He was the only one that had faith in her. What will he do now that they have taken her away?
Riley Sewell is a determined young woman who has been orphaned in St Louis and heads out for El Paso to reunite with her older brother. But after discovering that he has turned to crime, she intends to stop his plans and help him through Faith to find himself and live a righteous life.
Gideon Lawson is a young rancher who grew up in a loving family in Texas. Instead of helping out, he misspent years as an outlaw. After a narrow escape, he returns home to turn over a new leaf.
As they randomly meet at the edge of a river, Gideon is the only one who believes Riley’s claim that her brother’s gang is about to attack the town.
In an effort to make amends with his family, Gideon confesses his outlaw past and seeks forgiveness from his family and himself. An action that brings him closer to God and to Riley as well.
While they both develop feelings for each other, her brother and his gang arrive in town to raid it. As things begin to get dangerous, Riley’s life is endangered by a person they all trusted, causing Gideon to walk willingly into a trap to save her.
How can Riley and Gideon reunite into safety and come closer to their families?
Gideon Lawson, aka Red—for his dark red hair—hunkered down behind the corral, wishing he and his gang had left the area at sunrise like they’d originally planned. It was a tight fit for his broad shoulders and tall height, and he forced his legs to bend a bit further, not wanting to ruin a perfectly good hat by getting bullet holes in it.
For the last three years he’d been riding with a group of misfits that had turned into outlaws in order to survive. It wasn’t the life he’d planned for himself when he’d left his father’s ranch, but he’d learned that life didn’t always go the way you hoped. It sometimes took a drastic turn that left you feeling like you were headed for a waterfall with no way to stop. That’s what he felt like today.
For a few minutes, he allowed himself the luxury of thinking about how he’d come here. At first, he had only been a gun for hire. Gideon had enlisted him to search for other outlaws, excited over the adventures he was going to have. Rustlers had been killing and stealing cattle from a ranch down by where Arizona and Texas met. He’d loved the excitement and the hint of danger, and with his sharp shooting skills, it hadn’t taken long to apprehend the outlaws and hand them over to the authorities.
That’s when things had taken a wrong turn. His skills had no longer been needed and he’d set out for the next town, hoping to find similar work. He’d come up with nothing. He’d hooked up with his current friends outside of town, and together, they’d tried to make a life for themselves–but with no jobs, no lands, and no prospects, things had gotten bad. So bad, that two of his new friends had robbed a stagecoach, killing the driver and terrorizing the passengers. Gideon had been horrified when he’d ridden into town a few days later and found all four of them were `wanted for the murder and robbery.
He’d hightailed it back to their camp with a posse hot on his tail. Thus had begun two years of criminal behavior. Stagecoaches had been robbed, wagon trains had been detoured and robbed, and the four friends had become a tightknit group of outlaws, roving the Texas countryside and trying to survive. It wasn’t the life Gideon had ever dreamed of having, but it was his only means of survival. Gideon had left his father’s ranch, abandoning his birthright and his brother, in search of fame and fortune in the untamed territories of the Wild West.
The dime store novels he’d been reading about Marshalls and Texas Rangers had blinded him to the harsh realities that awaited him. Feeling like a failure, and ashamed of his criminal actions, he slink back home. He didn’t think he could bear to see the disappointment in his parents’ eyes.
“Red, they’ve got us pinned down,” Lou called from behind a cluster of rocks. They were currently at a small homestead cabin with a box canyon behind them.
Red pulled his thoughts back to saving his backside, turned around, and peered over the wood of the corral, ducking down when a bullet shattered the post mere inches from his head.
He pulled off his hat, looking for holes, and breathed a sigh of relief when he found none. “Boys, we’re going to need to make a run for it.”
“How are we supposed to do that? The horses are on the other side of that lynch mob,” Hobbs pointed out. The man was the oldest of the bunch and had seen his fair share of gunfights before he’d hooked up with Gideon and the others. Dark, weathered skin told of the hard life he’d led; the black braids spoke of a Mexican heritage common in these parts of Texas. Hobbs’ mother had been from Mexico and had fallen in love with a cavalryman. He spoke fluent Spanish and more often than not was mistaken for an Indian until people got right up close to him. He was a good fella to have around and was full of wisdom about living off of the land.
“Well?” Hobbs demanded, waiting for Red’sr orders.
Red was their unofficial leader and he felt a responsibility to come up with a plan to get them out of this pickle. They’d been lying low since robbing the stagecoach headed for Santa Fe over a week ago. They’d thought they were in the clear, but Hobbs had ridden into town the day before and then raced back with news that a lynch mob had been formed and was thundering after them. He thought he’d gotten away without anyone seeing him, but the presence of the lynch mob here this early in the morning told a different story.
“Hobbs, you and Lou go around to the east. I’ll make a dash for those trees and draw their fire. Grab the horses and Finn, and I will climb out of the canyon and meet you at the river by the washout.”
Hobbs gave him a dubious look, but a fresh volley of bullets provided all the motivation he needed. He crawled to where Lou was taking shelter and once he’d explained the plan, he nodded at Red.
Red took a deep breath and then fixed his eyes on the trees where Finn was hiding. The spot was only about thirty yards off, but he’d be dodging bullets the entire way. He cracked his neck and bolted for the trees, his long legs eating up the distance. Bullets hit the dirt all around him, sending up shards of rock pelting his body as they returned to the ground.
A sharp pain in his shoulder told him he’d taken a bullet, but he didn’t have time to stop and evaluate the injury. He still needed to reach the shelter of the trees so that the others could get to the horses. He dove the last ten feet. His breathing rushing out as he hit the dirt hard, but he turned his head at the last moment and saw Hobbs and Lou silently leading their horses away.
“Red, are you plum crazy?” Finn asked.
“It was all part of the plan,” Red told him. “They’ve got the horses free. We need to make a run for the back of the canyon and climb our way out of here.”
“You are crazy. That canyon wall’s probably several hundred feet tall. There ain’t no way we can climb out of here before they riddle us with bullets.” Finn’s Irish accent was very noticeable when he was agitated and, right now, Red could barely understand what he was saying.
Finn and Lou were brothers who had emigrated from Ireland, only to arrive and find that the American dream of land took money and perseverance. They’d not had any money and had sought to remedy that situation by robbing a bank in Missouri. Gideon hadn’t found out they had a price on their heads until they’d been travelling with him and Hobbs for six months. They were the ones who had robbed the stagecoach and sent Gideon on this path, but he didn’t feel like he could abandon them. They were like family now. A family that committed crimes together…
“You ain’t even listening to me,” Finn complained, his accent thick and his face showing grave concern. “There’s has to be another way outta here.”
Red said harshly, “There’s not.” He then pointed toward the canyon wall. “We have to at least try–or have you taken a liking to a noose around your neck?”
Finn swallowed and then shook his head, “Fine. Better to die trying than to die a coward.”
Red looked at his shoulder. The bullet had just grazed him, cutting through his clothing and leaving a trough in his skin that was bleeding, but not profusely. It hurt but he couldn’t let that slow him down. His very survival was at stake here.
“Finn, go and I’ll hold them off for a few minutes to give you a head start.” Finn and Lou were both short compared to Red, just barely measuring six feet tall in with their boots on. It would take Finn a much longer time to climb up than it would Red.
Finn took off running into the canyon. Red fired bullets at the mob, but soon his ammunition was gone, and he took off running himself. Finn was only halfway up the cliff, his boots slipping on the rocks and sending them crashing down upon Red’s shoulders and the ground below.
Red could hear Finn cursing as his feet slipped again, but Red was too busy trying to find places to put his own hands and feet to care about that. The mob was coming after them; he could hear their yells and the ricochet of bullets getting closer.
Red was almost halfway up the cliffside when voices called from directly below. Finn had almost reached the top but, as Red watched, a bullet caught him in the back, and he lost his hold on the rocks.
“Finn!” Red called, but he was too far away to help.
Finn fell backward with a scream. Red could only watch as his friend plummeted to the mob below, landing on the hard-packed earth with a sickening crunch. His head twisted at an odd angle and his eyes stared blankly at the sky. Finn was gone.
Red bit back tears and forced himself to climb faster. He veered to his left, using the scrub brush growing out of the rocks to offer him some limited shelter from the bullets that were still being directed his way.
He finally reached the top, but he couldn’t stop and gather his strength. Lou and Hobbs would be at the river by now, and they would only wait a short time before leaving to protect themselves. He hastily wrapped a bandana around his upper arm and set off.
Red kept to the trees as much as possible and carefully made his way across the barren landscape. Large rocks and clumps of pinyons and sage brush dotted it, providing little in the way of shelter from the scorching sun. He could feel his lips cracking and could already taste the coolness of the river water.
A line of trees up ahead grew along the banks of the life-giving water. It was the only surface water for miles, and animals and plants alike sought its banks for survival. He was almost to the place where he had told Hobbs to wait for him when the sound of gunfire and horses drew his attention.
He climbed up a small mesa, lying on his belly and watched as part of the lynch mob surrounded his two friends. It wasn’t long before the mob had both of his friends off their horses and their hands bound behind their backs. Red’s mind was spinning with how to help Hobbs and Lou. With so many angry men present, he couldn’t fight for their freedom. The only option was to follow them back to town and try to break them out of the small jail cell there.
He’d have to hurry because he still didn’t have his horse, but it would likely be a day or two before the circuit judge could be called and their sentence pronounced. He’d have them out before the townsfolk had finished constructing the gallows in the center of the main street.
Red lay there on the hot earth, watching as the mob harassed his friends, slapping them around and taunting them into reacting. “Hobbs, keep your head. Don’t give them a reason to shoot you.”
Hobbs had a violent temper, and self-control wasn’t a word in his vocabulary. If anyone could incite the lynch mob to forget their purpose, it would be him. Red could barely make out the sounds of Hobbs cursing the mob in Spanish, which only served to make them more aggressive.
Red watched while his arm throbbed in time to his beating heart. A heart that was grieving for the loss of Finn. He’d almost fallen asleep, his body needing the respite to heal both physically and mentally, when shouts came from down by the river. He roused himself and could only watch in horror as the lynch mob began to get riled up. They hadn’t returned to town, and now Red knew why.
New riders had joined them. Red couldn’t be sure, but they looked like the same men who had been shooting at him and Finn in the box canyon. They had several extra horses with them, but he couldn’t make out how many riders in total there were. They were angry. Red got a bad feeling as the men stayed on their horses and began to gallop in a circle around his friends.
Two of the men withdrew ropes from their saddlebags and, before he knew it, they were tossing them over one of the large cottonwood trees growing straight and tall by the water’s edge. Two other horsemen caught the ropes and tied the free ends around the horns on their saddles. Red knew what was happening, but he could do nothing to stop it from unfolding.
They lifted Hobbs and Lou back onto their horses, pulled bandanas over their faces and then, as Red watched in horror, nooses were slipped over their heads and tightened around their necks.
Red wanted to scream out for the mob to wait, but that would only draw attention to his location, and he knew he wouldn’t stand a chance out here in the open of avoiding them for long. The hanging only lasted a few minutes, and then the apparent leader of the mob raised his gun and fired three shots into the air. Others slapped Hobbs and Lou’s horses on their rumps, sending them off in a panic, while Hobbs and Lou were left swinging by their necks. Their legs kicked and the sounds of the mob’s satisfied laughter filled the air.
Red waited for the mob to disperse so that he could race off the mesa and cut down his friends. The chances that they would still be alive were slim, but he would do what he could for them. Only, the mob didn’t leave. They stayed and watched his friends struggle to breathe until they gave the last kicks of their legs and remained still.
That was when Red spied the horse tied off a short distance away. Finn’s body lay draped over the saddle and tied in place with ropes under the belly of the horse. They’d collected his friend’s body, and that could only mean the reward for their capture had been changed to read “Dead or Alive.” Those words were chilling to outlaws: The chances that justice would be meted out disappeared in the face of instant justice.
Minutes went by before someone indicated it was time to get the men down. They draped the lifeless bodies over the backs of their own horses and then used the ropes, still around their necks, to secure them in place. When the mob left to return to town, they had all three of his friends’ bodies in tow.
Red finally gave in and cried like a baby. He cried for the loss of his friends and he cried for himself. Three years ago, he’d left to make something of himself, separate from his father and brother, and look where it had gotten him. Nowhere.
He was a wanted man this far south and he was now horseless and alone. He allowed himself a small moment of weakness, but as the sun began to set, he realized he couldn’t stay here without becoming prey for the wolves he could hear in the distance. The mob also knew there had been four men and would most likely return to look for him come morning.
He sat and watched as the sun began to set and the sky turned from blue to pink and orange. The call of an eagle overhead drew his attention, and he watched as the majestic bird swooped down and snatched dinner from the desert landscape. If something didn’t change, Red would be just like that jack rabbit. He wiped his tears with dirty hands, no doubt leaving stains on his cheeks, but he wasn’t concerned. Without his friends, he was alone again, and there would never be a better time to correct the path he was following.
With a scratchy throat and a heart filled with fear that lightning was about to strike him, he raised his eyes to the heavens and whispered, “God, are you still there? I know I don’t deserve what I’m about to ask, but if you wouldn’t mind … I want to go home. I’m tired of living like an outlaw. I want to go back home and somehow, I don’t know how, atone for all of the horrible things I’ve done.
“God, I know Finn, Lou, and Hobbs probably don’t deserve it either, but do you have some extra mercy you could show them? They were good men at heart; they just couldn’t see another way to survive. I’m not justifying their actions, or my own, I’m just telling you like it is. Have mercy on their souls tonight.”
He sat there until the sun set behind the mountains and the moon had risen behind him. His shoulder was still throbbing, but it had finally stopped bleeding unless he tried to move it too much. When a wolf’s howl echoed just a short distance away, he knew he’d waited long enough.
Red picked himself up, dusted his trousers off and slapped the dust from his hat on his thigh. It was time he took his life back. And that meant he needed to head home. Back to the New Mexico Territory where he’d been born and raised and where—maybe—they might find it in their hearts to forgive him and take him back in. His time as an outlaw had come to an end. At too great a cost.
“Hey, boss man, there’s a rider coming this way,” Carl called out to Shawn Lawson. Carl was one of the ranch hands on the Lazy L ranch and, given its relative isolation, any visitors were vetted carefully. The Lazy L was ten miles from Rio Arriba, a small town located in New Mexico Territory. The town only held a few hundred people, with all of the outlying farms and ranches combined, but it was seeing remarkable growth with the pending arrival of the railroad.
Railroad men had been in the area surveying for several months, and everyone was excited to see the town grow as more people traveled West. Shawn and his father were some of the few who dreaded the progress that was being made by the town. Already there’d been problems with the stagecoaches being robbed as they travelled back and forth between here and Colorado.
Shawn put down the pitchfork he was holding and then pushed the brim of his hat back, squinting at the blazing sun overhead. He pulled off his gloves and tucked them into his back pockets. “I’ll go out and see who it is.”
Shawn was taller than most men, measuring 6’5” in his stocking feet, with shoulders and muscles created by hard work from sunup to sundown. His hair was a dark brown and he resettled his hat in place as he slowly walked from the barn.
“Should I go get your pa? Or Jace?” Carl asked. Jace was the ranch foreman and Carl’s uncle.
“No need.” Shawn set off to meet the newcomer before he could enter the yard. He jumped into the saddle of his work horse, Dancer, and turned him to intercept the newcomer. “Easy boy.” He smoothed a hand down the dark brown neck of the stallion. Dancer was the first foal that had been sired from his father’s stallion, Charmer. They were fanciful names for hard-working horses, but no one had asked Shawn’s opinion.
Everyone who knew anything about the Lazy L ranch also knew that Pearl Lawson named all of the foals. She had since she and her husband had taken over theranch from his father, and no one had dared to challenge her on any name she’d chosen.
“Whoa, boy!” Shawn yanked on Dancer’s reins as the horse whinnied and tried to bolt forward. The rider was getting closer, but Shawn recognized neither him nor his horse. In this part of the territory that could be very good, or very bad. Shawn’s hand slid automatically to the butt of his rifle.
“Stop right there,” he called out, surprised when the rider complied. “Identify yourself.”
The other rider tipped his hat back and eyed him across the open ground. “You don’t recognize me?”
Shawn lifted his head up, trying to place where he’d heard that voice before. He wracked his brain, but he couldn’t come up with anything. “Sorry. Where are you coming from?”
“That’s quite a ride from here,” Shawn commented, watching as the rider stopped his horse twenty feet away. He still couldn’t make out the other man’s features, not until he lifted his head and pushed his cowboy hat back on his forehead. The man was sporting a full beard, but there was something familiar about his eyes …
“Friend, do I know you?” Shawn inquired.
“I sure hope you still remember me, Shawn.” The rider ended his words with a broad smile.
Shawn’s eyes went wide and his brows drew together. “Gideon? Is that you?”
“One and the same.” Gideon urged his horse forward, not stopping until he was directly in front of Dancer. “How have you been? How’s Pa?”
“Why are you here?” Shawn asked in response. Gideon flinched at how coldly his brother had asked that question, but he didn’t comment on it.
Gideon arched a brow and paused. Finally, after several long moments, he nodded once and commented, “Guess I can understand why you would ask that. I’m home. To stay.”
“You’ve been gone three years,” Shawn reminded him.
“I’m aware.” Gideon looked toward the buildings and then asked, “Where’s Pa?”
“Riding fence and checking the herd in the south pasture.” Shawn’s voice still hadn’t lost its coolness.
Gideon nodded once. “And Ma?”
“She’s in the house. She cried for weeks when you left.” Shawn didn’t even try to hide the anger in his voice. Gideon had left without any warning. He’d simply announced one morning at the breakfast table that he needed to see what was out there to see and make a life for himself away from the ranch.
At the time, Gideon knew everyone had thought he simply meant to travel for a few weeks, but when those weeks had turned into months, Gideon was sure his mother had taken his leaving the hardest. Seeing Shawn again brought back all of the old memories and reasons why he’d left three years earlier.
He’d just turned twenty-five and been jilted by Mary Sue Patterson. She’d gone to Missouri to visit family and instead of coming home and marrying Gideon, her fiancé, she’d sent a letter on the stagecoach telling him that she’d met a banker from back East, and they had fallen in love.
Gideon had been flummoxed; he’d thought she was in love with him. He’d gone quiet for several weeks after her letter arrived, and as it grew nearer to the date he and Mary Sue were supposed to have been married, he grew more unsettled and short-tempered with everyone. He’d left Rio Arriba the day before he should have been exchanging his vows with the woman of his dreams.
Now, he knew that if Shawn were judging him by his looks, he would be able to surmise that the last three years hadn’t been easy ones. Gideon glanced down and tried to imagine what his brother was seeing. His clothes were well-worn, his boots scuffed, and he was much thinner than Shawn remembered. He’d stopped shaving several years back, finding the full red beard gave him some measure of anonymity, but could also be easily identifiable.
“You been in Texas all this time?” Shawn asked.
“No.” Gideon didn’t want to relate more at the moment. He wanted to take his father’s temperature first and make sure he still had a place here to call home. He glanced over Shawn’s shoulder and then took a deep breath of fresh air mixed with the tang of fresh manure and sweaty horse. “I’m gonna ride out and find Pa, and then I’ll come back and let Ma see me. I need a bath in the river and a change of clothes first.”
Shawn met his eyes and seemed to consider things for a moment before he nodded once. “I’ll keep quiet about your arrival until you get back.”
“I appreciate it, Shawn.” Gideon started to turn his horse to go around Shawn when he couldn’t resist asking, “Anything else I should know about?”
Shawn eyed him. “Jace got hitched two years ago to Lily Hutchens.”
“Little Lily Hutchens?” Gideon asked.
“You’ve been gone a long time. People grew up while you were away.”.
Gideon caught the innuendo in his brother’s words. “I’ll have to remember that. So, Jace still living on the ranch?”
“We built a small cabin for Lily and him on the other side of the pond. They’re expecting their first child before Christmas.”
“And you?” Gideon inquired.
“The ranch is my life right now.” Shawn tried to keep the censure out of his voice, but it was clear to Gideon that his brother was harboring some anger. Directed at him. Gideon should have been here these last three years, making the ranch his life as well. Instead, he’d taken off to nurse his broken heart, and everything had fallen on Shawn’s shoulders. He needed to own the anger his brother was feeling and maybe, with enough time, he’d find a way to make it up to him.
“And Sara Jane? Is she married too?”
“No, our baby sister is too strong-willed to let any man be around her for long. She’s had several suitors come calling, but so far, she seems to find fault with all of them. She says if a man can’t outride and outshoot her, she’s not going to waste her time letting him try to convince her he’s the man for her.”
Gideon smiled. “That sounds like Sara Jane. She wearing skirts yet?” Sara Jane was a tomboy through and through. She’d snatched a pair of his britches when she’d turned ten and never looked back. She was a dynamic combination of young woman and spitfire.
Sara Jane could outride and outshoot most men, and she had no qualms about proving it either. His parents had tried to rein in their daughter, but that was like trying to unspin a tornado. Pointless and impossible.
Shawn smiled for the first time at the mention of their sister. “Only when Ma forces her to. Pa finally forbade her to go into town if she wasn’t dressed appropriately. It seems the ladies’ auxiliary at the church made a comment that only loose women wore men’s trousers.”
“Ouch!” Gideon could only imagine his sister’s response to that statement.
Shawn chuckled. “That’s not quite what Sara Jane had to say, but close. That’s when Pa forbade her to go back into town if she wasn’t dressed like a young lady. That didn’t seem to bother her none as she never wants to go to town.”
“Seems it all worked out in Sara Jane’s favor.”
“Yep.” Shawn grew quiet, and his smile faded. Gideon realized it was time he found his father.
He touched the brim of his hat with a forefinger. “I guess I’ll see you later then.”
“Yeah. Later,” Shawn turned Dancer back toward the corrals and barn.
Carl was there waiting for him when he slid off Dancer’s back. “Who is that?”
Carl’s eyebrows went up in shock. “Your brother, Gideon?”
“One and the same.” Shawn took Dancer’s reins and started leading him toward his assigned stall. Carl followed.
“What’s he doing back here? I thought he left for good.”
“He says he’s come home.”
Carl looked at to where Gideon had ridden off and shook his head. “Do you think he really intends to stay this time?”
Shawn didn’t answer, but his head was full of questions.
Gideon is home, and it sounded like he means to stay here for good. Well, it’s about time. I wonder what he was really up to for the last three years. Looks like it took a toll.
Shawn finished grooming Dancer, stalked to the back of the barn and looked out over the land to where Gideon was now looking for their father. Massive scarlet mountains rose in the distance, and the blue sky overhead was brimming with large, fluffy, white clouds. It wouldn’t rain today, but soon it would start and there would be plenty of extra work to do as the streams and gullies flooded.
Ma will get it out of him.
Shawn smiled as he turned and headed for the ranch house. The thought of the interrogation his brother was going to receive when their ma got ahold of him almost had Shawn laughing. She’d cried and prayed over him and she would be wanting to exact a little repayment. Gideon might wish he’d stayed away after that.
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