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Joe Prentis Website
Joe Prentis Website
The second book in The Renegade series, a traditional story of the old west set in the post Civil War Era in Colorado.
When Wolf Spencer comes in contact with his former friends and enemies, he soon discovers that his intentions of slipping into town, and leaving just as quickly, have become hopelessly complicated. The promise of a gold discovery on his father’s ranch tempts him to stay, but the threat of arrest is an ever-present possibility. This is the second book in The Renegade series.
By Joe Prentis
VICTORIA STOPPED and stared in disbelief as Shannon came slowly up the stairs, walking like an old woman with her hair disheveled and her face stained with tears.
"Shannon?" she said, as she lifted her foot at the top step. The other foot was too heavy and she slowly toppled, making no effort to break her fall. Victoria ran toward her with a growing sense of alarm.
"Shannon! What's wrong?"
Shannon turned her face and tried to look up, but her eyes would not focus. The tears continued to flow silently down the side of her cheek.
"What happened? Tell me!" Victoria demanded as she bent toward her, but she was afraid she already knew.
"Is it Spence? Is it? Tell me!"
Shannon nodded, and at the look of grief on her face, Victoria felt her heart lurch. Oh no, not Spence. Not now, when they were practically together. She leaned forward peering into Shannon's face. "Has he left town?" she asked.
There was a long, unearthly silence, and then the words came out as if they were from a disembodied presence, her voice stark and hideous in the wide hallway. "Spence is in jail. For murder."
"Oh, no!" Victoria said, and started to cry herself. "It's not true. It's not!" But she knew it was as she helped Shannon up from where she lay.
Victoria felt a moment of panic as she stood tottering, then when she pulled on Shannon's arm she followed her into the bedroom and collapsed across the bed, looking vague and disoriented. Victoria wondered if she should send for a doctor, then remembered that she was alone in the house. She felt a moment of panic.
"Shannon?" she said. When she received no reaction she spoke more loudly as if she were talking to someone deaf. "I've got to go for the doctor."
Shannon's reaction was immediate, grasping Victoria's arm so hard that it made her gasp. "Don't leave me! Please, don't."
"Lie back, dear. You need rest. Let me close the drapes and I'll get you some brandy."
The brandy was downstairs. Victoria didn't want to leave her long enough to get it. The strange look in Shannon's eye reminded her of Bethany's mother. Victoria felt such a panic that for an instant she thought she was going to scream.
"Shannon, dear, let me go and get the brandy. Then I'll sit with you and we can talk."
When Shannon didn't answer, she jumped up and ran down the stairs. Grabbing a glass from the dish cabinet, she splashed it half full. The door opened behind her and she whirled about with a little cry of fright, sloshing some of the brandy on her foot. McCade stood framed in the doorway.
"Cass! Oh, Cass. It's Shannon."
When McCade didn't answer, Victoria felt her scalp tighten. There was something vaguely alarming about the way he looked at her, as if he were not quiet sane. There were cuts and bruises on his head as if he had recently been in a fight.
"Where is she?"
"Upstairs. Spence has been arrested for murder!"
He waved her words aside. "I know all about that. I was in town when it happened."
"I think she needs a doctor. Can you ride into town?"
But he was already past her, running up the steps. For a moment Victoria was too startled to move, and then she gathered her skirts and raced up the staircase behind him.
McCade crossed the room in three quick strides. He sat on the edge of the bed with Shannon's small hand grasped between both of his. Sitting with his big body hunched forward he reminded Victoria of a trained bear she had once seen in a circus. She looked at his round head, almost like a hairy pumpkin, and felt a moment of revulsion. The sound of Shannon's weeping reached her ears, then a loud sob that made her whirl toward the windows. McCade's voice was so low and indistinct that she could just make out the words.
"I didn't have anything to do with this," he said in a hoarse whisper.
"Promise me you'll help him!" Shannon wailed and started to cry again.
Victoria walked away from them, leaning her forehead against the coolness of the windowpane. There was something about McCade that had always scared her, but with Shannon it had been different. There had always been a bond between them that was beyond her understanding. He was not like other men. On several occasions she had watched him breaking the horses in the corral, riding them with a brutal determination that was frightening. There were dozens of terrible stories that she had heard whispered in the kitchen. Putting her hands to her temples, she gave an involuntary shudder. Suddenly, she jerked her face from the window and turned her head sharply toward the bed. The whispering had stopped.
Shannon had her arms clasp tightly around McCade's neck with her face buried against his collar. His hand was almost as big as the back of her head. Victoria felt a sudden explosive anger. In all the years Shannon had lived under the same roof with her, she had never hugged their father. And he's been as much a father to her as he has to me, she thought. She turned from the window and went toward the bed.
"You had better go," she said a little more coldly than she had intended. "I think I hear father."
McCade stood up obediently, his large bulk looking out of place in the decidedly feminine room. He held Shannon's hand for a moment longer, then turned quickly and headed toward the servant's stairway in the west wing.
Victoria sat down on the edge of the bed and carefully extended the brandy snifter. "Drink this, please."
Shannon drained it in one gulp and nodded gratefully. When she looked into Victoria's eyes it was with an air of almost being herself again. The hysterical vagueness seemed to be fading now, replaced by a look of shock and grief. Victoria's heart went out to her.
"I'm so sorry, Shannon, terribly sorry."
Her head sank back on the pillow. "What am I going to do?" she whispered.
"I'll talk to father as soon as he comes in. There's a lot that can be done." Victoria wasn't as sure as she made her voice sound.
Shannon's head moved from side to side on the pillow. "You don't understand. I've lost him. I never really had a chance. All that time he's been gone he had an Indian wife. They even had a child."
Victoria arose from the side of the bed without being aware that she had moved. "There's been some misunderstanding. He would never . . . Spence wouldn't do that. That's just crazy."
"It's true! Dave accused him in Lowery's office. I could tell to was true by looking at his face."
"Then why did he come back? I don't understand that." There had to be some kind of mistake. Spence would have told her if it was true, but Shannon was already shaking her head as if she could read her thoughts.
"Don't you see? She's dead. Those men he's accused of killing had something to do with her death."
"If she's dead you have a chance. Don't give up hope now."
Shannon rolled toward the window with her knees drawn against her chest. When Victoria touched her shoulder there was no response except a slight trembling she could feel beneath her fingers. Victoria sat for a moment looking at the still form, then threw back her own head and began to cry.