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Grace Redeemed
By Cate Duncan

Book Two in
THE WIDOWS OF CIMARRON SERIES

Grace McGregor and her sons find the Army scout Travis Jackson wounded and dying after an attack by Comancheros a few miles west of their homestead on the Canadian River in the fall of 1867. She and her children nurse him back to health, even though they know her husband, Gus McGregor, will be furious that she has cared for another man should he return and find out what she has done. Each day that passes, the lonely and lovely abandoned mother becomes more attracted to the patient who is so charmed by her children.

Army Scout Travis Jackson is half white and half Apache. He lives in both worlds but has never been totally happy in either. Until now. Recuperating on the McGregor homestead, he has found youngsters who look beyond his high cheekbones and odd clothing to find excitement in his stories and who admire the things he can teach them. He has found a woman who reminds him of his grammy, who cooks fantastic meals, and has healing hands. But she has secrets she won’t share, secrets that frighten her, and that make her afraid of all men.

When the Comancheros come to visit the McGregor homestead, Travis learns what nightmares Grace and her children must endure. He becomes determined to save them from any future torment, and in the process, end their fears for the future. How can he do that without murdering Grace’s husband and becoming as evil as the man she most fears?

 

If you enjoyed the first chapter of
 
Grace Redeemed

please contact Cate Duncan at

montdawn@msn.com

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

   

    

CHAPTER ONE

 

The Canadian River, New Mexico, October 1867.  Travis Jackson dropped his sorrel’s reins and approached the brink of the precipice. Knowing what he would see, he still wasn’t prepared. The vista that opened before him took his breath away. He thought his heart would stop, him, an experienced Indian scout, who had seen most of New Mexico Territory, and a good deal of those lands beyond its borders, with all of the wonders there were out there. How could there be more beautiful places he hadn’t yet found? The tracker he’d asked for information about this part of the country had tried to prepare him. The description he’d been given had paled to the brilliance of the reality.

The bend in the river had carved a wide channel in the canyon floor. Where a small creek fed from the east, the flood-plain broadened out to a flat expanse carpeted with thick golden grasses and dotted with lush cottonwoods turning a brilliant yellow. Red-colored willows fringed the shallows of the bright blue river. Red stone cliffs framed the golden valley. They gleamed in the lowering sun, casting a rosy glow on the verdant plain.

It wasn’t just the beauty of the setting that set Travis’s heart to hammering. Well above high flood mark set a stone and adobe house, not much more than a cabin, really, with white smoke drifting from a cobblestone chimney. Three outbuildings made of the same materials, a pole corral containing half a dozen horses, and a good-sized kitchen garden completed the complex. Sweeping his gaze up the river, Travis noted the clumps of cattle grazing in the abundant grasses of the river valley.

The tracker said this place was known as McGregor’s Canyon. Gus McGregor had staked a homestead here and ran a trading post for the nearby settlers. McGregor’s sure lucky, Travis thought, his weary body already feeling the benefits of the reprise he would get at the outpost. A home-cooked meal, a place to sleep under a roof, even if just a spot on the floor in front of the kitchen fire. He’d be able to sleep deep, knowing McGregor’s dogs would warn of enemies.

He stood a moment longer, gathering the strength he needed to descend the trail into the river valley. As he watched the pastoral scene incongruously cut into the red rock canyon, a woman stepped out of the stone house door. A breeze caught her long skirt and swirled it up, revealing a man’s sturdy work boots. She scanned the approaches to her house, and then the rims of the canyon. Travis could tell when she spotted him, as her lithe figure turned stone still.

If a crow flew directly from Travis to the woman, it would not go even so much as a quarter of a mile. At that distance, he could not be expected to see her face, or even much of the details of what she wore. He only guessed at the boots because they were so bulky in contrast to what a woman should wear. But the sudden stillness compared to the easy grace when she had come through the door bespoke nothing so much as sudden and stark fear.

Ah, then. McGregor’s not at home, Travis thought.

 

He’s just passing through, Grace told herself. She took one, two, three deep breaths of air, trying to calm the wild pounding of her heart. The first sight of a man, one not familiar to her, always sent her into a panic. She thought she would have become accustomed to the strangers by now, and learned not to fear them. None had ever done her harm. In fact, they always spoke courteously, briefly, and then passed on. He would do the same.

She went inside the house and pulled the Winchester rifle off its hooks above the fireplace. It came easily, she having mastered the trick of disengaging it from its resting place, that special little heft and pull, especially of the stock end, keeping the barrel at just the right level. The first few times she’d tried it, she had over-balanced, and knocked the hooks out of place.  Now the rifle sat where it was needed and came to her call easily.

“Man’s on the trail,” she told her oldest daughter, Elizabeth, who mended stockings in a straight-backed chair near the front window. “You keep your sister and little brother inside when he gets here.”

“East or west?” Elizabeth asked.

“East. Be here in fifteen, twenty minutes. Looks like his horse is lame. He’ll be moving slow. I’ll send Davey in when the dogs bark.” David, the youngest, was outside in the barn with his older brothers.

Elizabeth nodded, and Grace let out the breath she’d been holding. At least the girls and younger children obeyed her without argument. She couldn’t always count on such cooperation from Jason anymore, now that he’d turned fifteen years old.

When Grace left the house, she cradled the rifle in her left arm. Raising her voice, she called for Jason.

“Here, Ma,” he answered from inside the large, stone building set up against the cliff side. It served as a barn, housing the draft horses and cows having difficulty giving birth in the spring. Gus talked of building a second story for hay storage, like a proper barn, but he had never done so. The low, wide building with narrow slots for windows never looked like what Grace had grown up calling a barn,  with a tall, steep, pitched  roof for the storage of  silage. But that’s what Gus insisted on calling the place he let his customers stable their animals.

Jason stuck his head out the open door of the stable.

“Cleanin’ up, like you said,” he clarified, in a slightly defensive tone. Grace knew he’d rather be off hunting.

“Man’s coming down the east trail,” she called back. “Keep an eye on your brother when he gets here. You two stay close. I don’t want you wanderin’ off. Send Davey to the house when the dogs bark.”

Grace couldn’t see the details of Jason’s expression from across the yard, but she knew by the way he put himself in full sight and straightened up to his recently acquired, seemingly impossible height that he was excited.  His younger, and much shorter brother, Alexander, appeared out of the darker shadows.

“What kinda’ man, Ma?”

“Can’t say. You’ll see soon enough. Keep quiet when he comes and let me do the talkin’, you two hear? Now get back to work. The dogs’ll let us know when he gets here.”

Still cradling the rifle in her left arm, she picked up the basket she had left on the shaded front porch and proceeded to the vegetable garden. She had chores to do.

 

Grace had peeled the carrots and potatoes and rolled out the biscuits when the dogs announced the arrival of the man and the lame horse. Grabbing up the Winchester once again, she shoo’ed Elizabeth and the little ones into the house and took up her post on her porch. She stood in the shade where he wouldn’t be able to see her so well because of his sun-blinded eyes. When dealing with men, it always helped to take such small advantages. He needed her help, she could see that. He came at sunset; his horse was lame; and he looked very tired. If she retained the upper hand, he would not cause her trouble.

He walked into her yard with confidence, ignoring the three barking dogs. He strode as if he had every right to be there, not hurrying, solicitous of the horse that limped behind him. He wore an odd assortment of clothing so that she could not place him in her catalog of frontier types that traveled the little-used road between Fort Bascom and Fort Union. A dark, wide-brimmed hat sat on his head, like that worn by most men riding the open plains, and a large yellow kerchief covered the front of a collarless blue shirt. Those items, and a pistol in a holster strapped to his hip and thigh marked him as a drover or what many folks were starting to call cowboys. But he deigned the traditional vest for a wide leather pouch slung over one shoulder and blue-striped trousers instead of denim pants. A soldier? The shirt and trousers were like the Army uniforms, but his footgear was not. He wore moccasins to his knees instead of the high-heeled boots favored by the drovers and Army. When he turned to look back at his horse, Grace saw that his dark hair hung long, to the middle of his back, caught up in loose braid, not much different than her own.

Not a cowboy, or a soldier, then. They wore their hair short and their boots hardened with high heels.

After glancing back at his horse, the man returned his gaze to the porch. He had found her, and headed straight for her, ignoring the barn where the two boys stood back in the shadows. He’d probably seen them, but being children, even one as tall as Jason, he’d dismissed them as unimportant. He didn’t stop walking until he reached the hitching post Gus had put up for the traders that came by often as not.  It stood about twenty feet out from the house, a comfortable distance to talk with a stranger. He wrapped the horse’s reins around the post once, but didn’t secure them. Then he looked up and took off his hat.

“Ma’am.”

With the high sculpted cheekbones and long, dark hair, Grace expected dark eyes. Instead, pale grey eyes above a slightly freckled nose gazed at her.

“Travis Jackson, Army Scout,” he introduced himself.

That explains the mixed clothing, Grace thought. Neither white nor Indian, but both. He lives in whatever world he has to, an outcast wherever he goes. She felt a sudden surge of kinship with him.

“Grace McGregor,” she replied, more boldly than she meant to. She lowered the barrel of the Winchester, which she had been pointing towards his lower body ever since she had come out onto the porch. He couldn’t have missed it, but he had ignored it. Now she saw his eyes flicker towards the rifle, and back up to her face. A quick smile passed across his face.

“My horse picked up a rock yesterday afternoon. He’ll be lame for a week or more. It’s almost forty miles to Fort Union. I’ve been scouting for over two months, and I’m anxious to bet back to make my reports.”  Travis glanced over at the corral. “I see you have some horses. Don’t suppose I could requisition one in exchange for this sorrel while he heals up?”

Grace considered the matter. She really had no reason to deny the request. The Army kept settlers like her safe from attacks by Kiowas and Comanches out on the plains.

“I need my wagon team. The rest are rough stock. They’ve barely been trained to a lead. If you can saddle and ride one, you’re welcome to it,” she volunteered.

Again, that quick smile, then it was gone. Grace had met some Apaches, people who came to trade for flour and coffee. They rarely smiled, except at private jokes. This Travis Jackson got his ready grin from his white parent.

Then he smiled again, this time wider. They both heard the talk coming from the barn, not muted whispers, but exclamations in the tones of boys who have tended to routine chores for far too long, and see some excitement coming their way. He glanced toward the barn, but said nothing in response, simply grinned as if he remembered a similar treat from a stranger arriving in the midst of the family.

“I can give you government script for the horse,” he said as he looked back toward her.  “Or we can consider it a swap, and I’ll return yours and come back for mine.”

Grace frowned, as much at the boys revealing their location as at the idea of selling an untested horse. “Decide after you break the stock,” Grace suggested. “You might not like what you get.”

His grin stayed this time, making his face handsome. Grace took a sharp breath and forced herself to look away. She’d never stared at a man so shamelessly before.

“Point out the wagon team, and I’ll size up the rest,” he stated, obviously eager to get on with the business at hand. Already he scanned the horses in the corral.

Grace finally set aside the Winchester and walked across the yard. She had not yet lost her fear of Travis Jackson, but having the horses to discuss gave them both something to focus on besides one another. She could become accustomed to him this way. At least if he wasn’t going to go away right away, she could get used to his presence as they talked about the horses.

Grace found she successfully set aside her fear of the man when she laid aside the gun and followed him to the corral. Grinning over the antics of her boys that way, he didn’t seem like any sort of threat.

 

 

 

 

 

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