Colorado — 1895
It wasn’t yet ten in the morning and Dade Logan was already bored clean out of his mind. Other than locking the town drunk up every Friday night when he got a snootful, there wasn’t much in the way of law to enforce in Placid, Colorado.
Not that he was anxious for trouble to come to this sleepy town that rested in the valley east of the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. Nope, he’d been waiting all winter for one person to return, and if she didn’t show up soon he didn’t know what the hell he would do.
The hiss of the locomotive and clang of the rail cars pulling out echoed up the main street of Placid. Two folks had boarded the Denver & Rio Grande, heading east to Pueblo. He hadn’t seen anyone get off.
Maybe she’d arrive on the afternoon train. As the racket from steel wheels on rails grew faint, he heard his name being called out.
“Sheriff Logan! Sheriff Logan!”
Dade smiled. Raymond Tenfeather was pounding down the boardwalk somewhere between the stable and the jail, hollering out his name like he did every day about this time.
When the liveryman’s younger son wasn’t trailing his elder brother Duane around town, he had taken to following Dade on the pretext of helping him look for lawbreakers. Dade had gently explained that wasn’t necessary, but the boy took it on himself to be the town spy. God only knew what Raymond had seen this time.
Dade rocked back in his chair and stacked his crossed boots on the edge of his desk, awaiting the boy’s imminent arrival. As always, his gaze narrowed on the wanted posters tacked on the wall.
Dammit all if the three outlaws staring back at him weren’t smirking. His pa and uncles would find it amusing that Dade had taken an oath to uphold the laws that Clete, Brice and Seth Logan had been hell-bent on breaking all their lives.
It’d been twenty years since he’d seen any of them, though their wanted posters had haunted him most of his life. There sure as hell wasn’t any love lost between him and his kin.
Yet one question nagged at him right after they pinned a tin star on his chest. If his pa and uncles came to town, could he draw on them?
Part of him said yes. His pa had had no qualms about deserting him and his little sister. Yet when all was said and done, he wasn’t sure he could turn on his blood. Hell, unlike Reid Barclay, he couldn’t have turned on either of his foster brothers either.
“Sheriff Logan!” Raymond burst into the jail, his dark skin glistening with sweat and his scrawny chest heaving from his run. “I saw her.”
“Just who’d you see?” Dade asked.
“The lady you been waiting for,” Raymond said.
“Daisy?” he asked.
The boy nodded. “She got off the train, just like you was hoping she’d do.”
Now how the hell had he missed seeing her?
Dade’s heart took off galloping at the thought that sticking around here had paid off. His missing sister had finally come back like everyone in town said she would.
For the first time in months he visited that dream of buying a nice little farm for them to call home. He could run a few head of cattle. Do a bit of farming. Hell, he could find his brother Trey and bring him into the deal.
It was a damn sight better thing to dwell on than the idea of going back to the Crown Seven and having it out with Reid, the foster brother who’d sold them out when they needed him the most.
First things first. He’d waited twenty years to find his sister. He wasn’t about to waste a second forestalling their reunion.
“Where is she?” he asked, heading for the door as he spoke.
“Mrs. Gant’s boardinghouse,” Raymond said, hot on his heels.
The place where Daisy and her crippled traveling companion had stayed before. Mrs. Gant had told him about their visit to Placid. How Daisy had caught the young sheriff’s eye. How she’d promised to come back last fall and marry Lester.
But the sheriff was dead, spring was in full bloom, and nobody in town had any idea where Daisy Logan and her lady friend hailed from.
Dade figured she’d heard about Lester’s murder and wasn’t coming back to Placid. He feared he’d lost her again.
“Thanks, Raymond.” Dade flipped the boy a silver dollar and headed out the door.
Long determined strides carried him across the dusty street. He wondered how much Daisy had changed. Would she recognize him? Would she be as glad to be reunited with her family as he was?
He’d find out damn soon, he thougth as he cut down the street between Hein’s Grocery and Doc Franklin’s house.
Mrs. Gant’s boardinghouse sat the next street over, but the elevation made the walk seem farther. He bounded up the steps then paused at the door to steady his breath.
The climb was nothing, but the excitement pounding inside him made it hard to draw a decent breath. He blew out the air trapped in his chest, inhaled deeply and stepped inside.
Mrs. Gant was in the parlor, serving tea to a lady seated on the stiff Victorian sofa. Neither seemed to have heard him come in.
That was fine by him, for it gave him time to study his sister. Her golden hair had darkened to a rich honey. Her features were still delicate and refined, but she didn’t resemble their mother or father.
She wasn’t a cute little pixie anymore. Nope, she’d grown into a beautiful woman with all the curves in all the right places. But it was the odd combination of grief and fear in her eyes that gave him pause.
“I am so sorry to be the one to tell you that Lester has passed over,” Mrs. Gant said, verifying what Dade suspected had caused his sister’s distress. “I didn’t know where you’d gone, but when you didn’t come back last fall like you said you would, I thought maybe you’d heard.”
“No, I had no idea,” Daisy said. “What happened?”
“It was just awful,” Mrs. Gant said. “This ruffian came to town, intent on robbing the bank. Lester was there, and before he could turn and confront this no-account, the ruffian shot him dead.”
Daisy pressed a hand to her mouth, clearly horrified by the news. Mrs. Gant’s version was close enough to the truth that Dade didn’t see the need to comment.
“I tell you truly,” Mrs. Gant said, “I shudder to think what would’ve happened if Dade Logan hadn’t stepped in like he did and ended the robber’s reign of terror on our town. No telling who else would’ve been gunned down if not for your brother’s courage.”
Dade winced. The townsfolk had taken to embellishing the events of that day to the point Dade cringed every time he heard it. Now was surely no exception, for Daisy’s face had leached of color at the mention of his name.
“W-what?” Daisy said in a voice that was way too high.
“Yes, indeed, your brother is a hero.” Mrs. Gant launched into telling Daisy the details.
This surely wasn’t the reunion he’d had in mind. A sound of disgust must’ve slipped from him for Mrs. Gant glanced his way and smiled.
Daisy, on the other hand, looked ready to bolt as her head snapped up and her gaze clashed with his. Instead of recognition lighting her eyes, they narrowed with suspicion and something bordering on dread.
Mrs. Gant patted Daisy’s hand. “It’ll be all right now, dear. You have family to help you through this difficult time.”
Daisy shook her head. “No! I’m an orphan.”
Dade scrubbed a hand across his nape, frustrated and more than a mite worried about his sister’s increased distress. He wasn’t surprised that Daisy hadn’t recognized him after twenty years, but forgetting that he existed signaled something else entirely.
“You saying you don’t remember me?” Dade asked.
She shook her head, her gaze focusing on his tin star before lifting to his face. He hadn’t thought she could get any paler but he’d been wrong.
“Don’t you remember that Pa left us at the Guardian Angel’s Orphan Asylum?”
She shook her head and stared at him with troubled eyes.
“You recall being in the orphanage?” he asked.
She frowned. “Some. Mostly I was scared.”
So was Dade, but it did him no good then or now to admit it. How could her memory be that bad?
She’d cried and screamed for Dade after their pa had dumped them there, and put up more of a ruckus when they’d been separated — boys in one wing of the drafty old building and girls in the other.
They’d seen each other precious little after that, but she hadn’t forgotten him them. She’d pitched a fit when they took her away on the orphan train to the point that they’d had to restrain him from going after her.
As the wagon pulled away, he’d vowed he’d find her and keep them together as family. But he hadn’t been able to keep his promise.
“Reid, Trey and I tried to find you,” he said, but though they’d run away from the orphanage a few months later, they’d failed to pick up the trail of the orphan train that Daisy had taken west.
He’d failed his sister.
“Reid and Trey. Are they family?”
“They’re as close as brothers to me.” Or were. “But they aren’t blood kin like we are.”
Daisy didn’t look the least bit relieved. In fact, she acted more leery than before as she turned to Mrs. Gant.
“Is he really my brother?” she asked the older woman.
Her trust in a stranger was a gut punch to Dade. It didn’t ease his mind none that Mrs. Gant was giving him a long assessing look either. He knew trouble was coming before she voiced an opinion, which the lady always had on everything.
“Well, he says he is. But all we have is his word.” Mrs. Gant pinned him with a squinty stare. “You have any kin in these parts?”
He hoped to hell not. The last thing he needed was for his outlaw pa and uncles to show their faces. He’d be lucky to get out of town without getting shot.
“No kin left but me and Daisy,” he said, and he reasoned that could be true. Any day he expected to get word that his old man and renegade uncles had been gunned down.
He swore under his breath, damning his pa again for abandoning his family. Daisy had only been four years old when they’d arrived at the Guardian Angel’s Orphan Asylum. She’d just turned five when she’d been put on the orphan train.
“Forgive me for being skeptical.” Daisy swallowed hard and looked up at him. “But I was told that I had no family.”
“That’s a lie,” Dade said. “You’ve got me.”
Daisy grimaced and seemed not the least bit repentant about her aversion to him. “If you’re telling the truth.”
Dade scrubbed a hand over his mouth to smother a curse that ached to burst free. What the hell could he do to convince his sister of the truth?
“Well, this is quite an interesting turn of events,” Mrs. Gant said. “You don’t favor each other at all. Pity you don’t have a photograph of when you were children. We’d likely be able to put all doubts to rest then.”
Truer words were never spoken. “There was one,” he said, barely recalling the day it’d been taken but knowing it had happened all the same. “Ma kept it in her locket.”
Daisy was clearly uncomfortable with his recollections for her cheeks turned pink and she began fidgeting with something at her throat. He gave a passing glance at the blue cameo broach pinned to her bodice, then just gaped at the locket.
“That’s it, handed down to her by her ma.” He could’ve sworn pure panic flared in Daisy’s eyes. “Before Pa left us at the orphanage, he pinned that to your dress.”
Her lower lip quivered as she turned to Mrs. Gant. “I don’t know what to believe.”
“Well, let’s have a look inside that locket,” Mrs. Gant said, taking the words right out of Dade’s mouth.
Daisy squirmed, as if nervous over finding the proof of his claim. Finally she unclasped the cameo from her bodice, hesitated a moment and then handed it to Mrs. Gant.
“My hands are shaking too badly to search for the clasp,” Daisy said.
Not so for Mrs. Gant. The lady found and opened it before Daisy finished talking.
“There’s nothing inside it,” Mrs. Gant said.
Dade should’ve figured that’d be the case. And did Daisy just let out a sob? Or was that a sigh of relief?
The older woman closed the broach and pressed it back into Daisy’s hand, then enfolded her in her arms. “There, there. You’ve been through too much, what with just hearing that your beau passed on. And now all this about having a lost brother.”
“What happened to the photographs?” he asked his sister.
“I have no idea,” Daisy said. “I didn’t even know this was a locket until just now.”
He snorted at that. How could she not know?
Mrs. Gant chastised him with a look that would’ve done a schoolmarm proud. But he wasn’t backing down. Not now.
“Look at the back of the broach,” he said, then stubbornly waited until she did as he said. “The inscription reads, “˜Be true to yourself.’ The initials TL are struck below it.”
A frown marred Daisy’s smooth brow. “Who’s TL?”
“Our mother. Tessa Logan.”
Her narrow shoulders slumped as she tightened her fingers around the broach in her hand. “That’s it exactly. I guess that means you’re telling the truth.”
“It does. I’ve been looking for you for years,” he said.
“Well now you’ve found me.” She didn’t sound particularly happy about it.
Dade couldn’t fault her for that. He couldn’t even grumble much about her hesitation now.
They were strangers. She’d lived a life apart from everything she’d known, just like him. She’d obviously lost her heart to Sheriff Emery and had intended to marry him. Or had she?
“Why didn’t you come back last fall?” he asked.
“I couldn’t decide if marrying Lester was the right thing to do,” Daisy said, and avoided meeting his eyes. “By the time I knew what I wanted, winter hit and snowed me in.”
That sounded fine on the surface, for he’d been stranded here as well. She’d gone back to wherever she’d called home, thought things over, and then returned to marry her beau. But Lester was dead, shot down by a young outlaw who was trigger-happy.
He reckoned it was better it happened now than after they’d married, leaving Daisy a young widow, perhaps with a baby. Yet Daisy didn’t seem all that broken hearted over Lester’s death. In fact, she appeared more worried than anything.
“You never did say where you were raised,” Dade said to break the awful silence.
Daisy fidgeted just enough to make him think she was uncomfortable talking about that. “A mining town west of the divide.”
“This town have a name?” he asked.
She looked away. Swallowed. “Burland.”
He’d heard of it. A couple of men had swindled claims out of many a miner, ending up rich while the rest of the miners went broke. Considering the way she was dressed, he had a feeling she’d been raised in one of the rich households.
So why marry a poor small town sheriff when she could likely have her pick of gentlemen? Now that Lester Emery was gone, why stay here with a brother she didn’t remember?
“Will you return to Burland now?” Mrs. Gant asked.
Daisy’s narrow shoulders went stiff. “There’s nothing left for me there.”
Mrs. Gant tsked. “Then you should stay right here with your brother. That’ll give you both time to get to know each another again.”
“Thank you,” Daisy said, her smile as thin as Dade’s waning patience.
He ground his teeth. She wasn’t sticking around because she wanted to get close to her brother again. Nope, she had nowhere else to go. That wasn’t a kick in the shins but it came damned close.
His little sister had been a delicate fragile child who’d clung to him. She’d been unbelievably shy and prone to tears. But the Daisy before him seemed to have developed the grit to take off on her own across the Great Divide.
She also possessed an alluring womanly charm that called to some need deep inside him.. Hell, if he wasn’t her brother he’d have been drawn to her.
He shook off those disquieting thoughts and focused on the problem at hand. He still didn’t know what type of folks had taken in his sister and raised her.
Not that it mattered. She had him to protect her now, just like he’d sworn he’d do twenty odd years ago.
If she’d let him. Right now that didn’t seem too likely.
Dade blew out a weary breath. For damn sure he had his work cut out for him gaining her trust.
Maggie Sutten read the determination in Dade Logan’s brown eyes and knew with a sinking heart that she had landed smack dab between a rock and a hard place.
She’d had no idea that Daisy had a brother. A brother who was waiting here in Placid for her to return. A brother who’d spent years trying to find his sister.
Heavens to Betsy! Now he believed he’d done just that. Could things get any worse?
They surely would if Whit Ramsey found her.
However, for now she’d do well to play along with Dade Logan. That was the best way she could hide from Whit until she decided what to do next.
Yes, Whit would turn over every rock in Colorado looking for Maggie Sutten. He’d never dream she’d assumed another name and be living with a man.
And there was the advantage that Dade was a lawman. Though in truth she didn’t think that would stop Whit from taking her.
A chill passed through her at the thought.
“Are you cold, dear?” Mrs. Gant asked.
“Just a case of nerves,” she said. “It’s a lot to take in at once.”
Dade tucked his hands under his armpits and eyed her, and for an instant she feared he could look clean through her and see she was spinning a mile-long yarn. “You end up with a good family?”
Painful memories of the first family who’d taken her in threatened to torment her, so she blocked them from her mind and focused on the Nowells instead. “They treated me well enough, though it was clear I was just the companion to their crippled daughter.”
As soon as the words left her mouth, she realized Mrs. Gant had put two and two together. “I had no idea that Eloisa Reynard was your foster sister.”
Maggie forced a smile, for nobody here knew that Eloisa was in fact Caroline Nowell, the “Silver King’s” daughter. “We thought of ourselves as best friends.”
“You were fortunate,” Dade said.
If only he knew the truth! But that was a secret she had to keep. Just like she had to keep up the pretense of being Daisy Logan.
“Eloisa was a delight, and that made living there enjoyable,” she said, and that was the honest-to-God truth.
The hell didn’t come into play until her foster father had to pay up what he owed, and Whit Ramsey refused to honor the agreement of taking Harlan Nowell’s crippled daughter’s hand in marriage.
According to him, Whit Ramsey wanted Maggie.
If Whit had been a decent man and courted her, she might have considered his suit. But he was an overbearing snob and a lothario to boot.
She refused to marry him, but Harlan Nowell informed her she had no choice. She owed him for taking her in.
Maggie detested Nowell, and she didn’t have much more regard for his wife. But she loved her foster sister and had hesitated to abandon her.
“You can’t marry him,” Caroline had said after the last argument Maggie had had with Harlan Nowell. “Leave. Go far from here and never look back.”
“I’m afraid what will happen to you,” Maggie had said.
Caroline had laughed. “I’ll grow old alone. No man wants to get saddled with a cripple.”
“Never say never.”
The long winter had proved true Maggie’s suspicions about Whit Ramsey. He came to visit often though he usually ended up secluded in the library with Nowell, but even on those rare occasions when he stayed for supper he paid Caroline no attention at all. In fact, he’d often make some excuse and leave the room when she entered in her wheelchair.
So Maggie and Caroline planned out what she should do. Which, given the fact she’d told Lester she’d return to Placid pretty much set the stage.
In the meantime, she went along with Harlan Nowell’s plans for a big wedding this spring and suffered Whit’s attentions.
The second the weather cleared and she found a chance, she ran away — ran here to Lester. Even then she’d backtracked and paid a painted lady to use her real name and take the train west. For if Whit got wind that Maggie Sutten was here, he’d come after her.
“You said there was nothing left for you in Burland,” Dade said, bracing a shoulder against the doorjamb. He gave the impression that he was relaxing and exchanging idle chitchat, but Maggie wasn’t fooled.
He was fishing.
“That’s right,” she said, and summoned up a sniffle.
“What happened to your foster family?” Dade asked.
“They came down sick with a fever over the winter,” Maggie said, thinking that was the easiest way to keep her lies from getting too tangled. “Father survived it. Mother didn’t.”
Mrs. Gant made appropriate sounds of distress. “Did dear Eloisa pass over too?”
“No!” The thought of Caroline dying made Maggie sick, though as it had turned out she’d lost the only friend she’d had anyway. “No, her father sent her east to live with an aunt and receive treatment at a hospital.”
Another lie, but again it’d divert attention away from Burland, the Nowells, and Whit Ramsey.
Mrs. Gant embraced her in a smothering hug again, and Maggie was just too weary to resist. “You poor dear, losing most of your foster family and your beau.”
“It’s been a trial,” she said, and felt tears sting her eyes over Lester’s death.
She’d genuinely liked him. But on the train ride here she’d finally decided she couldn’t marry a man she didn’t love. Not Lester Emery. And surely not Whit Ramsey.
“Now then I’m going upstairs and get your old room ready.” Mrs. Gant smiled at them, and Maggie noted the moisture in the older woman’s eyes. “For the first time in years this house will have a real family living in it.”
Maggie forced a smile and hated that she lied to this kind woman who seemed hungry for family. As for Dade… Well, if lying sent a person to hell she was halfway there.
“I’d about given up hope of finding you,” Dade said after Mrs. Gant took herself off, his voice going rough with emotion.
Maggie squirmed, truly bitten by guilt. “I’m sorry I don’t remember you.”
Sorry she didn’t know what had happened to Daisy. And sorry that she was going to destroy his dream of a family without any explanation. But she couldn’t keep up this charade.
She couldn’t get too close to Dade Logan either.
The man was simply too big and too discerning for her peace of mind. And if she was honest, he stirred feelings in her that were best left sleeping. Feelings a woman would never feel for her brother. Feelings that would surely give her lie away.
No, she didn’t dare get too close or too comfortable around Dade Logan.
As much as she wished otherwise, she couldn’t remain here long either. Harlan Nowell would come looking for her, and he might do worse than drag her back to Burland and marry her to Whit Ramsey.
A chill tripped down her spine at the thought of being sold off like cattle. There had to be a trustworthy man she could confide in, a man who’d help her escape Whit Ramsey for good.
Her gaze flicked to the tall imposing man beside her. Dade Logan?
Those clear brown eyes of his had seen a world of trouble. According to Mrs. Gant’s tale, he knew how to use that gun strapped low on his hip.
Yes, he was the type of man who’d risk his life to save his sister. But she wasn’t his kin. She couldn’t intentionally make him a target for Harlan Nowell’s wrath.
For a few days she’d be safe here in Mrs. Gant’s boardinghouse. She could plan what to do. After she’d gained Dade Logan’s trust and he let down his guard, she’d make her escape.
It was the only way. She knew Harlan Nowell was in a bind. He needed her to satisfy a debt, and he’d move heaven and hell to bring her back.
Or silence her.