AN INNOCENT WOMAN
A WANTON LOVE
When beautiful Rachel Halloran took Logan Tyree into her home, he was unconscious, a renegade Indian with a bullet wound in his side and a price on his head.
To Rachel he was nothing but trouble, a man whose dark sensuality made her long for forbidden pleasures.
To her father, he was the answer to prayer, a gunslinger whose legendary skill could ride the ranch of a powerful enemy.
But Logan Tyree would answer to no man…and to no woman. If John Halloran wanted his services, he would have to pay dearly for them. And if Rachel wanted his loving, she would have to give up her innocence, her reputation, her very heart and soul.
His name was Logan Tyree and he was on the run. And like every other man who had ever been lucky enough to escape from the hellhole known as Yuma Prison, he was determined never to return. Better to die of thirst beneath a blistering Arizona sun, or bleed to death from the heavy .45 caliber slug lodged low in his left side than return to a life behind bars.
Yuma Territorial Prison! A hundred and ten degrees in the shade. A miserable five-by-eight foot cell; no windows, just cold gray walls and a steel-barred door. Yuma! Eighteen months of scummy lukewarm water and putrid food not fit for a pig. Lice-infested blankets and heavy chains. Chains that hobbled his feet and curbed his long, carefree stride. Chains that rattled annoyingly with every step, loudly proclaiming the loss of his freedom. Chains that scarred his flesh and shriveled his soul.
Well, the chains were gone, he mused sourly, but the scars remained. He carried other scars, too—faint, silvery streaks that crisscrossed his broad back and shoulders like a finely spun spider web. Scars left by the whip. Damn! Just the thought of the lash was enough to make him break out in a cold sweat. There had been one guard in whose hands the lash had come alive, until it was no longer nine feet of limp rawhide, but a sibilant twisting tongue of flame that danced endlessly over shrinking, cringing flesh.
They only had to beat him once. Other men, rebelliously proud and foolishly stubborn, died under the lash sobbing for mercy. But Tyree was no fool. There was no hope where there was no life, and there was no mercy in the Yuma pen. And so he had swallowed his pride and curbed his tongue. Outwardly, he became a model prisoner, forcing himself to say “Yes, sir” and “No, sir”, obeying every command meekly and without question or complaint. And all the while he was seething inside. Seething with the need to be free, to see the stark beauty of the Arizona desert, to climb the lofty mountains of Montana, to ride across the vast, rolling grasslands of the Dakotas. The love of the wild country was strong within him and he had yearned for the unfettered freedom of the plains as some inmates had yearned for whiskey or women or a deck of cards.
Prison life had not come easy to a man who had never been tied down, a man who had never in his whole adult life had to arrange his days by the rigid discipline of a clock. Always, he had done as he pleased when he pleased, and it had rankled deep inside when he was compelled to rise when he wanted to sleep, eat when he wasn’t hungry or go without, meekly submitting his will to the will of others. No, it had not been easy, skulking around like a whipped cur with its tail tucked between its legs, but it had paid off.
Thinking him to be a broken man, the guards had used Tyree to run errands from one prison building to another. He had played the part of a cowed con so well the guards got careless in his presence. And their carelessness had cost two of them their lives, and earned Tyree the freedom he had so desired.
Pushing the memory aside, Tyree slapped his weary mount with the reins, demanding another burst of speed from an animal already on the brink of exhaustion. A white man would have been shocked at the brutal way he pushed the heavily lathered bay mare, but Tyree had been raised by the Apache. And it was the Apache way to ride a horse until it dropped and then, if there was time, to eat the carcass.
He swore softly as the bay stumbled, praying that the game little mare’s strength would last until he reached the Mescalero stronghold high in the distant mountains, or at least until he found a decent place to make a stand against the posse that was little more than two hours behind him.
But even as the thought crossed his mind, the bay stumbled for the last time. Badly jarred, Tyree leaped from the saddle seconds before the horse rolled onto its side. There was blood dribbling from the mare’s flared nostrils, the empty look of death in her liquid brown eyes.
Squinting against the blinding sun, Tyree searched his backtrail. There was no sign of the posse, but he knew Fat Ass and his henchmen were closing in on him, snuffling at his heels like buffalo wolves on the scent of a wounded calf. And so Tyree began to walk, one hand pressed hard against his wounded side. The exertion brought a fresh sheen of sweat to his face as rolling waves of pain splintered down his left side.
The desert floor dipped, dropped to a shallow bowl, angled upward once more, and now he was in a patchwork land of red-walled canyons and shallow arroyos. Pausing briefly on a narrow rocky ledge, he scanned the surrounding countryside. A wide thread of blue snaked its way southward toward Mexico, and freedom. For a moment, he was sorely tempted to head for the river. But that was exactly what the posse would expect him to do, and so he continued northward toward the sand hills, laboriously plodding through the deep sand. Each step required a concentrated effort of will, each breath caused his wound to throb with renewed vigor, but he moved forward with relentless determination, grinning crookedly as the soft sand absorbed his tracks, leaving no telltale sign of his passing.
Topping the last dune, he hunkered down on his heels in the scant shade offered by a stunted saguaro. Lifting his hand from his side, he scowled bleakly at the sticky red wetness coating his palm, quietly cursing the guard who had shot him. Grimacing, he removed the crude bandage swathed around his middle. The wound, now two days old, was festering. Bright red streaks spread fan-like from the mouth of the bullet hole like spokes on a wheel.
Replacing the sodden bandage, Tyree wished fleetingly for a cold glass of beer to chase the dust from his throat. Or, better still, for a tall glass of Kentucky bourbon to dull the searing ache in his side. But such wishes were futile and quickly forgotten as a rising cloud of dust caught his eye.
From his vantage point atop the dune, he watched the twelve-man posse ride into view. They drew rein near the bay mare’s carcass, talking excitedly as they dismounted to check the ground for sign. Brody, the territorial marshal, was easily identified, even from a distance. Grossly overweight, he lumbered around like a fat, two-legged grizzly.
There wasn’t a bona fide tracker in the lot, Tyree mused, and breathed a silent prayer of thanks to Usen that this posse had neither dogs nor Indians to guide them. They were stupid, Tyree thought contemptuously. So very stupid. Shuffling around like headless chickens, they were blotting out the very tracks they hoped to find.
In seconds, the few prints Tyree had left were gone, obliterated beneath the careless boot heels of a dozen men. He vented a sigh of relief as the posse remounted and rode south, toward the border. Sooner or later, Tyree knew Brody would realize his mistake and turn back. But there was no point in worrying about that now. With a grin, he rose to his feet and started down the backside of the dune.
Halfway down, he stumbled in the soft sand, tumbling head over heels to the bottom of the sandy slope. He lay there for a full five minutes, wondering if he shouldn’t just curl up and die. But he had never been a quitter. Summoning what strength he had left, he gained his feet and continued walking north, a tall, dark man dressed in blue denim pants and a checked shirt stolen from a washline along the way. The clothes did not fit well. The pants were too short for his long, muscular legs, the shirt too small to comfortably accommodate his broad shoulders. Though he was not a handsome man in the usual sense of the word, he possessed an aura of strength and virility that most women found irresistibly attractive. His hair, long and inky black, curled slightly at the nape of his neck. His mouth was wide, his jaw firm, hinting at stubbornness, his nose was a broad slash. His eyes were a curious shade of yellow, narrowed now to mere slits against the midday sun. A thick moustache and a coarse beard covered the lower half of his face.
The pain in his side throbbed with the steady precision of an Apache war drum, but he pressed steadily onward, his face an impassive mask that revealed none of the agony coursing through his left side. The desert was an oven, the sun was the flame, and he was the meat, cooking slowly, until all the juice had been baked from his flesh and only a dry husk remained.
His feet were like lead and it was an effort to put one foot in front of the other. Misjudging a step, he fell, jarring his wound, and he felt the blood flow warm and wet down his left flank. Bright shafts of pain danced up and down his side. It was, he reminded himself, a small price to pay for his freedom. And if the festering wound killed him, so be it. Better to die free in the desert than to live behind the high gray walls and cold iron bars of Yuma, where every day was the same as the last, and every night longer than the night before.
The air grew colder as the miles slipped by, and he shivered convulsively. Though he had not eaten for two days, his desire was not for meat, but for water. Just one sip to ease his nagging thirst. But there was no sign of water and so he plodded ever northward, bound for the lodges of the Mescalero Apache. There would be water in the rancheria, all he could drink. There would be food to fill his hungry belly, friendly faces to cheer him, gentle hands to ease his pain, a snug lodge where he could rest in peace and comfort.
Sleep. His body cried for it. And still he moved drunkenly forward, driven by sheer will alone. Slowly, so slowly, the sun slipped behind the distant mountains, turning the western sky to flame and the earth to blood. With the coming of dusk, a chill wind began to blow across the face of the land, keening like a grieving Comanche squaw. And still he walked, doggedly placing one foot in front of the other, keeping one ear cocked for the sound of hoofbeats coming from the south. Because Brody would come. Sooner or later, he would come.
But the land remained dark and quiet save for the wail of the wind and the rasp of his own labored breathing. Overhead, the stars came alive in the sky, sparkling like a million diamonds carelessly tossed across the black blanket of the heavens, and still he walked, until his legs turned to stone and refused to move another inch. Groggy with the need for sleep, burning with fever, he sought shelter for the night in a shallow hollow that smelled strongly of skunk. Dizzy with exhaustion, weak from the loss of blood and lack of food and water, he collapsed in the hole, groaning as he landed on his injured side. Gasping with pain, he huddled in the dirt while bright lights flashed before his eyes. A sudden warmth along his left flank told him he was bleeding again, but he was too far gone in pain to care.
Death hovered over him, and with the end of life in sight, he pondered his beginnings, and the fate that had brought him to die in the desert, alone…
He did not remember his father at all. And his mother was only a vague shadow, a warm memory of soft flesh and strong perfume. Later, unkind people would tell him the truth about his parents, about the half-breed Comanche who was hung for a horse thief, about the young Irish prostitute who gave him life in a bordello in a sleepy Texas town and then, three years later, abandoned him to run off with a two-bit gambler.
No one wanted a quarter-breed bastard, and so the child was sent to live with the nuns at a small Spanish convent located near the Mexican border, and there he stayed until he was eight years old. It was then the nuns decided the convent was no place for a boy, especially a boy as impudent and rebellious as Tyree. Inquiries were made and the nuns found him a foster home…and then another…and another.
He was not an easy child to love—the quiet, sullen-faced boy with the suspicious amber eyes.
He was twelve years old and living with a bald-headed German farmer and his kindly wife when the Apaches came, killing the German couple, but sparing Tyree because there was no mistaking the Indian blood that ran in the boy’s veins.
He lived with the Mescalero for thirteen years, and they were good years. He grew to manhood, became a warrior, took a wife… Red Leaf was her name. She came to him untouched and unafraid, fulfilling every dream he had ever hoped for. Friend, mother, sister, wife—she was all women rolled into one. Daily, he thanked all the Apache gods for the beautiful raven-haired woman who shared his lodge and made his life worthwhile. He had thought to spend the rest of his life with the Apache, but six white men came along one fine summer day and changed the course of Tyree’s life.
He had been walking beside the river with Red Leaf that fateful day. They were alone, far from camp, when the white men attacked. Tyree had fought them as best he could, but his knife was no match for six rifles. A bullet grazed his arm, another pierced his shoulder. And then one of the men got behind him and buffaloed him with a rifle butt.
When he regained consciousness, Red Leaf was dead. He had stared at her mutilated corpse for a long time, unable to believe his eyes, until the vomit came and he fell to his knees.
When his stomach stopped heaving, he wrapped her body in his shirt and buried her beneath a windblown pine. And as he smoothed the dirt over her grave, all that was kind and gentle seemed to wither and die within him.
He sat by her grave all the rest of that long, lonely day and night, remembering the good times they had shared, the sound of her laughter, the touch of her body against his in the quiet of the night, the way her dark eyes had glowed with love whenever he kissed her. Slowly, the stars wheeled across the sky, and he stared, unseeing, into the darkness. A lone coyote wailed in the distance, and its melancholy cry was like the echo of his own grief.
Gradually, the horizon grew light, and when the sun rose above the mountains, Logan Tyree had shed his last tear. Relentless as a starved lobo, he prowled the river’s edge, searching the ground for sign, casting about in ever-widening circles, using all the skills the Mescalero had taught him.
He was not disappointed. Hours of painstaking effort rewarded him with that which he so eagerly sought. Moments later he was tracking six iron-shod ponies headed southeast. It did not occur to him to ask the Apache for help. They would have been willing, even eager, to take a few paleface scalps, but avenging Red Leaf’s death was something he needed to do alone.The tracks separated near New Mexico, four sets going toward Colorado, two sets drifting south toward Texas. He followed the first trail because it was the biggest. And found the four men sleeping beside the dying embers of a campfire. The first four, caught while his grief was still fresh, died the hardest. Their screams had been the sweetest music he had ever heard.
Ironically, he found the last two men in the same dirty whorehouse where he had been born. He had killed them where he found them, giving them no chance to plead their innocence, no time to defend themselves, no opportunity to call for help.
And so Red Leaf’s death was avenged, and now there was a terrible emptiness inside, for he had neither love to warm him nor hate to sustain him. Unable to face the thought of returning to the Apache now that she was dead, he drifted into Abilene, Kansas. And somehow, without rhyme or reason, he became a hired gun, quickly earning a reputation as a merciless, cold-blooded killer. As time passed, his reputation grew and spread, until he found himself being credited with murders he hadn’t committed, accused of crimes he knew nothing about, crimes that occurred in towns where he had never been. But they had caught him red-handed in Arizona, the gun still in his hand, the body bleeding at his feet. Perhaps, if the woman had been white, they would have rewarded him for killing the man who had been trying to beat her to death with an axe handle.
But the woman had been an Apache squaw, the white man had been her husband, and Tyree had been sentenced to ninety-nine years in the Yuma Pen.
THE LIGHTNING SERIES
THE RECKLESS SERIES