Colorado — 1895
It wasnâ€™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 wasnâ€™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, heâ€™d been waiting all winter for one person to return, and if she didnâ€™t show up soon he didnâ€™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 hadnâ€™t seen anyone get off.
Maybe sheâ€™d arrive on the afternoon train. As the racket from steel wheels on rails grew faint, he heard his name being called out.
â€œSheriff Logan! Sheriff Logan!â€
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 liverymanâ€™s younger son wasnâ€™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 wasnâ€™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 boyâ€™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 werenâ€™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.
Itâ€™d been twenty years since heâ€™d seen any of them, though their wanted posters had haunted him most of his life. There sure as hell wasnâ€™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 wasnâ€™t sure he could turn on his blood. Hell, unlike Reid Barclay, he couldnâ€™t have turned on either of his foster brothers either.
â€œSheriff Logan!â€ Raymond burst into the jail, his dark skin glistening with sweat and his scrawny chest heaving from his run. â€œI saw her.â€
â€œJust whoâ€™d you see?â€ Dade asked.
â€œThe lady you been waiting for,â€ Raymond said.
â€œDaisy?â€ he asked.
The boy nodded. â€œShe got off the train, just like you was hoping sheâ€™d do.â€
Now how the hell had he missed seeing her?
Dadeâ€™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 whoâ€™d sold them out when they needed him the most.
First things first. Heâ€™d waited twenty years to find his sister. He wasnâ€™t about to waste a second forestalling their reunion.
â€œWhere is she?â€ he asked, heading for the door as he spoke.
â€œMrs. Gantâ€™s boardinghouse,â€ 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 sheriffâ€™s eye. How sheâ€™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 sheâ€™d heard about Lesterâ€™s murder and wasnâ€™t coming back to Placid. He feared heâ€™d lost her again.
â€œThanks, Raymond.â€ 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?
Heâ€™d find out damn soon, he thougth as he cut down the street between Heinâ€™s Grocery and Doc Franklinâ€™s house.
Mrs. Gantâ€™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 didnâ€™t resemble their mother or father.
She wasnâ€™t a cute little pixie anymore. Nope, sheâ€™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.
â€œI am so sorry to be the one to tell you that Lester has passed over,â€ Mrs. Gant said, verifying what Dade suspected had caused his sisterâ€™s distress. â€œI didnâ€™t know where youâ€™d gone, but when you didnâ€™t come back last fall like you said you would, I thought maybe youâ€™d heard.â€
â€œNo, I had no idea,â€ Daisy said. â€œWhat happened?â€
â€œIt was just awful,â€ Mrs. Gant said. â€œThis 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.â€
Daisy pressed a hand to her mouth, clearly horrified by the news. Mrs. Gantâ€™s version was close enough to the truth that Dade didnâ€™t see the need to comment.
â€œI tell you truly,â€ Mrs. Gant said, â€œI shudder to think what wouldâ€™ve happened if Dade Logan hadnâ€™t stepped in like he did and ended the robberâ€™s reign of terror on our town. No telling who else wouldâ€™ve been gunned down if not for your brotherâ€™s courage.â€
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 Daisyâ€™s face had leached of color at the mention of his name.
â€œW-what?â€ Daisy said in a voice that was way too high.
â€œYes, indeed, your brother is a hero.â€ Mrs. Gant launched into telling Daisy the details.
This surely wasnâ€™t the reunion heâ€™d had in mind. A sound of disgust mustâ€™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 Daisyâ€™s hand. â€œItâ€™ll be all right now, dear. You have family to help you through this difficult time.â€
Daisy shook her head. â€œNo! Iâ€™m an orphan.â€
Dade scrubbed a hand across his nape, frustrated and more than a mite worried about his sisterâ€™s increased distress. He wasnâ€™t surprised that Daisy hadnâ€™t recognized him after twenty years, but forgetting that he existed signaled something else entirely.
â€œYou saying you donâ€™t remember me?â€ Dade asked.
She shook her head, her gaze focusing on his tin star before lifting to his face. He hadnâ€™t thought she could get any paler but heâ€™d been wrong.
â€œDonâ€™t you remember that Pa left us at the Guardian Angelâ€™s Orphan Asylum?â€
She shook her head and stared at him with troubled eyes.
â€œYou recall being in the orphanage?â€ he asked.
She frowned. â€œSome. Mostly I was scared.â€
So was Dade, but it did him no good then or now to admit it. How could her memory be that bad?
Sheâ€™d cried and screamed for Dade after their pa had dumped them there, and put up more of a ruckus when theyâ€™d been separated â€“ boys in one wing of the drafty old building and girls in the other.
Theyâ€™d seen each other precious little after that, but she hadnâ€™t forgotten him them. Sheâ€™d pitched a fit when they took her away on the orphan train to the point that theyâ€™d had to restrain him from going after her.
As the wagon pulled away, heâ€™d vowed heâ€™d find her and keep them together as family. But he hadnâ€™t been able to keep his promise.
â€œReid, Trey and I tried to find you,â€ he said, but though theyâ€™d run away from the orphanage a few months later, theyâ€™d failed to pick up the trail of the orphan train that Daisy had taken west.
Heâ€™d failed his sister.
â€œReid and Trey. Are they family?â€
â€œTheyâ€™re as close as brothers to me.â€ Or were. â€œBut they arenâ€™t blood kin like we are.â€
Daisy didnâ€™t look the least bit relieved. In fact, she acted more leery than before as she turned to Mrs. Gant.
â€œIs he really my brother?â€ she asked the older woman.
Her trust in a stranger was a gut punch to Dade. It didnâ€™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.
â€œWell, he says he is. But all we have is his word.â€ Mrs. Gant pinned him with a squinty stare. â€œYou have any kin in these parts?â€
He hoped to hell not. The last thing he needed was for his outlaw pa and uncles to show their faces. Heâ€™d be lucky to get out of town without getting shot.
â€œNo kin left but me and Daisy,â€ 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 theyâ€™d arrived at the Guardian Angelâ€™s Orphan Asylum. Sheâ€™d just turned five when sheâ€™d been put on the orphan train.
â€œForgive me for being skeptical.â€ Daisy swallowed hard and looked up at him. â€œBut I was told that I had no family.â€
â€œThatâ€™s a lie,â€ Dade said. â€œYouâ€™ve got me.â€
Daisy grimaced and seemed not the least bit repentant about her aversion to him. â€œIf youâ€™re telling the truth.â€
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?
â€œWell, this is quite an interesting turn of events,â€ Mrs. Gant said. â€œYou donâ€™t favor each other at all. Pity you donâ€™t have a photograph of when you were children. Weâ€™d likely be able to put all doubts to rest then.â€
Truer words were never spoken. â€œThere was one,â€ he said, barely recalling the day itâ€™d been taken but knowing it had happened all the same. â€œMa kept it in her locket.â€
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.
â€œThatâ€™s it, handed down to her by her ma.â€ He couldâ€™ve sworn pure panic flared in Daisyâ€™s eyes. â€œBefore Pa left us at the orphanage, he pinned that to your dress.â€
Her lower lip quivered as she turned to Mrs. Gant. â€œI donâ€™t know what to believe.â€
â€œWell, letâ€™s have a look inside that locket,â€ Mrs. Gant said, taking the words right out of Dadeâ€™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.
â€œMy hands are shaking too badly to search for the clasp,â€ Daisy said.
Not so for Mrs. Gant. The lady found and opened it before Daisy finished talking.
â€œThereâ€™s nothing inside it,â€ Mrs. Gant said.
Dade shouldâ€™ve figured thatâ€™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 Daisyâ€™s hand, then enfolded her in her arms. â€œThere, there. Youâ€™ve been through too much, what with just hearing that your beau passed on. And now all this about having a lost brother.â€
â€œWhat happened to the photographs?â€ he asked his sister.
â€œI have no idea,â€ Daisy said. â€œI didnâ€™t even know this was a locket until just now.â€
He snorted at that. How could she not know?
Mrs. Gant chastised him with a look that wouldâ€™ve done a schoolmarm proud. But he wasnâ€™t backing down. Not now.
â€œLook at the back of the broach,â€ he said, then stubbornly waited until she did as he said. â€œThe inscription reads, â€˜Be true to yourself.â€™ The initials TL are struck below it.â€
A frown marred Daisyâ€™s smooth brow. â€œWhoâ€™s TL?â€
â€œOur mother. Tessa Logan.â€
Her narrow shoulders slumped as she tightened her fingers around the broach in her hand. â€œThatâ€™s it exactly. I guess that means youâ€™re telling the truth.â€
â€œIt does. Iâ€™ve been looking for you for years,â€ he said.
â€œWell now youâ€™ve found me.â€ She didnâ€™t sound particularly happy about it.
Dade couldnâ€™t fault her for that. He couldnâ€™t even grumble much about her hesitation now.
They were strangers. Sheâ€™d lived a life apart from everything sheâ€™d known, just like him. Sheâ€™d obviously lost her heart to Sheriff Emery and had intended to marry him. Or had she?
â€œWhy didnâ€™t you come back last fall?â€ he asked.
â€œI couldnâ€™t decide if marrying Lester was the right thing to do,â€ Daisy said, and avoided meeting his eyes. â€œBy the time I knew what I wanted, winter hit and snowed me in.â€
That sounded fine on the surface, for heâ€™d been stranded here as well. Sheâ€™d gone back to wherever sheâ€™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 theyâ€™d married, leaving Daisy a young widow, perhaps with a baby. Yet Daisy didnâ€™t seem all that broken hearted over Lesterâ€™s death. In fact, she appeared more worried than anything.
â€œYou never did say where you were raised,â€ Dade said to break the awful silence.
Daisy fidgeted just enough to make him think she was uncomfortable talking about that. â€œA mining town west of the divide.â€
â€œThis town have a name?â€ he asked.
She looked away. Swallowed. â€œBurland.â€
Heâ€™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 sheâ€™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 didnâ€™t remember?
â€œWill you return to Burland now?â€ Mrs. Gant asked.
Daisyâ€™s narrow shoulders went stiff. â€œThereâ€™s nothing left for me there.â€
Mrs. Gant tsked. â€œThen you should stay right here with your brother. Thatâ€™ll give you both time to get to know each another again.â€
â€œThank you,â€ Daisy said, her smile as thin as Dadeâ€™s waning patience.
He ground his teeth. She wasnâ€™t sticking around because she wanted to get close to her brother again. Nope, she had nowhere else to go. That wasnâ€™t a kick in the shins but it came damned close.
His little sister had been a delicate fragile child whoâ€™d clung to him. Sheâ€™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 wasnâ€™t her brother heâ€™d have been drawn to her.
He shook off those disquieting thoughts and focused on the problem at hand. He still didnâ€™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 heâ€™d sworn heâ€™d do twenty odd years ago.
If sheâ€™d let him. Right now that didnâ€™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 Loganâ€™s brown eyes and knew with a sinking heart that she had landed smack dab between a rock and a hard place.
Sheâ€™d had no idea that Daisy had a brother. A brother who was waiting here in Placid for her to return. A brother whoâ€™d spent years trying to find his sister.
Heavens to Betsy! Now he believed heâ€™d done just that. Could things get any worse?
They surely would if Whit Ramsey found her.
However, for now sheâ€™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. Heâ€™d never dream sheâ€™d assumed another name and be living with a man.
And there was the advantage that Dade was a lawman. Though in truth she didnâ€™t think that would stop Whit from taking her.
A chill passed through her at the thought.
â€œAre you cold, dear?â€ Mrs. Gant asked.
â€œJust a case of nerves,â€ she said. â€œItâ€™s a lot to take in at once.â€
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. â€œYou end up with a good family?â€
Painful memories of the first family whoâ€™d taken her in threatened to torment her, so she blocked them from her mind and focused on the Nowells instead. â€œThey treated me well enough, though it was clear I was just the companion to their crippled daughter.â€
As soon as the words left her mouth, she realized Mrs. Gant had put two and two together. â€œI had no idea that Eloisa Reynard was your foster sister.â€
Maggie forced a smile, for nobody here knew that Eloisa was in fact Caroline Nowell, the â€œSilver Kingâ€™sâ€ daughter. â€œWe thought of ourselves as best friends.â€
â€œYou were fortunate,â€ 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.
â€œEloisa was a delight, and that made living there enjoyable,â€ she said, and that was the honest-to-God truth.
The hell didnâ€™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 Nowellâ€™s crippled daughterâ€™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 didnâ€™t have much more regard for his wife. But she loved her foster sister and had hesitated to abandon her.
â€œYou canâ€™t marry him,â€ Caroline had said after the last argument Maggie had had with Harlan Nowell. â€œLeave. Go far from here and never look back.â€
â€œIâ€™m afraid what will happen to you,â€ Maggie had said.
Caroline had laughed. â€œIâ€™ll grow old alone. No man wants to get saddled with a cripple.â€
â€œNever say never.â€
The long winter had proved true Maggieâ€™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, heâ€™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 sheâ€™d told Lester sheâ€™d return to Placid pretty much set the stage.
In the meantime, she went along with Harlan Nowellâ€™s plans for a big wedding this spring and suffered Whitâ€™s attentions.
The second the weather cleared and she found a chance, she ran away â€“ ran here to Lester. Even then sheâ€™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, heâ€™d come after her.
â€œYou said there was nothing left for you in Burland,â€ Dade said, bracing a shoulder against the doorjamb. He gave the impression that he was relaxing and exchanging idle chitchat, but Maggie wasnâ€™t fooled.
He was fishing.
â€œThatâ€™s right,â€ she said, and summoned up a sniffle.
â€œWhat happened to your foster family?â€ Dade asked.
â€œThey came down sick with a fever over the winter,â€ Maggie said, thinking that was the easiest way to keep her lies from getting too tangled. â€œFather survived it. Mother didnâ€™t.â€
Mrs. Gant made appropriate sounds of distress. â€œDid dear Eloisa pass over too?â€
â€œNo!â€ The thought of Caroline dying made Maggie sick, though as it had turned out sheâ€™d lost the only friend sheâ€™d had anyway. â€œNo, her father sent her east to live with an aunt and receive treatment at a hospital.â€
Another lie, but again itâ€™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. â€œYou poor dear, losing most of your foster family and your beau.â€
â€œItâ€™s been a trial,â€ she said, and felt tears sting her eyes over Lesterâ€™s death.
Sheâ€™d genuinely liked him. But on the train ride here sheâ€™d finally decided she couldnâ€™t marry a man she didnâ€™t love. Not Lester Emery. And surely not Whit Ramsey.
â€œNow then Iâ€™m going upstairs and get your old room ready.â€ Mrs. Gant smiled at them, and Maggie noted the moisture in the older womanâ€™s eyes. â€œFor the first time in years this house will have a real family living in it.â€
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.
â€œIâ€™d about given up hope of finding you,â€ Dade said after Mrs. Gant took herself off, his voice going rough with emotion.
Maggie squirmed, truly bitten by guilt. â€œIâ€™m sorry I donâ€™t remember you.â€
Sorry she didnâ€™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 couldnâ€™t keep up this charade.
She couldnâ€™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 didnâ€™t dare get too close or too comfortable around Dade Logan.
As much as she wished otherwise, she couldnâ€™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 whoâ€™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. Gantâ€™s tale, he knew how to use that gun strapped low on his hip.
Yes, he was the type of man whoâ€™d risk his life to save his sister. But she wasnâ€™t his kin. She couldnâ€™t intentionally make him a target for Harlan Nowellâ€™s wrath.
For a few days sheâ€™d be safe here in Mrs. Gantâ€™s boardinghouse. She could plan what to do. After sheâ€™d gained Dade Loganâ€™s trust and he let down his guard, sheâ€™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 heâ€™d move heaven and hell to bring her back.
Or silence her.