Madeline Baker

Tales of Western Romance

LOVE'S SWEET EMBRACE

Cover by Laura Shinn
Cathy Stevens is distraught when her parents announce they must move to a small town in New Mexico. Her only consolation – she will be able to have her own horse. And on her first day exploring, a Horses for Sale sign grabs her attention.

Randy Lanigan, son of the bank president and ranch owner, most popular boy in high school, and star quarterback, shows Cathy the horses for sale and asks her out. Taken with her beauty and wit, he wants her for his next girl.

Shane Red Crow, an Apache who lives with his great-great-grandfather, returns to high school because of a promise made to his mother. Twenty years old, he is a loner with a bad reputation. He too seems to have a soft spot for Cathy.

When Cathy finds herself in trouble, will it be Randy or Shane whose sweet embrace she truly needs?

Chapter 1
1957
Los Angeles, CA


“Moving? To New Mexico?” Cathy Stevens stared at her father in disbelief. “But I don’t want to move. All my friends are here. Mom, tell him we have to stay here.”

“I know how you feel, honey,” her mother said, “but we have to go. Your father’s company is opening a new office in Welles and he has to be there to do the groundwork, just like always.”

“But Mom…Dad…”

“I’ve got to go where the company sends me,” her father said. “You know that, Kitten.”

“Can’t you find another job here?”

“I’m afraid not. I’ve got too many years invested in the company to quit now.”

“But I’ll be a senior when school starts in September,” Cathy wailed. “I want to graduate with Sheri and Fran and Lisa. I won’t know anyone at a new school.”

“You’ll make friends,” her mother said reassuringly. “You didn’t know anyone when we moved here either, remember?”

“That was different,” Cathy retorted sullenly. “I was just a kid then.”
“I’m sorry, kitten,” her father said. “I’ll make it up to you somehow. I promise.”
#
Saying goodbye to her boyfriend, Larry, was the hardest thing Cathy had ever done. They had made so many plans for their last year in high school -- trips to the beach, football games, the annual Halloween dance in October, a trip to Disneyland during Christmas vacation, spending New Year’s Eve with Sheri and the gang at Knott’s Berry Farm…

Cathy blinked back tears their last night together. “I’ll miss you so much,” she said tremulously.

“I’ll miss you, too. Maybe we can work something out, you know. Write letters, talk on the phone once in a while. Maybe I can even come for a visit.”

Cathy shook her head. “You know long-distance relationships never work out.”

Larry nodded glumly. “I guess you’re right. It’s been fun, Kath.”

“Bye, Larry.”

Standing on the porch, watching him drive away, she felt as if he was taking her heart with him.

New Mexico.

What on earth was she going to do in Welles, New Mexico?”

Chapter 2

Welles, New Mexico, proved to be a small farming community with a population of less than ten thousand. Most of the stores were older, single-story buildings constructed of wood and brick or native stone. The town proper occupied about six city blocks. Surrounding the town were large horse and cattle ranches, as well as a dairy farm, a chicken ranch and even a place that raised hogs.

Cathy surveyed the town with dismay as they drove down the main drag toward their new home. They were really in the country now, she mused sourly. The only bright spot on the horizon was the fact that, because their new place was situated on two acres, Cathy would be able to realize a life-long dream to have a horse of her own. At the moment, it was small consolation for what she had left behind.

Welles was nothing, but nothing, like Los Angeles and as she carried her suitcase upstairs to her bedroom, she wondered what on earth people did for excitement in such a backwater town. There were no amusement parks, no record stores, no malt shops, no miniature golf courses.

“Everybody probably goes to bed when the sun goes down,” she muttered darkly. “They probably don’t even have television!”

Television, she thought wistfully. Back in L.A., the Stevens’s had been the first on their block to own a TV set. All the kids had come to their house to watch “Inner Sanctum” and “I Love Lucy.”

It really was a nice place, she admitted grudgingly as she made her way up the stairs to her bedroom. The house was bigger than their place in Los Angeles. It had a large living room with a brick fireplace, a spacious, sunlight kitchen, dining room, three bedrooms and two bathrooms, as well as a nice, wide front porch.

With a sigh, she plopped her suitcase on the floor and plugged in her record player. Throwing herself across the bed, she closed her eyes and listened to Elvis croon “Heartbreak Hotel.”

Elvis Presley was the heart-throb of the Fifties. Most parents disliked him because he wore flashy clothes and wiggled his hips, but the girls loved him. He wore his hair in an outrageous pompadour and he had what Cathy’s mother called ‘bedroom eyes’. And when he sang, wow! It was like he had dynamite in his jeans. Cathy’s father accused him of being indecent and vulgar, and stated Presley shouldn’t be allowed to perform in public. But Cathy saw nothing lewd or suggestive in the way Elvis moved. She had all his records; she had seen “Love Me, Tender” six times.

When the record was over, she jumped up and turned it off. She was too restless to sit around all day. The movers had set up her bedroom suite and she decided to leave it the way it was, at least for the moment. Tying her hair back in a pony-tail, she quickly put sheets on the bed, hung her clothes in the closet, threw her underwear in the dresser.

She spent the next half-hour arranging her miniature animal collection in the bookcase that was built into one wall of her room.

With that done, she stood in the middle of the floor, hands on her hips, and glanced around. Her parents had given her the biggest bedroom, hoping it would make her happier with the new house. It was a nice room. The walls were papered with tiny pink roses, the woodwork was sparkling white. Lacy curtains covered the windows that overlooked the spacious backyard. For a moment, Cathy stared into the distance, imagining her very own horse grazing in the yard.

Cathy smiled faintly as she slipped into her favorite pair of jeans and a sweatshirt. Downstairs, she could hear her parents arranging the furniture. She knew her mother would try every chair, sofa, and table in every possible setting until she found one that suited her, and when she was through, the room would look as if it had been arranged by a professional decorator.

Cathy grinned when she heard her father holler for a time-out. Her parents had a good marriage and it always gave Cathy a warm sense of security when she caught them hugging or kissing when they thought she wasn’t looking.

Slipping on her tennis shoes, she skipped down the stairs. Already, the kitchen was in order, with their old Hotpoint refrigerator in one corner and the table set for dinner. Glancing outside, Cathy noticed a dozen fruit trees, some still laden with fruit.

She smiled with anticipation when she spotted a big red barn and a sturdy corral. Her mother had decided they should buy a few chickens; her father had suggested buying a hog, of all things.

“Before long, we’ll be just like Ma and Pa Kettle,” Cathy muttered with a shake of her head.

Grabbing an apple from a basket on the counter, Cathy went into the front room where her mother was trying to decide where to hang a large seascape.

“Do you need me for anything, Mom? If not, I thought I’d take a walk.”

“All right, honey,” Mrs. Stevens replied. “Don’t be too late. Dinner at six.”

Leaving the house, Cathy decided to explore the town. She passed several kids her age as she walked down the road, but they looked at her without interest, no doubt assuming she was just another tourist passing through.

Cathy crossed the street, wondering what her new school would be like, and if she’d make any friends, and what the boys were like. Thinking about boys brought Larry to mind and she blinked back the quick tears that burned her eyes. He was so cute and so popular, he had probably already found someone to take her place.

The first store across the street was a drug store. Cathy stepped inside and found herself in a large, rectangular building with a soda fountain along one wall. A prescription counter could be seen near the back of the store. Rows of shelves held everything from suntan lotion and cough drops to post cards and baby bottles.

Pausing in front of a magazine rack, she thumbed through a copy of Hit Parade while the proprietor, a thin, bespectacled man with gray hair and washed-out blue eyes, sent accusing glances in her direction that said he did not take kindly to teenagers loitering in his establishment without buying anything.

Feeling guilty, Cathy replaced the magazine. Moving to the soda fountain, she ordered a chocolate malt with chocolate ice cream. She couldn’t help grinning as the man turned away, mumbling about customers who wanted things “made to order.”

Cathy had almost finished her malt when a trio of girls entered the store. They were all about her age, all dressed alike in jeans, sweaters, and sneakers. After giving Cathy a casual, disinterested glance, they took seats at the far end of the counter.

“Have you heard?” a chubby girl with curly brown hair asked excitedly. “ Shane Red Crow registered for school this morning. Can you imagine?”

“Cindy, are you kidding?” This from a slight blonde girl with ivory skin and mild brown eyes. “Red Crow! I don’t believe it! Remember the day he tossed a cherry bomb in one of toilets in the girl’s bathroom?”

“Yes!” squealed the third girl. “And remember the day he set fire to the trash can in old lady Wicker’s room? I thought she’d faint dead away.”

“He was always, but always, in trouble,” Cindy remarked with an airy wave of her hand. “I never thought he’d come back to school in a million years.”

“I know,” the blonde exclaimed. “He always hated it. Golly, he was absent more than he was there.”
“I was in the office the day they expelled him,” the third girl said. “He told Mr. Watson he would never come back.”

“I’d just die if I was twenty years old and still a senior in high school,” Cindy declared dramatically. “I mean, I would just expire!”

“Me, too,” the third girl agreed. “Gee, I wonder what made him change his mind.”

“I have no idea.” The blonde lowered her voice. “Did you h ear about
his father? They say…”

The voices died away to mere whispers, leaving Cathy to wonder what juicy bit of gossip they were exchanging, and who Shane was, that he caused such excitement. He was obviously a ‘bad boy’, one of those kids that everybody talked about but no one associated with.

Steve Adams had been the bad boy at Franklin High, always in trouble, always being called into the principal’s office. Sometimes Cathy had felt sorry for him. Once, when she was working in the office, she had been sent to summon him from class.
She couldn’t help thinking how cute he was, with his thick black hair and sideburns.
She would never forget that, on the way back to the office, he had kissed her in the hallway. Of course, she had never told a soul. A girl had to think of her reputation, after all.

Leaving the drug store, Cathy walked on down the street, stopping now and then to gaze into one of the store windows. The town’s only movie theater was located at the far end of the block. Only one movie was advertised -- “The Tin Star,” with Henry Fonda and Anthony Perkins. She had seen it six months ago.

Crossing the street and heading toward home, she passed a Laundromat, the post office, a couple of souvenir shops -- though who would want a souvenir from Welles was anybody’s guess - and a grocery store.

On the next block, she passed the Welles Bank and Trust Company, two restaurants, and two more souvenir shops displaying Indian baskets, blankets, moccasins, and art work. She paused at the last shop to admire a blanket wrought in muted shades of orange, brown and gold.

A glance at her watch told her it had taken less than forty minutes to walk from one end of town to the other. What this town needed, she thought, was a Broadway or a May Company, an ice cream parlor with a juke box and a dance floor, at least another movie theater, a miniature golf course, and a record shop.

Feet dragging, she walked on down the street, past her new house, and along the dirt road that led to the farms and ranches located on the outskirts of Welles.

Fat black and white cattle raised their heads as she strolled past, staring at her through large, limpid brown eyes. Here and there she spied a few sheep and an occasional pig. She saw horses everywhere. Her father had promised her a horse and she meant to hold him to it. She had loved horses as long as she could remember.

Farther down the road, she stopped at a place that called itself the Crooked River Ranch. She stared at the sprawling, two-story red-and-white house in open-mouthed admiration bordering on envy. A neat picket fence bordered a lawn as green and weed-free as those in Beverly Hills. A shiny black Cadillac was parked in the long, winding driveway. In the distance, a big red barn stood atop a small knoll, while sleek, well-fed horses and yearlings frolicked over the verdant hills, or stood quietly in the shade, tails swishing.

But it was the hand-painted sign tacked to one of the fence posts next to the road that caught her eye. “Horse for Sale,” the sign read. “Inquire within.”

After brushing her bangs out of her eyes, she walked briskly up the tree-lined driveway, climbed the porch steps, and boldly rang the bell.

A moment later a boy about her age opened the massive front door. “Yes?” he said politely. “May I help you?”

“I saw your sign and I was wondering if I could see some of your horses,” Cathy explained, trying not to stare at him.

He was tall, with a shock of wheat-colored hair and the most beautiful green eyes she had ever seen. His skin was smooth and tan, unblemished by the acne that plagued so many teenagers. Dressed in brown cords and a brown and white striped shirt, he was, Cathy thought dreamily, the most handsome young man she had ever seen. Cuter, even, than Larry.

“Are you looking for a horse for yourself?” the boy asked.

“Yes, I am.”

“Are you a good rider?”

“Not really,” Cathy admitted with a self-conscious laugh. “I’ve only been riding once in my life, and I fell off. But I love horses and my Dad said I could have one.”

The boy smiled, displaying dimples and even white teeth. It was the most dazzling smile she had ever seen.

“I’m Randy Lanigan,” he said affably.
“Cathy Stevens.”

“Pleased to make your acquaintance, Cathy,” he drawled. “Come on, I’ll show you what we’ve got.”

Cathy followed Randy across the driveway to a large corral located behind the barn. There were a dozen horses in the pen.

“These are all good mounts,” Randy said, resting his arms atop the corral fence. “That bay, there, is a gentle old mare. I think you’d like her.”

“She is pretty, but I think I’d rather have that one over there,” Cathy said, pointing at a tall black gelding with a narrow blaze and one white stocking.

“You’ve got a good eye for horse flesh,” Randy said, “but I’m afraid Cinder might be a little too much horse for you.”

“Too much horse? You mean too expensive?”

“No,” Randy said, chuckling. “He’s pretty salty. You know, wild. I’m not sure a novice rider could handle him.”

“I can learn,” Cathy said stubbornly. “How much do you want for him?”

“My dad is asking two-fifty for him, but I still think you’d do better on Ginger.”

“I want the black one. I’ll talk to my Dad. Thanks for showing me around.”

“Sure.” Randy didn’t seem to be in any hurry to go back to the house. Leaning against the corral, he hooked one boot heel over the bottom rung. “You new in town?” he asked, “or just passing through?”

“Brand new,” Cathy admitted. “We just moved in this morning.”

He smiled a lazy smile. “Glad to hear it. A pretty girl is always welcome. Are you a senior?”

She nodded.

“Would you like to go out for a soda or something later? I could show you around.”

It was on the tip of Cathy’s tongue to tell him she had already toured the town and didn’t think much of it, but she stopped herself in time. Instead, she gave him a radiant smile and said, “I’d like that. Of course, you’ll have to come and meet my folks. We live at the corner of Ash and Willow.”

“The old Petersen place,” Randy said with a nod. “I’ll pick you up around seven, okay?”

“Perfect! See you then.”

Cathy almost ran home. Maybe Welles wasn’t so bad, after all, if it had boys like Randy. She burst into the house calling, “Mon! Dad! I met the neatest boy. His name is Randy and he’s coming by at seven to take me out for a soda.”

Harry Stevens let out a long whistle. “Lanigan, huh? Well, leave it to our Cathy to strike up a friendship with the son of the most important family in town.”

“Important?” Loretta Stevens asked. “How?”

“Tom Lanigan is president of the bank. I understand they raise some of the finest horses in the state, too.”

“Horses!” Cathy exclaimed. “I almost forgot. Dad, I found just the horse I want, and they’re only asking two hundred and fifty dollars for him. Can I have him, Dad. His name is Cinder. You promised me a horse of my own.”

“Slow down, kitten. If I have time, we can drive out there Saturday and take a look at him.”

“Thanks, Dad! You’re the greatest.”

Loretta Stevens laughed softly as she watched her only child run up the stairs. It was good to see Cathy happy again. Leaving LA had been difficult, but perhaps everything would work out. After all, she’d already met a new boy and found the horse of her dreams.