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Winter's Camp

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Язык: Английский
Год издания: 2018 год
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      Winter's Camp
Jodi Thomas

New York Times bestselling author Jodi Thomas has captivated readers around the world with her sweeping, heartfelt family sagas. To introduce her brand-new series, Jodi tells the story behind the unforgiving Texas landscape and how one man claims Ransom Canyon—and a timid beauty—for his legacy…A wanderer’s life was all James Randall Kirkland had known since he was an orphaned boy in San Antonio. And while years of adventure had satisfied his younger self, now he’s longing to put down roots of his own and prepared to go it alone. But when he sees the Apache slave woman with the startling blue eyes, the course of his journey is changed forever.Ever since the Comanche raided her village and took her for their own, Millie hasn’t known any kind of freedom. After years of being outcast, beaten, and traded from tribe to tribe, she’s unprepared for James’s patient tone and gentle ways. Still, as her handsome savior slowly earns her trust, Millie struggles between desire and fear, sure it’s just a matter of time before James tires of her, and her burgeoning feelings are nothing but another wasted memory.

New York Times bestselling author Jodi Thomas has captivated readers around the world with her sweeping, heartfelt family sagas. To introduce her brand-new series, Jodi tells the story behind the unforgiving Texas landscape and how one man claims Ransom Canyon—and a timid beauty—for his legacy...

A wanderer’s life was all James Randall Kirkland had known since he was an orphaned boy in San Antonio. And while years of adventure had satisfied his younger self, now he’s longing to put down roots of his own and is prepared to go it alone. But when he sees the Apache slave woman with the startling blue eyes, the course of his journey is changed forever.

Ever since the Comanche raided her village and took her for their own, Millie hasn’t known any kind of freedom. After years of being outcast, beaten and traded from tribe to tribe, she’s unprepared for James’s patient tone and gentle ways. Still, as her handsome savior slowly earns her trust, Millie struggles between desire and fear, sure it’s just a matter of time before James tires of her and her burgeoning feelings are nothing but another wasted memory.

Winter’s Camp

A Ransom Canyon Novella

Jodi Thomas

www.millsandboon.co.uk (http://www.millsandboon.co.uk)

New York Times bestselling author Jodi Thomas is a fifth-generation Texan who sets many of her stories in her home state, where her grandmother was born in a covered wagon. She is a certified marriage and family counselor, a Texas Tech graduate and writer in residence at West Texas A&M University. She lives with her husband in Amarillo, Texas.

Visit her website at jodithomas.com (http://www.jodithomas.com/).

Contents

Cover (#u0182bd87-328f-5ccb-93be-66c2f9e8c0e9)

Back Cover Text (#u4c966879-ea37-5da5-b50c-e47829359f8b)

Title Page (#u24a107ed-ccf0-545e-93e0-f7b5953bdf27)

About the Author (#u9c3d65bd-ec66-52ed-b103-57671ed5aca8)

CHAPTER ONE (#ulink_f0576d55-8796-53da-b179-59223f20c4f1)

CHAPTER TWO (#ulink_882e8dff-af8c-5b5c-9afe-bf7b34332e62)

CHAPTER THREE (#ulink_60a80dfe-c715-5233-af29-7fac9cffa921)

CHAPTER FOUR (#ulink_54584780-edef-5b80-954c-2bf342f27d6b)

CHAPTER FIVE (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER SIX (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER SEVEN (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER EIGHT (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER NINE (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER TEN (#litres_trial_promo)

EPILOGUE (#litres_trial_promo)

Extract (#litres_trial_promo)

Copyright (#litres_trial_promo)

CHAPTER ONE (#ulink_18eb4655-7825-594e-898a-58f13c687e9c)

Ransom Canyon, Texas 1872

JAMES RANDALL KIRKLAND took one last look at the sun’s blinding light before heading into the canyon’s narrow entrance. Shadows danced along the jagged walls as if holding secrets and danger below. The beauty of the rocks ribboned in the colors of the earth almost calmed his fears. Almost.

The only way to get to Ransom Canyon from the south was along one path barely five feet wide and far too steep for a wagon. Midday seemed to pass into early evening in a flash as the walls grew higher above him and the temperature dropped. Winter already whispered through the fall air, warning him of how little time he had left to prepare.

The trades he’d make today would restore his staples even if the trip down into the canyon might be dangerous. James had lived with risk all his life and bore the scars to prove it.

Anyone in Ransom Canyon who didn’t want him showing up today would have a clear shot from above. But even among outlaws and Comancheros, there was a code. For a few weeks every year when nature turned from green to brown, any man could ride this trail and trade for what he wanted or needed. With the nearest trading post more than two hundred miles away, supplies were hard to come by in this part of Texas. Winter was coming on early; James knew he’d need blankets, food supplies and at least two more horses.

He had crossed the plains of this northernmost part of Texas before. Once in 1866, when the need to roam open country to clear the blood of war from his mind had grown too strong. It hadn’t worked. Dreams of drowning in blood still haunted him. He had ridden over the Llano Estacado again in 1869 as a scout for the army. Settlers were moving into Texas fast and the army knew the fort line would have to be extended to where Comanche and buffalo roamed.

James might not live to see his thirtieth birthday. A wanderer’s life was the only one he had known since running away from a mission in San Antonio at the age of twelve. All was adventure and freedom then. Now he longed for what he’d never had: roots. Deep roots so generations of Kirklands would live out their lives on the same land.

A priest had once told James he came from noble English blood. But all James knew was that his family blood must have been thin, for his father had been gunned down a few months after they’d arrived in Texas and his mother and little sister had been dead before their first winter in Texas had passed.

Now, as he and his companion, a buffalo-hunter-turned-guide, rode into Ransom Canyon, James kept his rifle over one arm and his Colt ready to slide from its holster at the slightest sound. He didn’t trust the men they were about to meet or the buckskin-clad man who rode beside him. It had taken a war and several gunfights to make James realize he couldn’t afford trust.

“I know you don’t like this, Kirkland.” Two Fingers broke the silence that had lasted all morning. “But you need horses and supplies to last the winter on the plains.” The old ex-slave, who’d lost his middle two fingers on a bet down in Fort Worth, scratched his neck with his thumb. “I can speak enough of any language we come up against in this place, but like I told you before, you’d be better off to ride south with me and not stay on this land. We could winter near a fort and both still have our scalps come spring.”

“I want to be alone out here for a while. I plan to scout this land and find the best spot for a ranch. Then, come spring, I’ll stake my claim.” James did not add that he had saved enough to buy a hundred head of cattle. The money, along with a small inheritance from his father that he had never touched, was waiting for him in a bank.

“If these traders know you’re squattin’ near here, they’ll come calling and think nothing of killing you and taking back their goods. You might have been the great Captain Kirkland in the war, but out here alone you’ll be nothing but dead if they find you.”

James nodded. It had been seven years since the war and he still couldn’t shake his past. Even Two Fingers, who hadn’t known him long, had picked up on how some of the men had treated him in Fort Worth. Halfway into the War Between the States, he’d gone mad and ignored danger. He had been lucky to have survived but in the years since, his legend had seemed to grow, not fade, as he wished it would.

When he’d hired Two Fingers, James’s plan had simply been to scout the land, but once he’d seen the beauty he’d known he would have to stay a while if this was the place he planned to live out the rest of his life. With his hunting skills and more supplies, he could survive the winter alone.

Now that Two Fingers had started talking, he couldn’t seem to stop. “A man without a horse in this country might as well whittle his own headstone.”

When James didn’t answer, Two Fingers continued. “Most of the men we’ll run across today are just traders. A few might even be rangers looking for captives taken in raids.” He shook his head. “Lots were kidnapped during the war years without menfolk around. The children and the women go wild or crazy after a while. Lawmen do them no good by taking them back.”

James had heard the stories. “I’m not interested in captives or the slave trade. I’m only here for horses.” The war against slavery might be over, but no one had told the outlaws and Comanche. Ransom for captives could pay well.

As they moved into the crossover shadows, James made out a dozen men camped at the bottom of the canyon along the riverbank. Goods were laid out on blankets and stacked in wagon beds. Movement in the cedars told him more traders with mule teams were in the shade. He noticed Comanche traders and what looked like outlaws from both sides of the Rio Grande. They were hard, weathered men who wore their supply of bullets crossed over their chests.

He spotted a makeshift corral with thirty or more horses. Most looked like half-wild mustangs, but they’d do. He needed horses or mules to pack supplies in and hides out come spring. If the hunting was good over the cold months, he would make enough to stock the new place for a year, maybe more.

As they walked their horses closer only a few people in the clearing seemed to notice them. A small group of Apache camped by the water, the women mostly doing the work while the men traded. The chief stood tall in the center of the camp even though he had to be over fifty. They were a ragged group, the leftovers of a tribe whose young braves had been killed in battle. The few ponies they had looked too young to break to saddle. One sported an army brand.

James was about to turn away when he caught sight of a woman standing at the edge of the Apache camp. She was wrapped in a dirty blanket as mud-covered as her face and hands. She simply stood staring at the ground; not moving, not interested in his passing.

One of the older women in the tribe walked near and struck her with a stick. The muddy woman, with hair so matted it might never comb out, finally looked up.

For a moment James could only stare. Her huge eyes, framed in dark circles, looked wild and mindless, but they were the crystal blue of a mountain lake.

“Best move along, Kirkland,” Two Fingers ordered.

They moved on toward the main camp. “Did you see the color of her eyes?” James whispered. “She has to be a captive.”

Two Fingers shook his head. “When I was a boy, I ran away thinking I’d be free, not a slave like my ma, but Apache found me. I was lucky. I was taken in by the tribe, treated as good as if I were a real son. I learned the language and had a grand time living the life, but now and then I’d see a woman who’d been traded from tribe to tribe as though she was nothing but a horse. No—a woman like that is lower than a horse. If they were lucky, if you want to call it that, they were taken in as a third or fourth wife. They’d do all the work the other wives didn’t want to do and only eat when there was plenty. The number-one wife usually had the right to beat the last wife and did regularly.”

Two Fingers swore in Spanish. “If they weren’t so lucky, they fought for scraps with the dogs. Once they started looking and acting like that woman we passed, there was no hope. If they didn’t kill themselves or get beaten to death, they were left to die. Her mind’s gone, Kirkland. Don’t look at her. Some say if you do, she’ll steal your soul and take it down to hell with her.”

James thought he was beyond caring about anyone but himself; that his heart and soul had hardened to rock. He’d lost every friend he’d had in the war. He had lived so long without a family he’d decided he never wanted one. Never wanted anyone to die on him. Never wanted someone grieving when he died. It didn’t matter that he felt sorry for the woman covered in mud. He could not save her or heal her.

“She’s mad,” Two Fingers said again as they climbed off the horses. “Forget her. I knew an Irish trapper once who bought a woman crazy like her. She stabbed him in his heart the first time he fell asleep. In some tribes when a woman covers up in mud like that the tribe calls her ‘no one.’ She’s nothing to anyone. She’s no more than part of the dirt.”

“Why don’t they just kill her?” The leather creaked when James leaned his long frame forward in the saddle.
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