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A Name Redeemed
By Cate Duncan



 Book One of    
THE WIDOWS OF THE CIMARRON SERIES


A man with no name comes upon the weather-beaten ranch house of the widow Amanda Jameson, laiden with sacks of gold and silver and a strange story of granting her husband's dying wish. She gives him a good meal, a place to rest his horse and a bed for the night. He stays a week, and then is gone, leaving her the gold and his heart and a promise to return when he finds his name. Who is he? And what will he find when he searches for a name for his legacy?

If you enjoyed the first two chapters of
 
A Name Redeemed
 

please contact Montana Dawn at

montdawn@msn.com

If you are a publisher or an agent,
Montana Dawn will be happy to entertain solitations.


[excerpt]

CHAPTER ONE 
       

    

Southeast of Cimarron, New Mexico, July 1865. The man with no name let his horse stumble to a stop in the front yard of the stone ranch house. He sat on the weary animal’s back for a moment longer, knowing he should climb out of the saddle, let his mount and pack string rest their legs, take those heavy saddle bags off, and get his livestock over to that tank of water. But the man, now that he saw a barn, some shade, and the possibility of a night’s rest, felt the same relief as the animals. He let all-consuming weariness invade his back and shoulders.

Before the wave of exhaustion passed to his thighs, he shifted his weight onto his left foot and swung his right leg over the haunches of his dusty bay. Dropping the reins, he let the horse and his string of three pack animals stand in the yard as he strode towards the shaded front porch. He knew they were too tired to go anywhere except to the water tank.

A woman emerged from the front door just as he reached the bottom step, saving him the energy it would take to climb to the porch and knock on the door jamb. Grateful to the three dogs who had been announcing his arrival for the past five minutes, he waited for her to call them off. She did so with canine names he didn’t catch, sharp words that turned the loud, snarling mongrels into stiff-legged curs circling his horses and avoiding his eyes. He ignored them, never having considered them a threat. He knew them for what they were, alarms only, no real harm to a man with a rifle in his saddle boot and a revolver on his hip.

“You got a name, Mister?” the woman demanded.

His eyes raked her form from the wisps of ashen hair escaping the long braid at her back to the narrow waist cinched above a plain, home-spun skirt.  His gaze paused on the soft brown eyes above a small, pert nose and her well-rounded breasts. He realized he hadn’t looked at an ordinary, respectable woman in a very long time, and he liked what he saw. The task he’d given himself two months ago, the one that ended here, at Jameson’s ranch, suddenly didn’t seem so burdensome, and some of the weight lifted off his shoulders.

“Hard to remember,” he admitted. “Last man I spent any time with called me Rubio, uh, Goldie.”

Her face took on a look of confusion. She couldn’t see the gold glints in his dusty hair, hidden under his hat, and she wouldn’t understand the irony. Marcos had called him Rubio as a joke. It was almost a feminine name, from the Spanish Rubia, meaning a blonde woman. When Marcos called him that, he meant something like a White Man or Gringo, just as he’d called the brute they outwitted Angel Face for the way his sweet countenance hid the devil inside his skull. The man who couldn’t remember his own name had taken a liking to the nickname Marcos gave him. It suited him, being called something the opposite of what he really was, seemingly weak and slow until he proved himself deadly with a gun.

It didn’t matter. That name was in the past. He wouldn’t use it again. He never used the same name from one place to the next.

“Or Rider. That’ll do,” he quickly improvised, as was his habit. He felt an unfamiliar twinge of uneasiness for the deception. For the first time since he could remember, he cared what someone thought of him.

The slight frown between her eyebrows disappeared.

“You look tired and thirsty, Mr. … Rider,” the woman said. Her hesitation betrayed the fact he hadn’t fooled her. She knew that wasn’t his name so much as an identification.

“You’re a long way from town. Would you and your horses like some water, a place to rest?”

He nodded, appreciating the fact that he didn’t have to ask. “Thank you, ma’am. The horses need both the water and rest. How far to Cimarron?”

“Eight miles. You can stay here the night,” she invited, pointing to the barn immediately beyond the yard. A stock tank stood just inside the corral, next to a windmill.

Again he nodded. “You’re the widow Jameson?”

She narrowed her eyes before wrapping her arms around her breasts, shielding herself from his penetrating gaze. Well she should. He had taken too long and too hard a look at the curves above her waist.

“Amanda Jameson,” she nodded. “My late husband was George Jameson.”

Rider nodded and touched the brim of his hat. “I was with him when he died. He asked me to bring you a message.”

She relaxed her tense shoulders and lowered her arms. “Well, then, you’ll be having dinner with me, and telling me all about it. Water and feed your horses, and get yourself settled, then come on over for some food.”

The man who now called himself Rider touched the brim of his hat again, nodded, and turned to his weary horses. The animals had seen the water tank, and gladly followed when he started to walk that direction. The pack horses evinced an alertness they had previously hidden, as if they had been too tired to even notice the tank on their own. Rider made no effort to repress either the horses’ enthusiasm for the water and rest, or his own eagerness for the upcoming meal.

 

 “More pot roast?” Amanda asked her guest, a serving fork in her hand as it hovered over the platter. She had brought out the good dishes, the ones she rarely used because she didn’t want to chip them. She hadn’t served anything on this blue and white china for more than a year.

“Thank you, ma’am. I could eat some more,” he agreed, wiping his mouth with a napkin.

Amanda caught herself smiling at him, as much with pleasure at his desire for more of her food as at his manners. It had been a long time since a man sat at her table and remembered how to use one of her linen napkins instead of the back of his hand.

“Help yourself to more carrots, beans, potatoes, and gravy, too,” she urged him.

He met her eyes, straight on, piercing blue eyes that brought a big lump to the middle of her throat and kept her from breathing.

“You must have experience of men coming off the Llano Estacado,” he said of the flat, featureless plain to the southeast, from which he had just come. “We must all arrive thirsty and with empty bellies.”

“I’ve seen no man survive that plain without an Apache guide,” she admitted. “I’m curious how you made it.”

Rider quirked up a corner of his thin lips in a rueful smile. “I’d crossed a worse desert, when I found your late husband.”

Amanda waited while he refilled his plate, and she poured him another cup of coffee. When he seemed satisfied with the quantity of food before him, she urged him to tell his story. “What happened? Tell me about George.”

The blue-eyed stranger glanced at her. “His name was really George? George Jameson?”

“Yes. Why? Did you know him by another name?”

She watched the impassive face of the handsome man sitting across her table. His gaze didn’t flinch as he shoved another forkful of pot roast, dripping with gravy, into his mouth.

“Marcos, my partner, and I were trailing his squad. He had taken another name.  He never told you about the bounty?”

That wasn’t the question Amanda expected. The stranger favored her with his penetrating, blue eyes, eyes that seemed to pierce her soul. Would a man like him know what to do with what he saw there?

“Bounty? No. I don’t know anything about a bounty,” she admitted.

“That’s the way he saw it. Jameson was with a group of Texan Rebels that confiscated a Mexican trade caravan’s silver and gold. They saw it as their right to keep it. Spoils of war, they called it. A secret like that breeds distrust, and no one in Jameson’s squad is alive today. Your husband was the last of them.”

Amanda watched Rider spear a succulent chunk of beef with his fork and raise it to his mouth.  He obviously enjoyed her food, savoring it, not just shoveling it in like so many others had at her table. Even the way he ate attracted her.

“How much?” she asked.

“Hundred thousand, in silver dollars, gold half eagles, eagles and double eagles.”

Amanda couldn’t imagine such wealth. What would one person do with all that money?

“Where is it now?” she asked.

“Marcos has half of it,” Rider grimaced. “Assuming he’s still alive.” He hesitated and quirked a half smile.  “No, he’s alive. Son of a –.” He stopped, evidently remembering he was in the company of a respectable woman. “That one is too tough to die. He’s probably looking for me, but I don’t think he’ll follow me north across the Llano Estacado.”

“And the other half?”

“Jameson, he told me what to do with it.”

He didn’t look at her, just kept eating. Although he enjoyed her food, she had lost all of her appetite.

“Is that the message you bring to me?” she asked after a minute of his silent eating.

Rider pushed back his plate. Only a smear of gravy marred the surface of the blue and white china. He took a sip of coffee from the delicate cup, and wiped his mouth on the white napkin. Finally he met her eyes.

“Your husband was dying. ‘Get me water,’ he begged, ‘and I’ll give you my greatest treasures.’” Rider looked away, as if he had done something reprehensible.

After he sipped his coffee, he continued. “I gave him the canteen, all of it, and then asked him what the treasures were. He told me where he had buried the spoils. I guess he knew he was going to die.”

Amanda looked away before asking, “And his other treasure?”

She waited, her gaze now fixed on the blue eyes that drifted over her form. She felt a flush rise to her face, one brought on by his close scrutiny. She should resent the way he looked at her, but for some reason, she didn’t. She didn’t feel threatened by this grim-looking, but oh-so-attractive man. He made no alarming moves, his body stayed relaxed, he spoke with courtesy and used better manners than she had seen in a man for years. He made no effort to hide his honest appreciation, first for the quality of the meal she served him, and continuously for the pleasure her company gave him. She didn’t want to insult him by seeming to take offense at anything he did or said.

“Jameson said he had one other treasure. His wife. His words were, ‘One treasure to care for another. It’s only right.’ ”

Amanda blinked. George had thought about her after all, there at the end. Running off to war, leaving her alone, claiming he’d bring her riches, from a war that could only impoverish all those who fought in it. She thought he’d run away, left her alone to fend for herself. She thought he’d gone and broken her heart.

“What do you mean?” she asked. “I don’t understand.”

He shook his head. “I don’t either. He died with the next breath.”

Amanda sat across the table from this stranger, not knowing what to say. He had come to her ranch house, with its leaking roof and doors that wouldn’t lock, and told her that her husband had died speaking of her as if she meant a great deal to him.  Had this man come to comply with a dying request?

“So you have the treasure?” she dared to ask him.

“In the barn.”

She regarded him with a steady gaze. He returned her look with one that said nothing.

“You have room for pie?” she asked, willing her heart to keeping beating steadily, and not dwelling on the answer to her question. She didn’t know him, or what he proposed to do with the silver and gold he had put in her barn.

His thin lips curved up into a smile, one that revealed strong, white teeth. “What kind?”

“Cherry.”

He appeared to consider her offer for a moment before allowing the smile to transform his weathered face into a thing of beauty. “I’d like that,” he agreed.


  

 

 

 

 

Chapter Two

 

Standing on the porch, Rider drew in another lungful of the cigar smoke, letting the flavor linger in his mouth and nasal passages. Some men favored whiskey, but not this man who survived by keeping aware of all details in his surroundings, right and wrong. Instead, he indulged a vice that sharpened, rather than dulled his senses. The small, aromatic cigars called cheroots hooked him with that numbing calm on lips, nose, and mind, especially after a meal. After the excellent dinner he’d just shared with Jameson’s widow, he especially required the sharp, narcotic tang in his mouth.

He leaned up against the white-painted board on top of the thigh-high stone wall that surrounded Amanda Jameson’s porch. He watched the top edge of the flaming sun slip below the mountains on the western horizon. One moment it flared a brilliant orange. The next, the deep blue hues of the night sky swallowed the dwindling glow. Not a wisp of a cloud caught an errant beam of reflected light. Faster than he could count them, stars began to pop out of the darkening sky, and a cool breeze puffed the cigar smoke back into his face.

He crushed the inch-long cheroot stub into the heel of his boot just as Mrs. Jameson opened the screen door of her parlor and came out onto her porch.

“It’s going to be a pleasant evening,” she offered politely.

He nodded, caught speechless by the halo of silver created by the light of the lamp in her front parlor as it passed through the fine hairs escaping her ashen-blond braid. Before he could stop himself, he rose from the rail and reached toward her. His fingers brushed her cheek.

She turned her head, not away from him, as he expected, but towards him, colliding with his hand, her lips opening to say something and closing on his rough knuckle in the imitation of a kiss. He felt a jolt of desire surge straight to his loins. With the utmost of control, he stifled a moan from deep in his chest.

She cleared her throat, but didn’t take her eyes away from his.

“I have more coffee. Do you want another cup before I throw it out?” she asked. Her voice held steady. He wondered if his would do the same when he replied.

Not daring to risk betraying how she affected him, he simply nodded and followed her back into the house, hoping she’d keep her back to him until he could slide the bulge at his groin under the table.

“George may have left some whiskey. I can look for it, if you like,” she offered as she poured two cups of coffee.

“The coffee’s fine,” he managed to rasp, genuinely not wanting any liquor. He watched her as she sat the cup in front of him, and then moved to fetch the cream, a luxury he rarely indulged.

He tore his eyes away from her narrow waist. If he didn’t, he’d be staring at her breasts again, something he’d done too much of already this evening.

“How do you manage here, by yourself?” he asked, hoping to distract himself.

“I have a foreman. He’s gone right now. Neighbors help. I hire half a dozen cowhands when I need them to round up the herd. Branding time, you know, or to take the steers to the fort.”

“You’ll have the suitors lined up, more proposals than you know what to do with, rich widow like you,” he observed.

“Am I rich?” she asked, sharply.

A smile twitched at the corner of his mouth. “Jameson wanted you to be.”

He bet she didn’t need to hire a man for more personal services, the kind he had more and more of a mind to provide for her, given the least sign she would welcome them. The good food and the coffee had revived him, made him feel more alive than he had for weeks. He felt urges he’d forgotten he had.

A brief frown creased her forehead, and she looked away from him, shifting in her chair.

“I suppose a rich widow could go anywhere she wanted, San Francisco, St. Louis, Boston. Set up a nice house, spend the day visiting with neighbors.” She stared into the lamplight on the table, as if conjuring a fantasy.

“Find herself a rich man to spend her evenings with. Go to plays, and musical performances, if that’s the sort of thing she likes,” he contributed to the daydream.

“Travel around the world. See places she’s never even heard of before,” Amanda continued, the crease above her eyebrows disappearing.

“If that’s what she wanted,” Rider breathed. He’d had the same kind of thoughts. It hadn’t occurred to him that he’d find a like mind at the edge of the Llano Estacado, wearing homespun skirts and a long braid down her back.

“She’d need a companion, someone who didn’t get tired of new places or strange food,” she mused. She waited, but when he didn’t say anything, she added, “Someone who didn’t drink too much.”

The man with the streaks of gold in his hair pulled one long leg from under the table and rested it beneath his chair. He had already said he didn’t want her husband’s whiskey. Was this the invitation he awaited? His manhood throbbed beneath his belt. Every word, every phrase that came from those moist lips could be read as encouragement to a man thirsting for the comfort of an experienced woman, a woman with no man.  How much longer should he wait to see if she meant what he thought she said? If he stood now, she would see how much he wanted her. Hell, a bat could see the rod in his pants from a hundred yards.

He leaned forward, closing the gap between his abdomen and the table, taking no chances she might catch a glimpse of the monster lurking in his lap.

“Me, I like new places,” he agreed. “I’m not one to stay anywhere for long.”

This was dangerous ground, so he changed the subject. “But now, the horses and I both need rest. If we could stay a few days, I’d be glad to do some chores, whatever you need a man to do around the place.” And I mean that, in all ways, he thought, schooling his face to prevent a leer.

She smiled, a slight flush creeping across her cheeks. Had his lust been so blatant after all?

“Why, that’ll be just fine, Mr. … Rider.” She stumbled on his invented name.  Refusing to meet his eyes, she reached for his empty coffee cup and skittered over to the wash basin, giving him leave to go.

He rose and walked to the door, hoping to escape before she caught him in his state of arousal. He heard the swish of her skirts behind him. Her nearness made him clumsy. Pulling open the screen door to walk out, he had to step back. He collided with her. Turning, he found himself holding her, an act he had tried so hard to avoid, yet had desired so greatly.

The damage done, he could no longer control his weary body. He tightened his grip and pulled her closer, all the time watching her honey-brown eyes for signs of alarm. He saw none. She melted into his embrace, her curves fitting his hollows, as if she had been made for him.

Then, painfully aware of his erection, Rider eased his hold of the woman. This respectable woman had invited him to stay at her ranch for the night, and he had as much as invited himself to stay a few days longer, to rest the horses, he said. Curiously, having met Jameson’s widow, he wanted to do more than just deliver the gold and silver. For the first time, he felt weary, more tired than he ever had after finishing a job. He truly needed a rest. If he gave in to the unaccountable weakness that washed over him, he would not be able to take the respite he needed. Instead, he would test the desire that he saw in Amanda Jameson’s eyes and the way she held her body, desire he knew she reflected from himself. She could not have missed the way he handled himself near her. Like a magnet drawn to a sheet of metal, he couldn’t stay away from her. Indeed, that’s why they stood embraced like this, now, him only a whisper away from taking her eager lips with his, only a heartbeat from pressing his hard cock into her thigh. Lying with her tonight would force him to leave tomorrow, and he didn’t want that. He wanted to stay, long enough to rest, and talk some more with this extremely interesting woman. That’s why he left her curious about how much of the gold and silver he would leave behind when he went away.

So he stepped back and said, “Good night, Mrs. Jameson.”

He thought he heard a sigh of relief as he turned and walked off her porch.

“Good night, Mr. Rider,” he heard at his back.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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