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by Renee Gipson
Category: Romance/Historical Fiction
Description: 1885 Oklahoma Amber Tegan is nineteen and as wild and untamed as the Oklahoma frontier. Alone after the tragic murder of her loving family, she is determined to right a terrible wrong. Amber sets out on a trail of vengeance, creating her own justice as she tracks and kills each murderer while risking the love of the one man capable of saving her soul. Three Rivers is the local shaman for a nearby band of Wichita. He understands Amber's need for revenge, but he's fallen deeply under her spell and will do what he can to help even as she jeopardizes their growing love.
eBook Publisher: Parker Publishing, Inc./Zora, 2011 2011
eBookwise Release Date: January 2011
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [395 KB]
Reading time: 274-383 min.
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Oklahoma Territory 1885
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Gunshots pierced the stillness of the star-speckled night and Amber quickly awakened. The only time she heard her father shooting at night was to warn off Russell Black and his men from stealing cattle. Another shot fired and Amber sat up in bed. That was not the sound of her father's gun, an old dull 38. No, this was sharp, crisp--the weapon of another man. The rustlers were back.
Amber retrieved her own loaded rifle and headed outdoors with her white cotton nightgown whipping around her as she ran. The heft of her amber nugget necklace bounced against her now sweat-moistened skin. She was named after the stone and it was a first gift from her Mexican grandmother the day she was born. It represented longevity. She would need it tonight.
Flinging the front door open, she saw Russell and the other rustlers still firing and pulling cows and oxen along the path leading away from her family's small house in Ox Creek. Amber moved to the bushes for a better look, shivering at the gruesome sight unfolding before her eyes. There was another man with the gang of thieves this time. His long hair blew in the wind and he wore no shirt, just breeches and carried a rifle. He fired his rifle into the air and yelled out some type of victory cry.
The renegade Wichita. She had heard about him and his wicked ways, killing for the pure pleasure of it. Now he was with men who shared the same interest.
Amber looked to the ground and saw bodies lying crumpled in what looked like heaps at the hoofs of Russell's horse. Her family. She distinctly recognized her father's hat, still resting on his head. Next to him lay her brother, Edward and her mother--all lying face down in the dirt.
Tears streaked her face as she ran at the shooting man--her own weapon cocked and firing. "What have you done, Russell? Couldn't you have taken the cattle without shooting? You have before."
She fired and knocked Russell from his horse, but he got up firing before his men could. He never missed a target and shot her, wounding her shoulder. Amber fell to the ground. Blood stained her gown, dripping down the front and mixing with the honeyed hue of amber around her neck--staining the precious stones. She tried reaching for her rifle as Russell Black galloped toward her; prancing around her body as if admiring his catch. The click of his rifle signified he was not finished with her, and he fired again, grazing her left ear.
The last thing she heard was the snarl in his tone. "Should have stayed in bed--Wild Amber! Don't look like that amber necklace can help you now."
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The haze of a hot Oklahoma sun dawned early and Amber awakened. The heat beat down on her as she stared into the white-hot spirals. Then the pain hit her; that excruciating dulling sensation emanating from behind her right ear. She touched the spot feeling blood and the graze of singed skin. As best she could through blurred vision she looked at the blood on her fingers. She had been shot! Black had intended to destroy her. Now she remembered looking into the twin barrels of Black's rifle. She also remembered something else--the way her family lay in crumpled heaps at the hooves of his and his brother Wilford's horses.
The realization of what happened to them took precedents over the pain behind her left ear and her wounded shoulder but she scrambled, as best she could, to her feet. Her legs were wobbly, her stomach sick and her head felt as if it had been broken wide open but she had to find them before Russell and his gang returned. Surely if they saw her alive they'd finish the job. Killing was the only perk in their meager lives.
Then she thought of something else--the Indian; one who chanted and howled into the night air like a banshee. There had been talk in town of a renegade Wichita. She tried recalling his name but the pain in her head overpowered all recollection.
To her left was what was left of the small, three-bedroom home on their property outside of Oklahoma City. From what little she could see, the windows were broken, door kicked in and bullet holes covered every square inch. Tears welled again as she stared upon the place that had been her home since the age of six. Farther down was the barn where all of her father's cattle were snatched away from him. To the side of that was what looked to be a lump of light-brown dirt. It wasn't dirt, though. It was her constant companion, a sheepdog named Shady. There was also a shovel lying near the barn entrance. That, she would use to bury her family before dark--if she didn't die on her way to it.
Her feet felt like led as she stumbled over to the barn and grabbed the shovel. She looked down at Shady, trying to focus but even through blurred vision, she knew her dog was dead--shot in the stomach. Blood pooled around him in a thick mass. The desire to pet her dog's head for the last time, tell him how good a boy he had been assailed her. Then she looked around in a panic, remembering something else. "Where's Jessup?" Jessup was her Missouri Fox Trotter and the best horse a girl could have, but instead of looking for him now, she had another mission--burying her family and then wait to take out her revenge.
Amber looked down the dirt path that led to the family property; a road shaded with Cleveland Pear trees that looked like puffs of snow in mid-summer. Her mother had planted those trees years ago, saying she had never seen anything as beautiful in her native Juarez, Mexico. She had been so happy to plant them along with her small daughter helping here and there. Now, as Amber looked down the road she saw no beauty, just death, and the smell of it sickened her even more.
Amber trembled over the distant sight of her family on the ground near weapons that proved useless in their defense. She slowly approached her mother first, barely able to bend to her knees due to the pain from both wounds. The woman lay face down on the dirt, her white apron dirty and bloodstained. She'd been shot in the back. Amber struggled to turn the woman over and stared into the rich brown hue of her Mexican features; a face that looked just like her own. Amber's tears dropped onto her mother's bib apron as she tried shaking life back into her. "Mama, it's me. Please tell me you hear me and that you aren't dead. Please, don't be dead, mama." She continued to stare into the lifeless face of Anita Alvarez Tegan, but there was nothing. The woman simply stared lifeless into the sky.
Holding back sobs, Amber closed her mother's eyes and laid her head upon the woman's chest. She had just lost her best friend. She and her mother talked about everything. It hadn't been a pleasant life for her mother, having married an escaped Texas slave, Richard Tegan.
Whites had plagued the small family since the marriage. A slave and a Mexican were not to mix, and from their union came two half-Mexican, half-African children who were hated as much as the parents were. Her mother loved her children and her husband and it was apparent by how often she told the family she loved them. Amber had heard many stories of how her mother left Mexico and landed in Texas--soon to marry a man she dearly loved. Now, her mother's happiness lay face down in the earth with a gunshot to the back, along with her dead husband and son. But someone had survived.
Amber dragged herself over to her father, caressing his dark brown face. Words choked her as she spoke. "Daddy, always know that I loved you. You fought hard to keep your land and family but it took bullies to take us from you; bullies, daddy--not men. Not men like you and Edward." She gently kissed his forehead, knelt by her brother, twenty-one years old, older by two years, and was the typical protective brother, but Amber had been too wild for his protection. She loved his efforts but he could hardly keep up with her going to town, learning what she could about the locals. Her trips past the nearby Indian village was another thing her brother had warned her about, yet it never stopped her. She had been interested in one man who had always been in nearby fields collecting what looked to be weeds and herbs. He had dark skin and long, flowing hair like--like that of the nasty Indian screaming out war cries last night. His name came to her. Dark Water.
Could the handsome Indian collecting herbs have been the same man who had aided in the killing of her family? No, not him. This man seemed so serene, at peace, so incredibly handsome, nothing like the man holding a rifle in his hand and yelling to the heavens last night.
At that point, Amber didn't know what to think. All she knew was that her family was gone, and she would be, too, if she didn't get out of sight. She kissed her brother's forehead, brushed the near straight strands of hair from his light brown face and closed his eyes. With effort that she didn't know she had retained, and blood continuing to trickle from her wounds, she moved the bodies of her family closer together. After the strain, she fell back; her stomach sick, her head throbbing, the sun spiraling down on her in blistering waves--but she knew her mission wasn't complete. She had to dig the graves--despite her pain.
Now with each member laying in a row with their hands crossed over their chests, Amber struggled to slung dirt in all directions, as if in a craze. When she finished, nearly two hours later, three graves lay open. Frequently, she fell to the ground, stumbled only to fall again and having to make herself rest. Her stomach ached with intolerable pain and had often thrown-up--mostly dry-heaves. Her body, beyond pain. It felt as though she had been stabbed a million times.
The entire ordeal was treacherous and more than taxing for any mere woman, but beyond the physical work, her mental struggle was absolutely incomprehensible. She was alone; no more family. There was no more brother to be mad at; no mother to cook with--no father to teach her more about hunting. And with no more strength, she lay flat on the earth next to the graves and simply stared into the sun, crying beyond control.
She awakened an hour later and slowly pulled each member into their final resting place, covering them. Feeling barely alive with streaks of blood staining her face, her body covered in blood from two wounds and her head pounding unmercifully, she fell back again, resting on the dirt.
Now mid-day, she knew she had to act fast because before long, Russell and his men would leave whatever whore house they resided in during the day and come back to marvel over last night's work. That left one problem--they wouldn't find her there and would possibly scour the countryside to find her. She had to dig another grave and make it seem as though someone buried her and her family. They would blame the burials on the Indians. Why not? They blamed them for everything else. In this case what would it matter? She'd be out of sight and her plans would go into action. The way she saw things, Russell and his men would be dead by her hands within a matter of days.
As tired, grief-stricken and sick as she was, she dug the fourth grave, covered it over and then slumped onto it, eventually passing out.