The BLACKBIRD

Wings of the West, Book 4

Arizona Territory 1877
 
Bounty hunter Cale Walker arrives in Tucson to search for J. Howard “Hank” Carlisle at the request of his daughter, Tess. Hank mentored Cale before a falling out divided them, and a mountain lion attack left Cale nearly dead. Rescued by a band of Nednai Apache, his wounds were considered a powerful omen and he was taught the ways of a di-yin, or a medicine man. To locate Hank, Cale must enter the Dragoon Mountains, straddling two worlds that no longer fit. But he has an even bigger problem—finding a way into the heart of a young woman determined to live life as a bystander.
 
For two years, Tess Carlisle has tried to heal the mental and physical wounds of a deadly assault by one of her papá’s men. Continuing the traditions of her Mexican heritage, she has honed her skills as a cuentista, a storyteller and a Keeper of the Old Ways. But with no contact from her father since the attack, she fears the worst. Tess knows that to reenter Hank Carlisle’s world is a dangerous endeavor, and her only hope is Cale Walker, a man unlike any she has ever known. Determined to make a journey that could lead straight into the path of her attacker, she hardens her resolve along with her heart. But Cale makes her yearn for something she vowed she never would—love.
 

Praise

2015 Laramie Winner
Best in Romantic Western Fiction
 
“With dastardly villains, plenty of action, a strong heroine, surprising twists and turns, and a sexy cowboy, all underlined by a sensual love story, this historical western romance has something for everyone.”
~ Janna Shay, InD'tale Magazine

Read Chapter One

Arizona Territory
Near Tucson
August 1877
 
Cale Walker approached the barn at the Simms’ homestead, leading his horse. No one appeared to be in residence at the moment, so he thought to see to the animal while he awaited their return.
 
A woman’s voice floated on the heavy, late-summer air currents. “He was attacked by a león de montaña—a mountain lion—and it was a most terrible thing.”
 
Cale paused.
 
“He’d lost so much blood,” the woman continued, with a faint Mexican accent. “The Apache didn’t know if they could save him. It was in the hands of their life-giver, Yusn.”
 
“What happened to him, Auntie Tess?” a young boy asked, his voice fervent and eager.
 
“He had lived. The Apache recognized in him a strong spirit. He was marked by the león de montaña, and this was indeed significant. So they taught him the ways of their people. They taught him their medicine, and he became a di-yin.”
 
She’s telling a story about me.
 
“What’s that?” the boy asked.
 
Cale pushed the brim of his Stetson up and listened closely, wondering if the woman would get this part right.
 
“A chamán.”
 
“Huh?” the boy said.
 
“A medicina man,” the woman tried.
 
The boy must have still been perplexed.
 
“A doctor,” she continued.
 
“Oh,” the boy said.
 
Cale couldn’t see them, hidden around the corner as they were, but he could sense the boy’s dawning realization, and imagined his eyes widening and his head nodding.
 
“A doktur,” a little girl’s voice repeated.
 
“That’s right, Molly Rose,” the woman, Auntie Tess, said. She must be the very Tess he’d come to see, Hank’s daughter. “Muy buena. Now, time to get back to the house so we can have lunch. Te vas.”
 
“You want me to help you?” the boy asked.
 
“No Robbie, I’ll be fine,” Tess responded. “I’ll be along in un momento.”
 
Cale heard the children scamper away but he didn’t move. Tess remained where she was, and he felt as if he’d eavesdropped. While he debated how to make his presence known, his horse snorted.
 
Thanks, Bo.
 
“Is there someone there?” Tess asked, but she didn’t approach.
 
Cale frowned. Did she fear him? Was there enough outlaw activity and Apache depredations in these parts for her to be wary?
 
“Yeah,” he said, and rounded the corner.
 
Tess Carlisle stood by a bale of hay, her black hair in a braid resting against a white blouse and her hips clad in a colorful Mexican skirt. The sun shone behind her in the barn door, and he couldn’t make out her features, but she appeared young and pretty. She sure didn’t resemble her pa, J. Howard Carlisle, or Hank, as Cale knew him. She must take after her ma, whom Cale had never met.
 
“Sorry to startle you,” he said. “I’m Cale Walker. You must be Tess Carlisle.”
 
Recognition filled her gaze. “Oh, , pleased to meet you.” She didn’t move from her position, however, which Cale thought strange. “You came after all. Mary wasn’t certain if you would.”
 
And that’s when he saw the cane she leaned against, and he knew she carried an injured leg.
 
“I heard you were lookin’ for Hank. Not sure if I can help.” He paused. “Are you hurt?”
 
She glanced down at the wooden support. “Of a sort. It’s an old injury. Would you like to come to the house? I was about to make lunch for the children. Tom and Mary aren’t here at the moment. They took the baby into town.”
 
“Everything all right?”
 
. She’s got a bit of the croup. The doctor should fix it right up.”
 
“I’ll tend to my horse first, if you don’t mind. It’s been a long journey.”
 
“You came all the way from Texas?”
 
“That’s right.” He guided his horse to a stall, then began to remove the saddle.
 
“I’ll just see to the children,” she said. “The house is over that way. Please join us when you’re finished.”
 
“Sounds good.”
 
She turned and left the barn, leaning heavily on the cane but moving swiftly nevertheless.
 
Cale watched her go, wondering what had happened to her, curious what nonsense Hank might’ve gotten his daughter into.
 
Once he finished getting Bo settled with fresh hay and water, he headed to the spacious hacienda. Following the sounds of children, he entered the interior courtyard. A dog ran toward him, stood its ground, and barked.
 
“Cabal, ven aca,” Tess said sternly from inside the kitchen.
 
A young boy stood just inside the doorway, looking to be about five or six years old, with a mop of dark hair and a sunburned face. “Who’re you?”
 
“That’s Señor Walker, Robbie,” Tess said from inside.
 
The dog, a big brown mutt with floppy ears and short hair, continued to bark. Tess appeared in the doorway behind Robbie, leaning on her cane. “Cabal, heel,” she said.
 
The dog obeyed, but kept his gaze on Cale.
 
“Is this your guard dog?” he asked.
 
Tess smiled as she glanced at the animal, the love in her gaze unmistakable. “He’s a good one. He won’t bite, but it takes a bit for him to become comfortable with new people. His name is Cabal.” She rested a hand on the boy’s shoulder. “And this is Robbie Simms, Tom and Mary’s eldest.”
 
Cale wondered at the change that had overtaken Tess’s face. She all but glowed around the boy and the dog.
 
“Pleased to meet you, Robbie.” He crouched to be at eye level with the youngster.
 
“Are you a bounty come to get my head?” Robbie asked.
 
Cale smiled. “No. I’ve just come for a visit with your ma.”
 
A little girl peeked from behind Tess’s skirt.
“This is Molly Rose.” Tess ruffled her hair affectionately. “She’s three.”

Molly Rose held up three fingers to emphasize her age.
 
“Pleased to meet you, Molly,” Cale replied. “I happen to know another Molly, your aunt. You’re in good company
with that name.” Cale knew the girl was too young to understand that “Aunt Molly” was also his half-sister, so he kept that information to himself.
 
The girl, with brown curls framing her round face, watched him with wary and curious eyes.
 
“We’ve got tortillas and beans,” Tess offered. “Are you hungry?”
 
Cale nodded.
 
“You can wash up out there,” she added. A basin of water sat low enough for the children to reach.
 
He removed his hat, and Molly Rose shyly made a grab for it. She giggled and disappeared into the kitchen with her prize. Hunching over, he grabbed the lye soap and washed the dust and grime from him as best he could, then ran wet fingers through his short-cropped hair and across his face. He hoped he looked presentable.
 
When he entered the kitchen Tess was reaching for a pot of beans on the cook stove.
 
He moved to it. “Here, let me.”
 
Tess backed up. “Gracias.”
 
He set the pot on the table. They all sat on benches, Cale on one side and Tess on the other with both children sandwiching her. Cale reached for the ladle as Tess did, bumping her hand.
 
“Perdón,” she mumbled, not looking at him.
 
She spooned the red beans into each bowl and passed them in turn to the children, then to Cale, then to herself. She distributed the tortillas, and filled cups from a pitcher of water.
 
“Have you heard from mi padre?” she asked, now raising her gaze to his. Her green eyes briefly held him spellbound, the color unlike any he’d ever seen. It was as if the emerald-covered hills of Ireland, of which Hank had often reminisced, were reflected in his daughter.
 
“No. I haven’t seen Hank in four years.”
 
“He hasn’t contacted you? You don’t have any mutual acquaintances?”
 
“No. And yes, we do. We parted ways in ’73, just before he came here to get you after your ma died. I haven’t been in this area for some time since then. When he came for you, didn’t he stay?”
 
“I’m guessing you knew Hank fairly well,” she replied. “So it probably won’t come as a surprise to you that he didn’t stay with me, but instead took me with him.”
 
Cale wondered if that was the cause of her injury. Hank hadn’t led a calm and peaceful life. “For how long?”
 
“Two years. Then he brought me here. I haven’t seen or heard from him since.”
 
“Why do you wanna find him now?”
 
“I’m eighteen years old.” Molly Rose dropped a spoon and Tess leaned down to retrieve it. She wiped it with a cloth, then handed it back to the girl. “I can’t live here forever, however welcoming Tom and Mary are.”
 
“Yes you can,” Robbie chimed in. “We don’t want you to leave.”
 
“I’m not leaving,” she said to him then turned to Cale. “But I need to know the whereabouts of Hank. He’s the only family I have left. And then I can make a decision as to my future.”
 
“Are you gonna marry that Esteban fella?” Robbie asked.
 
“No, Robbie, I’m not.”
 
“If you’d wait for me, then we could get married.” His earnest young face conveyed his commitment.
 
Tess smiled indulgently, and Cale caught himself staring at her natural charm. “Then, I’ll wait.”
 
“Really?” Robbie grinned, breaking his serious expression in an instant, and stuffed a tortilla into his mouth.
 
And just like that, Tess was off the market. The thought amused Cale.
 
The children perked up at the sound of a wagon pulling into the yard. Tess and the kids stood, so Cale joined them as they went outside. A man and a woman carrying a baby approached.
 
Dark-haired and still resembling the Mary Hart he’d known from his youth, she stopped short when she saw him.
 
“Cale Walker?” A big smile lit her face. She hugged him, taking care with the babe in her arms.
 
“It’s good to see you, Mary.”
 
“Thank you so much for coming. And Molly—my Lord, how is she?” Her expression beamed with eagerness for news on the sister she’d thought dead for ten years.
 
“Very well. I know she looks forward to seeing you.”
 
“Mama, I’m Molly,” the little one said softly beside Tess.
 
“Of course you are, sweetheart.” Mary leaned down to hug her daughter. “I’m talking about your Aunt Molly.” She stood and turned to the man beside her.
 
“Cale,” Mary began, “this is my husband, Tom Simms.”
 
Cale shook Tom’s hand. “Good to meet you.”
 
“Same here,” Tom replied.
 
Lean and tan, Tom’s welcoming expression put Cale at ease and made him grateful the flirtation he and Mary had shared years ago was simply a warm affection now.
 
“You’ve met everyone else?” Tom added.
 
Cale nodded. “Except for the baby.”
 
Mary turned to show the infant’s face. “This is Evelyn.”
 
“She’s beautiful.”
 
“I need to put her down for a nap. But I look forward to catching up.”
 
Cale hesitated, then pulled the letter from his shirt pocket. “Molly wanted me to give this to you. It’s probably best if you read it alone.”
 
Worry crossed Mary’s face.
 
“It’ll answer questions about what happened ten years ago.” Cale was thankful for the missive; he had no desire to be the one to tell Mary about what had transpired since her younger sister, Molly, had shown up, alive and well, in Texas a few months back. A decade ago, the Hart homestead in north Texas had been attacked and Robert and Rosemary Hart murdered. One of their daughters, Molly, had been abducted by Comanche and subsequently killed—nailed to a tree with arrows and burned alive. Cale had been the one to find the nine-year-old’s body, charred beyond recognition. It was an image that had never left him. Molly’s gold cross was used to identify the remains, but it hadn’t been Molly after all, and her reappearance—after living for years with the Indians—had shocked everyone. Still more unsettling was learning the truth of Molly’s parentage—she and Cale shared the same father. It was that piece of information that Cale preferred Molly tell Mary herself, hence the letter.
 
“Thank you.” Mary took the folded paper.
 
Tom came and put an arm around her. “You alright?”
 
Mary nodded and smiled.
 
“Let me put Evie down so you can take your time with the news,” Tess offered.
 
Mary hesitated, then silently agreed. Tess brushed past Cale and he caught her scent, rosemary kissed with sunlight. She took Evie with her free arm while using the cane with her left hand. She soon disappeared through another doorway.
 
Tom kissed Mary on the cheek. “Take your time.”
 
Staring at the paper, she left them.
 
Tom looked at Cale. “This’ll give us a chance to talk. Robbie, please watch your sister in the courtyard.”
 
“Yes, sir.” Little Robbie took Molly Rose’s hand, and they moved to a dirt pile off to the side covered with wooden toys.
 
Cale followed Tom back into the kitchen. “Coffee?” Tom asked.
 
“Appreciate it.”
 
Tom took the kettle from the stove and poured steaming fluid into two tin cups.
 
“It’s nice to finally meet you,” Tom said. “Mary thinks highly of you.”
 
“I’m glad to see she’s done well.”
 
The look on Tom’s face told Cale that he understood the statement. The Hart girls—Mary, Molly and Emma—had endured more heartbreak than they deserved after losing their folks. When Matt Ryan married Molly, it fell to others to look after the sisters.
 
Cale had ridden to Fort Sumner with Nathan Blackmore and Logan Ryan. Nathan—a Texas Ranger—then headed to Grand Canyon in search of Emma, who’d run off from San Francisco. Logan departed to Las Vegas, in the New Mexico Territory, to check on Molly’s friend, Claire. And Cale came here, to not only deliver Molly’s letter, but to help Tess Carlisle at Mary’s behest.
 
“We should talk about Hank Carlisle,” Tom said without preamble.
 
“You know where he’s at?”
 
“Not exactly, but I may have a lead. I’ve never told Tess. She’s determined to find him and would run off on her own. Mary convinced her to wait for you. I know Hank, and I know the kind of men he hung around with. I don’t think Tess should go anywhere near it.”
 
“I agree. Why did he leave her here?”
 
Tom hesitated, taking a swig of coffee. “Two years ago, he showed up with Tess.” He stared into his cup for a moment. “She was in bad shape.”
 
“What happened to her?”
 
Tom gave a slight shake of his head. “I don’t know. Tess would never say. She’s spoken of it a little to Mary, but not much. She was beat up pretty bad, and there was a bullet in her leg. Whoever did it had been…thorough. Thankfully, she didn’t get with child.
 
“Hank asked me to look out for her and to keep it low profile, and then he left. Haven’t seen him since, although in the first few months he sent money. But he never said where he was. I haven’t heard anything from him in over a year. Maybe the sonofabitch is dead. I don’t know. I wonder if he went after the man who’d done it. Knowing Hank, he would’ve killed him ten times over.”
 
Cale agreed. Hank Carlisle was ruthless. He’d seen it firsthand. In the end, it was one of the reasons Cale had distanced himself from his mentor. That, and Saul Miller.
 
“What do you know?” Cale asked.
 
“About six weeks ago, I overheard a supplier in town talking about a small anvil that he’d shipped to Tubac, to a person named Henry Worthington. I caught a glance at the order and saw another name—Carleton Perry. When money came for Tess, it wasn’t from Hank, but from Perry, so I’m assuming it’s him.”
 
“You’d be right,” Cale said quietly. Hank had sometimes used Carleton Perry as an alias.
 
“I’m grateful you’ve come. I’d go after Hank myself, but I won’t leave Mary and the children alone.”
 
“Have you had problems with the Apache?”
 
“No. To hear all the blathering in Tucson, you’d think we were overrun with ’em. The truth is, there’s some local businessmen who like to fill the territorial papers with exaggerations and sometimes outright lies. It makes a good case for a large military presence, which leads to more customers for their goods. But with Geronimo currently locked up at San Carlos, tensions have seemed to ease a bit.”
 
Cale understood. “How’s it goin’ out here with the ranching?”
 
“I’m hanging on. Fort Lowell buys most of the beef. There’s no denying we all benefit from the military. But, truth is, I’ve decided to sell the place and move to town. I already have an offer, and I’ve got a chance to buy into a flour mill. I can give Mary a nicer home, and Robbie will be able to attend school. Mary won’t say so, but I think she gets lonely out here. Having Tess has been more of a blessing than we could’ve imagined.
 
“Look, I never knew Hank well,” Tom continued. “Mary befriended Isabelle, Tess’s madre, several years ago, and we all crossed paths as time passed. I liked Hank, despite his lack of commitment to his family. But be careful. Whatever happened to Tess could lead to more trouble.”
 
“I understand,” Cale said. “If Hank’s alive, I’ll find him. I’ll leave at first light tomorrow, before Tess is awake.”
 
“She won’t be happy to be left behind.”
 
“Sounds like Hank.”
 
Tom laughed. “She’s definitely his daughter.”
 
Copyright © 2015 K. McCaffrey LLC
 

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