UNDER APACHE SKIES
When a rugged stranger darkens the door of her family ranch, Martha Jean Flynn can tell right away that Ridge Longtree is nothing like the other cowboys who usually show up in search of work. For in the eyes of this raven-haired, half-Indian loner, Martha sees a hint of danger, the depths of sorrow—and the tiniest spark of untold passion.
Indeed, tragedy forced Ridge Longtree to leave the Apache stronghold at a young age. But when Martha’s father is murdered and Apaches kidnap her younger sister, he cannot bear to see her distraught. Reluctantly, he agrees to lead her to the stronghold to save her sister. But somewhere along the jagged mountain trail, the two discover a passion that threatens to set their hearts aflame—and endanger their mission of rescue...Under Apache Skies
The sound of gunfire rolled through the early morning air like summer thunder. Muttering an oath, Ridge Longtree holstered his Colt. He hadn’t wanted to kill the kid, but the young would-be gunman hadn’t given him any other choice.
Swinging onto the back of his horse, Longtree urged the big black stud into a lope. The shocked faces of a young mother and her little girl flashed by in a blur as the black raced down the dusty main street, headed for the open prairie beyond.
So much for hanging up his gun and settling down. He had lost track of the men he had killed, the times he had tried to settle down, only to have some young gunsel discover who he was and push him into a showdown. The results were always the same…a blast of gunfire, the stink of death, a quick exodus from whatever town he was in at the moment.
In the beginning, he had relished the thrill of it, the exhilaration of pitting the speed of his draw against that of another. He had lived for the quick rush of fear and excitement as he put his life on the line. But now…hell, now he was just tired of it all.
The black slowed of its own accord after a few miles and Longtree let the horse set its own pace. Lost in thought, he paid little attention to the direction the stud was taking other than to note that they seemed to be drifting west.
Drifting, he mused. That was all he’d done in the last twelve years, just drift, like some rootless tumbleweed. Of course, for a man who had no ties, and no place to settle down even if he was of a mind to, there wasn’t much else to do but drift.
Good whiskey, easy women, and bucking the tiger, those had been his main pursuits since he left home. Somewhere along the way, he had discovered he could draw and fire a gun in the blink of an eye. In addition to being shit fast, he was possessed of an uncanny knack to hit what he aimed at. He had been pushed into killing his first man.
He had been young and impulsive at the time, quick to anger, quick to take offense when someone called him a low-down dirty half-breed. Until that fateful night, he had never fired his Colt at anything more dangerous than jack rabbits and empty beer bottles. But that night, goaded into a showdown, he had drawn his gun and killed a man. He would never forget that night, the recoil of his Colt, the quick flash of muzzle fire, the acrid stink of gunpowder. The sickly sweet coppery smell of blood that had overpowered everything else.
His first reaction was that he was glad he wasn’t the one laying face down in the dirt. It was only later, after the first rush of adrenaline had passed, that the full impact of what he had done hit him.
He had killed a man only a little older than himself.
He had been arrested and spent the night in jail, only to be released when witnesses declared that Ridge had fired in self-defense. During that one night in jail, he had discovered that he had a powerful dislike for being locked up in small spaces.
He had seen the grief he had caused at the funeral three days later, seen it in the eyes of the young man’s mother and father, in the tears that flowed down the cheeks of the boy’s intended bride. He had heard the sorrow in the voices of those who had been the young man’s friends.
Muttering an oath, Ridge thrust the memory from his mind. He had killed a dozen men since that first one and in doing so, he had made quite a name for himself. His reputation followed him from town to town, as relentless as his shadow. There was no way to outride it, no way to get shed of it. It stuck to him like a bur to a saddle blanket.
In time, he had learned to live with it.
It was near dark when he spotted the house, a sprawling two-story place located in a shallow valley. There were a couple of peeled pole corrals filled with horses on one side and a big red barn on the other, along with a bunkhouse, cookhouse, and springhouse.
Several tall trees shaded the front porch. A long plume of smoke spiraled from the chimney of the main house and even as he watched, lights appeared in the windows.
The place looked downright prosperous. Prosperous enough to maybe give him a place to bunk down for the night.
Clucking to the black, he rode down the hill.