, situated
at the top of a hill, loomed ominously in the background.  Wishing to
ignore it, she shoved the jailhouse door open with her foot and strolled in.

Reclining in a wooden chair with his boots propped up on the desk sat the
long-legged deputy.  His hat was tipped, covering his eyes, and he
appeared to be asleep. She pounded on the desk with her fist.

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