Four years ago, hell-raiser Shaw MacCade departed Missouri for the gold hills of California, leaving behind the bitter feud that had plagued his family for generations. Now he has returned to bring his brother's murderer to justice and put an end to the legacy of bloodshed between the Raeburns and MacCades. But Shaw is not prepared for the changes that greet him at his home on the banks of the river, especially those in the captivating Rebecca Raeburn. Enemies by birth, the two are soon brought together by a common destiny and an attraction that neither can resist. But will a love as tempestuous as the raw country that reared them heal the sins of the past . . . and gentle one man's restless soul?
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Judith E. French lives with her husband in a restored eighteenth-century farmhouse in rural Delaware. Her oldest daughter, Colleen Faulkner, is also a bestselling romance author, continuing the strong tradition of storytelling that has been shared by her family for many generations.Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.:
Angel Crossing, Missouri
Rebecca Raeburn suppressed a shiver of apprehension as the image of a tall
figure on horseback materialized in the ghostly twilight. Silently, the
big man leading a string of pack animals rode out of the west toward her.
The spectral thud of hooves and the creaking of leather harness were
faintly audible, muffled and eerily distorted by the thick clouds of mist
rising off the Little Smoke River.
Instinctively, Rebecca’s fingers closed around the heavy pistol that she
always carried in the deep pocket of her canvas skirt. She wasn’t a
coward, and she wasn’t given to flights of womanly fancy. She’d ferried
passengers—red, white, and brown—across the Little Smoke River for more
than a decade. Never once had she come to harm. And oddly enough, she was
rarely disturbed by keeping company with even the roughest folk—until now.
She’d transported her last fares of the day, three men bound for the gold
fields of California, across the water not more than a quarter hour ago.
She would have been halfway home if she hadn’t stopped to check her fish
trap in the eddy near the ferry mooring.
An owl hooted.
Gooseflesh raised on Rebecca’s arms as she stared hard into the swirling
fog. The Indians claimed that an owl calling before full dark meant bad
luck. Not that she was superstitious. She wasn’t; at least she’d told
herself she wasn’t. But where was the man she’d glimpsed?
For long seconds, perhaps minutes, she waited. She heard nothing but the
rush of the rising river, saw not the slightest movement through the
trees. Then, abruptly, a stranger materialized only a few yards from the
“Evenin’,” she called, masking her nervousness with a bold greeting. “You
want the ferry?” Rebecca wasn’t certain how many pack animals he was
leading, and each one added to the fare. “A dollar for you and your
His reply came quick and gruff. “Cost is dear.”
“You’re more than welcome to swim,” she answered, gathering courage from
the familiar dickering over the cost of passage. Lord but he’d startled
her. A great stretch of a man, he was, all broad shouldered and shaggy
bearded, with crow-black hair as long as an Indian’s.
The stock of a rifle poked out from a saddle holster, and a
razor-sharp tomahawk was strapped to the horn. A mountain man or maybe a
buffalo hunter, she speculated. His hunting shirt was fringed and beaded.
Some Indian woman had taken weeks, perhaps months, to tan, stitch, and
adorn his buckskin clothing.
Rebecca tried again to make out his features under the wide-brimmed hat he
wore, but it was simply too dark to see clearly. The prickling sensation
along the nape of her neck increased until it was impossible to ignore.
She swallowed, tasting the acrid bite of danger on her tongue. Outlaw,
saint, or devil, this one would bear watching. “Make up your mind!” she
urged. “River’s five feet and rising. I’ll make no more crossings tonight.”
His answering grunt was noncommittal. Swinging down from the ornate,
Spanish saddle, he strode forward, his fringed, knee-high moccasins making
no more sound on the log platform than a cat’s paws.
Rebecca unlatched the bar that served as a gate across the end of the
ferry. “Come on,” she ordered, then watched closely as the disquieting
westerner led his horse and pack animals to the raft.
The horse—like his master—was in his prime, boasting a deep chest,
straight back, and muscular thighs. When the stranger half turned to take
the stallion by the cheek strap, she glimpsed a holstered pistol strapped
to one hip and a sheathed scalping knife on the other.
He’s armed for war, she thought as she offered her hand, palm up. “It’s
the custom to pay on boarding.”
The westerner dug into a pocket, produced a silver coin, and tossed it.
She caught the dollar in midair and murmured a curt thanks. He made no
reply, simply walking past her, leather reins gripped tightly in one
The stallion hesitated, tossed his head, and rolled large, intelligent
eyes. The man patted the horse’s neck, and the spirited animal stepped
gingerly onto the log raft. Rebecca couldn’t help but notice the stud’s
unusual coloring. He was as black as ebony with a white blanket bearing
dark spots splashed across his rump.
She’d heard tales of horses like this: Paloose? Paloosas? They were Indian
horses, greatly prized for their speed and stamina. Rumor had it that
their native masters considered these fiery animals almost human. Not only
were the beasts impossible to obtain at any price, the penalty for a white
man laying hands on one was instant death.
Whatever the truth to those stories, this stallion was a beauty. Snorting
nervously, nostrils flared, ears twitching, he tossed his shapely head.
Despite the sweat-stained neck and damp shoulders that gave evidence of
hard travel, he was still bursting with sass and vinegar.
Four heavily laden mules and a striking chestnut mare bearing the same
unusual coloring on her rump as the stud clattered onto the ferry. When
the last animal was safely aboard, Rebecca closed the gate and fastened
it. “Best tie them all,” she warned her passenger. “River’s tricky. It
might be a bumpy ride, and you don’t want them bolting.”
“Suit yourself.” Rebecca gritted her teeth in disapproval as she slipped
the mooring lines free. The stranger’s guarded manner and meager words did
nothing to lift her sense of premonition. Surely the mist and coming night
were making her overly cautious. If he’d meant her harm, she reasoned,
he’d have tried something when they were on dry land. Wouldn’t he?
“There’s hot food and a clean bed to be had yonder.” She pointed toward
the far shore. “Angel Crossing. My family runs a store and inn. No liquor
served, but no bugs either. And you can sleep easy, knowing your animals
and goods won’t be robbed in the night.”
Still no answer.
“If you’re a drinking man, you’d best follow the trail east. The MacCades
will sell you whiskey strong enough to burn sin from Lucifer himself.”
Again, the traveler made no reply.
Rebecca studied the stranger as she began to turn the winch to haul the
ferry across the river. Something about the way the man tilted his head
seemed oddly familiar. If only the light were better. She wished she could
see more of his face. If she didn’t know that Shaw MacCade was long dead
under a rock slide, she could almost swear . . .
“What’s your name?” she called.
She kept cranking the geared mechanism until the raft reached the deepest
part of the channel, then snugged off the handle and moved toward her
passenger. “Are you sure I don’t know you?” she asked.
His voice flowed over her like icy river water.
He swept off his hat and turned toward her. “Aren’t you glad to see me,
Becca?” He chuckled, his voice rich and husky—just as she remembered it.
“The least you could do is give me a welcome home kiss.”
Her chest felt too tight to draw breath. Her legs went from bone and
muscle to cheese and whey. “Joe Nickerson said you were dead,” she
managed. “Last October, I heard it.” She shook her head, unbelieving.
“Reverend Thomas led prayers for your soul.”
“You sound disappointed.” Shaw grinned, thrusting his elbows back and
leaning arrogantly against the end gate.
Her heart was hammering, her tongue felt too thick to form words. She
motioned toward the western bank. “Why didn’t you tell me who you were?”
“Would you have let me set foot on this ferry if I did?”
He laughed again, and her stomach pitched as it had that day they’d
arrested her father for murder. All-consuming black rage boiled up inside
her. How dare he come back from the dead?
“If I remember correctly, we didn’t part on the best of company,” Shaw
“I remember,” she replied. He’d lost none of the MacCade arrogance. “I
remember I caught you kissing my sister, and I told you I never wanted to
see you again.” She deliberately kept her tone soft as she reached for the
At the last instant, he saw her movement. “Don’t—”
The lock snapped open, and the gate swung wide. Shaw scrambled for a hold
on the slippery deck, but it was too late. He hit the surface of the dark
river with a splash and went under. Rebecca clung to the ferry railing and
stared at the spot where Shaw had vanished. What had she done? A small
sound of anguish formed in her throat, but before she could utter it, one
muscular arm shot up out of the black tumbling water.
Sputtering water and swearing, he fought to reach the raft. “Damn you,
Rebecca seized an oaken push pole and brought the butt down on his
grasping fingers. “Stay away from me! You and all the rest of the MacCades
can go to hell!”
“Are you trying to drown me?” Shaw’s face was a pale blur amid the rushing
current. “Let me on the frigg’n ferry!”
“Swim or sink, you treacherous coyote!” She pitched the silver dollar at
his head. “And take back your passage fee! I wouldn’t carry a MacCade to
save my soul from hellfire!”
Shaw felt the grip of water as cold as an assayer’s heart. His
buckskins—soaked through and as heavy as lead—weighed him down and
threatened to pull him under. “Becca!” he shouted again.
Ruthlessly, she jabbed at him with her long pole.
Pain shot up Shaw’s leg as the gnarled root of a bobbing tree stump struck
his right knee. He gasped, sucking in a mouthful of muddy river.
Sputtering, he treaded water, trying to think. His limbs were chilled to
the bone. He was a strong swimmer, but he knew he had his limits. If he
stayed here arguing with her any longer, he might wash up on some sandbar
tomorrow morning as crow bait.
His stallion Chinook squealed and reared, sending the other animals into a
panic. Instantly, Becca dropped her pole and twisted to grab the big
Appaloosa’s bridle. The notion that the raft might tip or that Becca might
dump the horses and mules overboard sliced though his anger. I’ll kill
her! I’ll hold her head under until Gabriel blows his horn!
Choking, he uttered one final threat, then turned and swam with the
current. If his memory served, the Little Smoke River took a sharp bend a
few hundred yards downstream. If he could ride the force of the flow, let
it buoy him up, he might make shore in the shallows there.
Shaw was shocked at how quickly he felt the strain of each stroke. His
muscles burned; his mind played tricks on him. How long had he been in the
water? Seconds, minutes? The fog and the darkness confused him, made him
doubt his sense of direction.
Branches and debris tumbled past him. He couldn’t feel his feet any
longer; his hands were gloved claws. This was crazy. Crazy! He hadn’t
traveled five thousand miles, fought hostiles and bandits, landslides and
blizzards, to be pushed into a river and drowned by a girl.
Had he reached the bend? He took a deep breath and let himself sink, down
and down. No! Too far! Too deep!
He drove upward, drawing strength when he’d believed there was none left.
Something struck his head. Something floating. His arms locked around the
object—a wooden cask. “Thank you, God!” he whispered.
With the three-gallon keg to hold him up, making the near bank was easy. A
child could have done it, he thought. Gratefully, he felt solid rock
beneath one foot, stood, and plowed toward the massed willows leaning over
the high bank. The icy river tugged at his hips, reluctant to let go of
her prize, but he sloshed on until the water washed around his ankles.
Fits of shivering seized him, and his teeth began to chatter. Groaning, he
knocked the wooden plug against a rock and upended the whiskey cask. A few
fiery drops seared his tongue. He savored the heat, shaking the container
to make certain it was empty before discarding it.
Remembering his pistol, he felt for it, knowing the answer
to his question before his fingers fumbled over the empty holster. Gone!
“Damn you to a fiery hell, Becca!” He’d paid ninety dollars for that
sidearm in San Francisco. It was French, and he doubted there was another
like it west of the Mississippi. Anger seethed in his gut. After all he
and Becca had meant to each other, why had she done this to him?
And what more had she cost him tonight? The packs that weighed down his
mules were all he had to show for four years of his life. If they were
gone . . .
No time for what he couldn’t change. He needed to get his wet clothes off
before he died of exposure. Gritting his teeth, Shaw struggled up the
rocky bank before stripping off his hunting shirt and leggings. Wearing
nothing but a Blackfoot loincloth and moccasins, he threaded his way
through the patch of trees until he reached the edge of a meadow.
It was full dark now. The crescent moon was swathed in clouds, but far off
to the north, lights from Angel Crossing twinkled like fireflies. That
would be Raeburn’s blockhouse; there’d be no dealing and thus no lamps lit
at the store at night.
The air was warmer than the river, and Shaw was grateful. He’d find no
shelter at Raeburn’s. He needed to build a fire, warm his bones through,
and put on dry clothing. And for that, he needed his horses, his mules,
and his belongings.
He still had his knife, but he didn’t fancy meeting one of Becca’s
brothers carrying a loaded rifle. Hell, after the welcome Becca had given
him, she might just shoot him herself.
But why? They’d parted under bad circumstances, true enough. He reckoned
she had reason to be mad at him—but not enough to attempt murder.
All this time, he mused as he loped toward Raeburn’s corrals. Shaw had
seen his share of women in the far west, some a lot prettier than Becca;
exotic Spanish señoritas, hard-faced whores, and Indian squaws with black
eyes that a man could lose his soul in. But Becca Raeburn had stuck in his
craw, plaguing him like a loose nail in a horse’s shoe.
Bossy, hardheaded, and psalm singing, Rebecca Raeburn was exactly the
wrong gal for a footloose roamer to set his rope for. MacCades and
Raeburns got along about as well as Saint Peter and the devil. Six hundred
years of feuding and who knows how many dead on both sides hadn’t brought
peace any closer than the Great Salt Lake was to the Pacific.
Oh, Becca had a saucy enough figure. A blind man could tell she was pure
female. But her chin was a little too pointed and her mouth too sassy for
real beauty. Her hair was as contrary as the rest of her—couldn’t decide
if it was brown, yellow, or red. And now, to top it off, she’d gone clean
out of her mind. Crazy. Crazy as an alkali-poisoned bronco. Becca had
meant to drown him. She’d tried her best to do it.
And he’d see that she paid the price full measure.
As he neared the stable area, a pack of dogs began to bark. Shaw swore
under his breath. He’d forgotten about the hounds. Some of them weighed
seventy, eighty pounds. And he was on foot. Sweat broke out on his
forehead as he reached for his knife.
Abruptly, a door at the side of the house opened, and a woman’s voice rang
out. He could have sworn it was Becca’s. “Jess! Molly! Come on! Jess! Come
The yapping died away. The li...
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Book Description Ivy Books, 2001. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. Bookseller Inventory # DADAX0345437608
Book Description Ivy Books, 2001. Mass Market Paperback. Book Condition: New. Never used!. Bookseller Inventory # P110345437608