In a raw, untamed land, three sisters make different choices to find happiness and love as well as safety. Bethany marries a mercenary fighter to protect her family, Iris agrees to an arranged wedding with an old friend, and Jeanne runs off with the son of her enemy.
Still in production. Estimated publication date June 2017
FOLKS AROUND River Crossing described Michael St.Vyr as a big man, solid, with a thatch of greying red hair. He owned a silver mine and gold claims up in the hills above the valley, a cattle and goat ranch with a good ranch house and twenty acres of orchards. His three pretty daughters, well he thought they were pretty, had recently come home from back east in Copper City. He had just had a meeting with his lawyer and he had made satisfactory arrangements to divide his property equally between his three girls and their husbands in the event of his death. None of his daughters had actually married or engaged, an irritating fact the lawyer had pointed out, but St.Vyr considered that only an issue to be resolved. He had plans to take care of that problem.
He had an uncomfortable an itch on the back of his neck that got worse the further away from town he rode. He knew better than to ignore the feeling. Because the Gateway to St. Antoni had never been officially opened, the planet wasn’t open for settlement so everyone who got there did so through an illegally ran Portal.
Young Michael’s family had only been in the emigrant camp three days before his father had been gunned down and robbed of the small amount of gems he had been carrying.
His father’s death had taught Michael a lesson; he never again ignored the warning he got from his gut. He frowned now and carefully examined his surroundings. The road leading from his ranch the Golden Tricorn, to town was not heavily traveled this late in the afternoon, but it was traveled enough to usually be safe from bands of roving outlaws. He dismounted and fussed ostensibly with his cinch and loosened the gun in his holster.
Without warning, a savage blow followed by the crack of a high-powered rifle hit him in the lower back. His black and red stripped Tricorn had been trained not to flinch from gunfire and he stood like a rock until a second bullet burned him across the rump and he took off running.
St.Vyr slumped to the ground, still conscious but unable to feel his legs. He could feel himself passing out. He touched his waist and brought his hand away red with his own blood. The light wavered in front of his eyes and he knew he had to find cover before whoever fired the shots came to see if he had succeeded in killing him. Desperately, he used his powerful arms to try to drag himself into the drainage ditch at the side of the road, where he slid sideways. The ditch was dry this time of year and overgrown with prickly bushes. Just before he passed out, he managed to drag some of the dead bushes over himself.
Tricorns, like the horses they had replaced were herd animals. The stallion ran hard for a few miles, and then slowed to a more moderate pace as he made his way back to the ranch. Reaching the barn, Redbird stopped outside the corral where he had the remuda tricorns for company.
Michaels daughter Jeanne found him there when she arrived home several hours later. Her first thought upon seeing the red and black stallion was dismay. She hadn’t counted on her father being home and possibly asking her questions about what she had been doing, so as she rode up she was busy thinking up excuses as to where she had been.
When her father didn’t appear, she dismounted and breathed a sigh of relief. She tied her grey striped tricorn gelding up to the hitching rail in front of the tack room and began unsaddling him. Coming out with a brush and currycomb after she deposited her saddle on one of the racks inside, she was surprised to see that Redbird, her father’s mount had come up to the hitching rail where she had tied grayling and was investigating the feedbag she had dropped over her tricorns nose.
“Now how did you get loose,” she demanded of the tricorn, picking up his trailing reins. As she moved to re-tie him to the rail, she saw the wound, still oozing a trickle of blood, on his rump where the second bullet had grazed him. When she stepped back and looked more carefully at the tricorn, she saw a smear of blood on the stirrup leather.
Her first impulse was to back trail Redbird to see if she could find her father. He might be lying there hurt on the trail back from town. Looking around for help, she realized the stable area was empty. This time of day all the workers who normally would have been present were in the orchards, doing repairs either to the fences or out in the pastures with the stock. Jeanne finished tying Redbird to the hitching rail and ran for the house, shouting for her sisters and her grandmother.
“What is it, child?” Giselle, her grandmother asked in alarm.
“Papa’s horse came back without him,” Jeanne gasped out. There is blood on the stirrups and Redbird has a bullet burn across his rump. Where is everyone?”
“Margo went into town to do the weekly shopping,” Bethany said running up. “Did you say Papa was hurt?”
“I don’t know,” Jeanne said. “Redbird was loose by the corral when I got back. At first, I didn’t notice he was hurt. Where was Papa going today?”
“He went into town to see the lawyer,” Iris told her.
“Jeanne, go saddle us some mounts while we change into riding clothes,” Bethany ordered and Jeannine ran back outside.
Bethany looked at her grandmother. “You need to send someone out to the men working in Ruby Canyon and have them come in and help with the search. If Papa was shot on the way into or coming back from town, he’ll be found somewhere along the road to the Crossing.”
Giselle nodded her understanding and left quickly, calling for Macon, the man who usually tended the gardens around the house.
Coming downstairs a few minutes later, Bethany went to her father’s gun cabinet and began loading rifles and pistols for herself and her sisters.
“Oh, no,” Iris protested when she saw the weapons. “Surely we won’t need those.”
Bethany was buckling on the pistol belt. She checked to load on it and on the rifle, before slinging a similar belt over her shoulder for Jeanne.
“If something happened to Papa,” Bethany told Iris grimly, “It wasn’t an accident. Jeanne said Redbird had a bullet burn across his rump. Do you want to be helpless if we need to rescue Papa?”
Iris bit her lip, but picked up the third belt and holster and buckled it on.
“Where is mine?” Giselle asked, returning from her errand.
“In the gun cabinet,” Jeanne informed her have finished saddling the tricorns. She took her weapons from Bethany. “The Tricorns are ready to go.”
“Thank you, Jeanne,” Bethany said. She turned to Giselle. “You know you need to stay here in case someone brings Papa home wounded, Grandmother.”
The land between the Golden Tricorn and the town of River Crossing looked deceptively flat, but it was pocked with shallow dips and cuts in the earth, making searching for a wounded man who might be hiding slow and difficult work.
It was Iris who spotted the marks Michael had made when he dragged himself into the ditch for cover.
“Here!” Iris called, dismounting and sliding down into the waist deep ditch. Her tricorn smelled blood and pulled back nervously on the reins, nearly dragging her back up the embankment.
“Papa!” Jeanne called urgently. “Where are you?”
She too dismounted, and taking the reins of Iris’s tricorn, she tied the nervous animal to her saddle horn. She had no fear of her own mount running off because he smelled blood; she had spent hours training him not to flinch under more difficult circumstances than a smell he didn’t like. When Bethany dismounted she handed the reins of the tricorns to her and joined Iris in the ditch, carefully lifting the bushes to see if her father had crawled under them.
Iris had just spotted one of Michael’s boots sticking out from under one of the bushes against the far bank, and she rushed forward, yanking the brush out of the way.
“Be careful. There might be a Sander under there. You know how they like the shade when it’s hot,” Bethany warned, referring to the areas large poisonous reptiles.
“So you shoot it with that damn gun you insisted we bring,” Iris retorted, dropping beside her father and picking up his wrist to feel for a pulse.
Jeanne had finished moving the brush out of the way, and she too dropped beside Michael. “He’s bleeding. It looks like someone shot him in the back. We need to get him out of here and back to the ranch.”
“The doctor’s house in town is closer,” Bethany objected.
“Should we move him?” asked Iris doubtfully. “What if it hurts his back?”
“His back’s already hurt,” Jeanne snapped.
“That might not be relevant anyway,” Bethany observed. “I don’t think the three of us can manage to get him back up the bank on our own. Here,” she pulled bandages, rags and a bottle of alcohol out of her saddlebag. “One of you see if you can clean the wound and bandage it. I—“
Her head lifted sharply as she heard the unmistakable clop, clop of a buckboard driven by a team of tricorns coming down the road from town.
“It’s Margo,” she cried, waving frantically at the driver. Margo snapped the reins and the team broke into a gallop, coming to a sliding stop when they reached the girls.
“What happened, nina?” Margo asked.
“It’s Papa. He’s been wounded and he’s down in the ditch. We’re going to need help getting him out of there.”
“Dios mio!” the woman exclaimed, tumbling off the wagon seat and coming to look down into the ditch.
“I think we’ve got that covered,” Jeanne said, pointing to a plume of dust rising on the road from the direction of the ranch. Shortly, about fifteen of the ranch hands thundered up on lathered tricorns, demanding to know what had happened.
With their help, it proved easy to move the wounded man into Margo’s buckboard, which made a slow turn and headed back into town, accompanied by Iris and three of the hands, who were just aching for someone to attempt to stop them.
Bethany turned to Jeanne. “You’d better go back to the ranch and let Gran know what happened. She’ll want to come into town. Take a couple of the men with you.”
Jeanne nodded and remounted.
Bethany remounted her own tricorn and looked over at the hands that had stayed with her. “Durango, who is the best tracker?” she asked a tall slim man with a wide brimmed hat.
“Red and I,” he replied. “You want us to find out who did this?”
“Yes,” she said grimly. “I’m putting you in charge. And Durango, when you find out who did this, we need him to be able to talk to the Sheriff.”
She turned her tricorn and kicked her into a gallop, following the wagon into town.
Unlike his father, Michael St.Vyr lived, but he would never walk again. He was still bedridden when he was forced to overhear Emory Johnson attempt to coerce his eldest daughter Bethany into marrying him by telling her if she didn’t accept is offer, she and her sisters would soon be out in the street. Now he knew he desperately needed to start his plan for taking care of his daughters. Accordingly, wrote a letter addressed to McCaffey & Miller Range & Mine Detection with an interesting proposition.