Willful Skye Valdez is on the run. Eagle Hunter is sent to retrieve her.
| The glorious sky met the corporeal earth with surreal brilliance. It illuminated the colors of the descending sun across the Texan terrain; the marvelous tranquility extended as far as one could see. Texas was a land, which touched ones soul until there not another place more spectacular. A territory where boys grew to be proud, enthusiastic, strong able-bodied men and where girls grew to be dynamic, independently determined women.
Breaking the tranquility of the surreal sunset across the Great Plains, a horse and rider flew to an unknown destination. Proof of the stallions’ potency was demonstrated with each long stride of the spirited animals long legs. Moving smoothly beneath the rider masses of gleaming muscles, defined his sleek shiny coat. He was an impressively striking blooded stallion, completely black except for a white star-shaped mark between his intelligent brown eyes.
The rider’s hat long since had swept away and dangled down a slim back from a rawhide rope around the equally spirited ones neck. The wind whipped through long dark tresses; streamed behind her like a lustrous banner of silk.
Cielo Susana Isabella Constantina Valdez y Cortez was spirited, her sole akin to her beloved stallion, Sam. Skye loved her life, home and family, as each day she experienced completeness and serenity. She loved the smell of the wildflowers that perfumed the air in spring. She loved the creek where she swam on hot summer nights. She loved the sturdy mesquite, oak and juniper trees that gave her shade in summer and protection winter. Skye loved all the seasons, spring the time of new life, summer the hot stillness, autumn the falling of the leaves and winter when the brilliant white snow blankets the earth. Most of all she loved Texas, where the terrain was rugged and unforgiving; extraordinary yet lethal; beautiful while diverse.
The diversity was prominent indeed with high jagged rock formations that plummeted into deep canyons along the banks of the Canadian river, which smoothed into seas of golden prairies, whereas farther south in proximity to the Rio Grande that was dry and dusty, yet still spectacular country. The diversity continued in the northeast region of the state as one would find rolling emerald hills that swept into sweet meadows and lush thick green forests. Ultimately, the land develops into farmland with rich fertile soil along the shores of the Gulf of Mexico.
Texas was untouched and wild, as was Skye Valdez. Some would say she was bluntly unrefined and unrestrained; nevertheless, Skye was a product of her environment and rearing. Unrefined, although the Spanish beauty was highly educated. Educated in areas of literature, history, geography and mathematics. In addition, she spoke fluent English, German, Latin and Comanche.
If one thing positive could be said of Skye, she was capable, worked and labored energetically; never did she back down from a chore, no matter how dangerous or sullied the responsibility may be. Skye conducted herself with perseverance, motivation and efficiency with every task. Possibly, Skye’s trades in which she portrays in her vocation was why the vaqueros and cowboys did not object to having a woman as their jefe or boss, especially one so young.
The brief winters on the rancho were slow and peaceful, however once spring arrived there was much to accomplish. Presently since the weather had warmed to a tolerate degree and the snow on the plains had rapidity melted they had much work to do. During the winter the scores of cattle scattered with the wind, it was a comprehensively wearisome chore collecting the steers, branding the new calves, separating the breeding heifers from the bulls, counting heads and selecting particular cattle for the spring drive to the railhead. The spring drive generally takes approximately two to three months to complete, traveling at an average progression of ten to the extent of twenty-four miles per day. At most, times the drives began in early spring opposed to later when the waterways were flooded by melting snow from high in the mountains. Thus departing in early spring, the rivers and streams were shallow and easier to cross for the tiresome cattle and wranglers. Also with cooler temperatures, there is less likelihood in encountering ferrous thunderstorms, hence less chance of stampede, subsequently saving substantial losses of cattle.
As jefe Skye had many responsibilities most importantly was the day-to-day running of the rancho, which Skye had accountability adopted two years ago when her father, Agustín Luís Valdez Gutiérrez left. Gladly though, word came to the rancho last month from her father, by a waylaid soldiers carrying correspondence to the construction site of Fort Martin Scott. Agustín’s brief letter, spoke of his love, wellbeing and that he would be home soon. Which to everyone was a godsend; it was a blessing that Agustín had survived the war.
For Skye and her Tía Maria each day, month and year they went without word of Agustín safety, was agonizing. Each day she looked to the south for his return and each night she hope the next day would bring Agustín home. It would be good to have her papa home, Skye thought, although the contemplation of an unknown gringo woman occupying their casa was unsettling. Agustín it would seem had married a gringo.
The Anglo-Americans have controlled Texas since April of 1836, and Skye liked most Americans, however frankly she would rather not have one as a stepparent. Actually, Skye would rather not any stepparent at all. Agustín had been her companion, mentor, teacher and friend all of sixteen years, she supposed all would change now the gringo woman has arrived.
Scolding herself for her negative attitude toward her new step-Madre Skye reached the raise overlooking the rancho approximately half a mile away, Skye pulled her mount to a halt. Three freight wagons paralleled the long veranda, which extended the full length of the sprawling hacienda. There were possibly a dozen men laboring to unload cargo and were carrying into the house.
Hearing a rider advancing from behind her, defensively Skye drew her pistol. Upon seeing a winded Eddie riding towards her, she re-holstered her weapon. Guiltily, Skye frowned, for she should have known Eddie would have followed. Greeting the older man with an affectionate but apologetic smile. “What took you so long, Eddie?”
Eddie Marks – the ranch foreman, godfather to Skye and Agustín’s oldest friend, was the kindest most dependable man she knew. He was also her right hand; Skye did not know how she would have coped during Agustín’s absence if not for Eddie. When Agustín went off to war, Skye at the age of sixteen took over the running of the rancho, with Eddie’s gentle coaching she excelled to everyone’s surprise. Now at eighteen Skye ran the operation with efficiency, the vaquero and cowhands valued her guidance, knowledge and evenhandedness.
“Dang it all, gal. I’d wish ya ain’t been takin’ off like ya done. Ya skinned outta there afore I even got my ass off that there log. Ol’ Spot here ain’t as fast as yare Sam an' I ain’t neither.” Eddie breathlessly objected as he reined in his appaloosa to a halt. Absently he glanced down at the activity below and let out a curse. “What in holy hell’s goin’ on down there? Yare ol’ man came back with the army.”
The disapproval written on Eddie’s brow, gave Skye cause to worry. In agreement, Skye replied, “I guess we better go see what is going on, si.”
“It ain’t goin’ ta be good, that’s for dang sure,” Eddie shouted as Skye raced down the hill.
Riding through the gates into the compound of the rancho, Skye took in all the upheaval. There were numerous boxes, crates, chests, furniture on and around the wagons. Had Agustín gone on a shopping spree, spending money that she had worked the last two years to save?
They dismounted at the veranda. Oblivious to the attention she received from the workers, Skye stroked Sam’s smooth black coat, as Eddie yell at Dave to attend to their horses. From the hard fast ride, the wind had left her hair it in a wild array, which traveled down to her slender waist. Since it was a mild evening, she had unbuttoned her coat revealing young full breasts through her damp burgundy shirt.
Ignorant of the workers lustful stares, Skye obliviously continued to speak sweetly to her beloved Sam, obvious nervous of her pending reunion with Agustín. Eddie noticed the freight workers attention and was not happy that his goddaughter was at the attention of several vigorous men, he grabbed Skye by the arm. “Come on gal,” he ordered in his regular loud voice as he hauled her to the house.
Their little Skye had grown into a stunningly beautiful young woman, Eddie thought, whom he noticed had begun to attract lustful stares. Just recently Eddie had scolded the boys when he overheard them discussing Skye in such a manner other than her efficiency as their Boss. Disapproving of their observance, although it caused Eddie to look at Skye through eyes other than a parent. The outcome was rather unsettling. Her mouth – Eddie feared – was too damned alluring by far, womanly curves that had virtually developed over night and waist-length russet wavy hair that begged a man’s touch. However, Skye’s smoky grey eyes – identical to Agustín’s – enhanced her loveliness, giving her a mysterious appearance. If possible, Skye in her simplicity – without the fancy gowns and expensive jewels that most women of her class wore – was breathtaking.
Skye strongly resembled her mother, Dona Isabella Valencia Cortez Farreadas de Valdez, she was a beautiful woman with delicate features and smooth flawless skin, however she died thirteen years ago of pneumonia. Skye opposite to Isabella but none the less exquisite, had from years worked under the strong Texan sun causing her naturally olive skin to bronze. On most women, even the slightest color would be regarded as unflattering and extremely inappropriate, but not Skye, she shone with radiance and vitality.
Steering Skye hastily into the house, Eddie glance furiously at the workers. For countless times since reading Gus’s letter, he could not help shake the feeling that a forewarned disaster awaited them. Skye was excessively stubborn, independent and strong-willed. She will not readily accept another woman in her father’s life or her house. God help them if the woman was lacking in some way.
Frowning at Eddie’s impetuosity, Skye had no idea what caused his sudden change of attitude. Although as she entered into the enormous foyer she calmed.
It was commented several times by visitors of feeling the strange sensation of divine salutation and awe, upon entering their home.
The casa built by Agustín’s father Don Enrique Nicolás Castillo y Valdez, remarkably was constructed in just over three years on savage precarious and desolate terrain. Enrique and his men battled violent cold winters, scorching hot summers, sickness and Indian attacks from the Apaches and Comanche’s. Perceptually the result was breathtaking hence named La Fiera Belleza.
The rectangular foyer graced the polished red stone flooring and white gleaming walls, to the right from the large double oak doors was the office and library; to the left was the sitting room, which connected the ladies room. Directly before the foyer was the large parlor, where the family convened for special occasions or simply after a pleasant meal to relax for the evening. The elegant abode also was granted with a games room, a formal dining room, breakfast room and a men’s room. Skye’s favorite was the grand ballroom, which Don Enrique constructed several years after the house was completed for the wedding of his eldest daughter, Marta. The casa fundamentally had four guest bedrooms, which exited out to a lush green courtyard and in the families private section of the casa; six bedrooms encircled another smaller courtyard. Both were graced with various types of foliage and cascading spring fed well, which dominated the center of the open courts; this facilitated the dwelling with fresh cool water.
Walking into the parlor rich dark wood flooring and brilliant white wall, oversized comfortable leather settees and affluent wood tables would meet ones approval. Yet not this day – the spacious parlor looked not as it should, contained the cargo from the wagons outside. Leaving little room to move, disagreeably Skye looked around the room attempting to find resemblance; even the familiar scent of lemon oil and leather was lost in the clutter.
Glancing at the opposite doorway, she gasped. Agustín stood quietly observing their arrival, with a questionable expression on his ruggedly handsome face. He appeared older, different yet the same which troubled her. Giving forth a childlike sob, Skye weaved her way through the boxes towards her papa’s waiting arms.
“I see Josh found you,” Agustín stated, his voice course with emotion.
Josh one of their ranch hands had indeed delivered the long awaited message, which Skye immediately abandoned her evening meal of beef stew and rock hard biscuits, saddled Sam and fled from camp eager to see her papa.
As familiar muscular arms encircled around her, Skye attempting clear her clogged throat, although she failed to speak. Understanding her difficulty, Eddie stepped forward and replied for Skye. “Yeah, we left him at the camp for the night.”
Smiling at his old friend, in greeting Agustín said, “Eddie, it’s good to see you!”
“Likewise, Gus! Gotta say though ol’ friend, ya look at bit ragged.”
“How’s everything been while I’ve been away?” Agustín asked the foreman, while holding his beloved daughter. “Any trouble?”
“Ain’t had no troubles, except I ain’t been callin’ them orders. The little gal is boss,” Eddie grinned.
Agustín gazed down at his delicately mature daughter. “Skye?”
“Good boss she is too. Roundup’s all but done, we haven’t lost us much cattle this winter, but them redneck injun' friends of yore’s took us for ten head last week. The huntin’ party was lead by Ten Bears. I’ll dang sure not be surprised if that buck rides in with a string of horses one day for our little Skye here. The boy’s sure sweet on her,” Eddie complained.
The Comanche warrior Ten Bears was the son of Chief Dancing Bear, whom was a long-standing friend of Agustín’s. Their misshaped friendship had come about seventeen years ago; it was steadfast and strong, as well as grounded by respect both men shared.
Dancing Bear discovered the dying Agustín laying beneath the scorching sun slowly dying from a rattlesnake bite. Bitten twice on the leg when he had been thrown from his horse. His traitorous mount long had run off, leaving Agustín desolate and unable to walk. For an unknown reason the warrior took the wound rancher to his village. Agustín would have died if not for the Comanche’s diligent care. Consequently, whenever Dancing Bear’s band of Pehnahterkuh Comanche needed fresh meat Agustín allowed them to take what they needed. A debt for a life, Agustín always explained his willingness to aid the Comanche. In turn, Dancing Bear provides protection from other Comanche clans, horses and hide.
“You and the boys didn’t give Ten Bears any problems?” Agustín worried.
“I ain’t that stupid. Ten Bears had with him fifteen braves, armed they was to the teeth. Them stayed long ‘nough to catch some grub and Ten Bears’s favorite coffee,” Eddie stated shaking his graying shaggy head. “I’m goin’ ta tell Betty I’m back, talk ta ya later Gus.”
“Si, that we will, Eddie. Gracias.”
With Eddie gone, Skye having found her voice asked, “How are you, Papa? Eddie is correct you do look ragged.”
“Dios, I’m glad to be home,” Agustín was astonished by her appearance. “You’re no longer that little niña I left behind, but a mujer all grown up.”
“That usually happens, Papa,” Skye said smiling. “It has been two years and I have missed you.”
Hugging her to him affectionately, Agustín groaned, “I have missed you too, novio.”
Skye stepped back needing to address what was on her mind. Watching him closely Skye noticed he appeared extremely tired and strangely nervous. Why? There was a difference in him, which she tried to put her finger on the peculiarity, although couldn't.
“Who is this woman you have married? It has been a long time since you last wrote, however you mentioned not of a woman friend, which you had an interest.”
An awkward silence stretched. He avoided her gaze, glancing everywhere but into her worried grey eyes. Vigilant, Skye suspected that not all was right with Agustín. Finally, Skye realized the difference in her beloved father; gone was the twinkle of laughter and worth his eyes, replaced with bitterness and suppressed anger.
Had war changed him so?
Why did he marry a gringo?
Why was he distance and cold?
When Agustín finally spoke his tone dropped to that of a whisper. “Her name is Linda. I met her in a military hospital. Her brother was the surgeon there. I was hurt in battle and the good Doctor Barclay patched me up.”
“You were hurt?” Skye exclaimed, checking Agustín for injuries. “Why did you not sent word, we would have come? Are you all right? How did you …”
Raising his hand, Agustín stated tonelessly as if it was insignificant. “No need to worry, for I am fine. I received a musket ball in the shoulder,” Abruptly his expression warmed, “You are beautiful, novio. Just like your Madre.”
Staring at the painting of her mother that hung over the fireplace, fashioned the same year her parents were married, when Isabella was the same age as Skye was now. Selfishly, it pained Skye knowing her father had turned to another woman. Although, Agustín was still a young man, it was not fair that Skye would expect him to continue his life alone. After all Isabella had been gone for thirteen years. Yet he did not act like a man in love.
“When were you wed?”
“Three months ago, it was a quiet ceremony with a few friends and Linda’s brother,” Agustín replied forcefully.
“I would have liked to be present,” Skye disappointingly said.
“I know, novio, although it couldn’t be helped.” Agustín said giving her a kiss on the cheek, “You had better bathe. At dinner you will meet Linda.”
“Si, Papa,” Skye said as she kissed him on the cheek.
Agustín watch Skye with a heavy heart striding from the room. He hated bringing grief into her home. He hated associating his pure and gentle daughter with a disturbing creature like Linda Barclay. If only he could … no he couldn’t, he wouldn’t. Skye would look at him with hate and disgust in her bright trusting eyes, for what he had done...
If only he had not joined the Texas Rangers. If only he hadn’t, unknowingly involved himself with his vicious spiteful wife. Yet he had and nothing he did could change the path he had walked.
When the call for arms spread across Texas, at the time, the choice for Agustín to join the American-Mexican War was a complex decision, leaving him torn. Divided loyalties; Agustín’s descendants were blue-blooded Spanish aristocracy, loyal to the Spain crown, however most of his acquaintances were Texas born Americans.
When Mexico gained independence from Spain on December sixteenth, 1821, their struggle for freedom had brought the new nation into a severe financial decline. Needing an income the Mexico government devised a plan to colonize the provincia el Texas, northeast of the Rio Grande, therefore the region was opened for Anglo-American settlers. Hence, hundreds of settlers flocked to Province of Texas although not without conditions were the settlers allotted property. Each settler had to accept the conversion to the catholic faith, pay taxes and pledging an allegiance to the Republic of Mexico. However, they weren’t granted any government services or the protection of the Mexican ejército, army.
With no protection against outlaws and Indians, Stephen Austin established the Texas Rangers, in 1823. The rangers were enlisted to range over the Anglo-American communities along the borders. The rangers did such a superb job that by 1835, the population had expanded to thirty-five thousand Anglo-Americans living in Texas. With the twelve years flood of Anglo-American emigration progressively borderlines were pushed to the limited and sometimes surpassed. At that time, the Mexican government tried to reassert control, however, they failed.
Furthermore, because of mutual ethnic prejudice between the Mexicans and Anglo-Americans, the active use of slavery that the Mexican government disallowed and the continued invasion of Comanche territory that violated the Mexican/Comanche treaty, the Mexicans stopped all Anglo-American immigration.
Rebelling against self-proclaimed dictator Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna’s authority Texian or Tejona, as the Anglo-Americans became known, they formed a revolution against Mexico. Many skirmishes happen between the Anglo-Americans and Mexico from May 1835 to April 1836. The worst and most dismissible of the skirmishes was at the Alamo in San Antonio.
Originally name Mission San Antonio de Valero; the Alamo was built in 1724 by Father Antonio de San Buenaventura y Olivares, to Christianize the local Indians. For seventy years, the mission conducted business until 1793, when the Spanish government legally dissolved the mission and distributed ownership of its lands and buildings to the remaining residents. The Spanish military cavalry stationed in San Antonio renamed the mission as the Alamo, meaning cottonwood. San Antonio and the Alamo were taken by Texian and Tejona volunteers, led by Bed Milan on December 1835.
William Barret Travis in command of approximately one hundred eighty nine men battled the Mexican army at the Alamo for thirteen days, from February twenty-third to March sixth 1836. They fought desperately, regardless the Alamo fell and all within. Antonio Lopez de Santa Anna gave no quarter to the surrendering of any Texian or Tejona; he murdered all as they pleaded under surrender under a white flag.
Subsequently, Sam Houston led a countered attack against Santa Anna’s army, at the Battle of San Jacinto on April twenty-one, 1836. While the Mexicans relaxed for a siesta, his nine hundred and eighteen men attacked the unsuspecting camp. Santa Anna was taken captive the next day where he hid in the brushes, he agreed to recognize Texas independence and ordered all Mexican troops out of Texas.
In the months after the removal of Santa Anna’s army and the recognition of Texas as an independent, Agustín’s father Enrique Valdez became openly discontented with the Mexican government while they conducted the administration of the country. With a new power at the helm, gradually their loyalties shifted to support the new government and the United States of America. Despite the consequences some of his Spanish-Mexican hypocritical acquaintances whom had stayed loyal to Mexico, refuse to acknowledge the Valdez Family for their decisions. Their standpoint caused them little notoriety, mostly by the Mexican democrats in San Antonio, whom disliked everything American and called them traitor. Agustín suspected, but could not prove, that they were responsible for his mother and father’s carriage accident and death the same year.
While indignation over the merciless butchery by the Mexicans increased in the years since. Pro-nationalism and anti-Mexican opinions rose by staggering degrees. Furthermore, there was confusion where the actual border between Texas and Mexico was located. Again, this caused a large amount of friction. The Mexico believed the boundary was at the Nueces River, the Texians believed it to be at the Rio Grande.
In the later months of 1845, the United States granted Texas annexation, infuriating Mexico more. Furthermore, in Washington President James K. Polk by Manifest Destiny vowed to bring California under American rule. The United States government offered twice to purchase California, Mexico, whom was in severe financial decline unwisely, rejected both offers. On April twenty-fifth 1846, expectedly war was declared between America and Mexico on soil that both counties claimed.
Agustín joined the Texas Rangers that June for various reasons – to avenge his parents alleged murder, for his newfound country and his political views. He rode with his good friend Maxwell Kincaid.
The Untied States army, navy and the Texas Rangers quickly crippled Mexico with unvarying blows from both oceans and land attacks. The Texas Rangers were the first to battle the Mexicans lead by John Coffee Hays, along the Rio Grande. While the army, commanded by Colonel Stephen Kearny invaded from Santa Fe through Mexico and on to California. General Zachary ‘Old Rough and Ready’ Taylor defeated Mexican forces at the Texas boarder and gradually moved south.
The United States navy seized the towns of Monterey and Los Angeles. General Winfield Scott invaded from the Gulf of Mexico, landing near the town of Veracruz in March of 1847 with twelve thousand men. He swiftly captured the town. Continuing his march to Mexico City, his forces reached the capital that August and after a siege of three weeks, they entered Mexico City on the fourteenth day of September.
Agustín was two days away from being release from hospital when they announced the end of the war. The joy he felt upon seeing his beloved home and family again kept him from feeling the pain in his aching shoulder. On that night, he awoke from a deep sleep to realize that he was trapped.
If only he had not gone to war. He would not have done such an unspeakable act. He would never have encountered Linda Barclay.
Greeting Maria with a kiss on her flushed cheek. “Hola, Tía. How have you been?”
“Bueno días, sobrina,” Maria smiled happily, so very glad she was that Skye had returned.
Moving to the dry sink, Skye announced, “I’m going to boil some water for a bath. If that is okay?”
“Si, you smell malo.”
Skye laughed for she knew she smelt bad, but while on the range with the men, they all smelled awful therefore, her odor wasn’t noticeable. Filling up the two kettles, she hung them over the glowing fire in the large heart. Skye pulled out the big brass tub from the corner then waited for the water to heat.
Leaning next to Maria watching her work, Skye inquired, “I hope you weren’t too lonely while I was gone?”
Always concerned for Maria alone in the big house, while she was away, for Skye was sometimes gone for weeks at a time. Although there was Eddie’s wife, Betty, nearby and several of the men that usually stay within the walls of the rancho, Skye still worried. Yet, Maria was most happy when she was at the rancho. Hardly ever did she leave the sanctuary of the partial walled compound, not since coming to the rancho at the age of eleven.
Maria Cristiana Farreadas Núñez had once lived with her parents in their large hacienda outside El Paso. He father operated a freighting company from Mexico City to Galveston, which was a thriving business. Yet all changed when a band of ruthless outlaws attacked Maria’s casa early one morning bent on robbery, rape and murder. Maria only lived because her mother pushed her into the cellar at the onset of the assault.
Watching through the cracks in the floorboards as her parents plead for their lives. Maria heard her mother’s haunting screams when they slit her father’s throat. She heard the gurgling sound as he drowned on his own blood. She felt the blood sticky warmness of his blood as it dripped through the floorboards and pooling on to the cellar floor around her as she huddled motionless below the carnage.
Maria witnessed her mother’s exploitation; raped by all seventeen outlaws. After hours of gorging themselves on the food her mother prepared, drinking her fathers’ wine and passing her mother between them, they shot her between the eyes. Her mother’s blood mixed with her father’s dipping through the boards. Throughout the attack, Maria remained quiet. She remained in the cellar long after her parents took their last breathe, long after the renegades left taking everything of value, leaving death and destruction behind. She was found walking aimlessly by a neighbor, covered in the blood of her parents.
Isabella, being Maria’s cousin and only remaining living relative, save for an elderly aunt whom lived in a convent, rushed to Maria’s side. The older cousin took Maria under her wing, yet Maria remained in a trance failing to speak for several months, not until Skye was born did she come back to life. Winning the battle to overcome her depression and the horrific death of her parents, Maria grew to love La Fiera Belleza.
When Isabella died and then a year later Enrique and Carmen, Maria single handedly picked up the pieces of their shattered life, taking care of the running of the house, preparing the meals – whatever was needed Maria did. Maria brought joy back into the house by her sunny disposition, kind temperament and love.
“Alone ¡Dios mío! How can I be alone with those gringo women invading my casa? They make plans to move this and change that. Your Padre and that gringo mujer argued about the removal of Isabella’s painting and other items two nights ago. Shaking the house with their bulla, they did. How that bruja won your father over … vergonzoso! The amo told me this morning, he would take the picture down because it troubles the señora. I do not like the mujer! She does not deserve a man such as your father. I tell you nothing good will become from this arregló,” Maria exclaimed, banging the spoon she was holding on the counter top.
At thirty Maria was an extremely beautiful woman her sable hair shone thick and healthy down to her slim waist, her petite features graced large expressive chocolate colored eyes, against smooth flawless olive skin. Her disposition was usually pleasant and endearing; however, none could be said of Maria’s mood this day.
Shocked at her Tía’s outburst. Skye had never had heard Maria utter a harsh word about anyone, nevertheless, calling Agustín an amo, master and his new wife a bruja, witch.
Attempting to calm Maria, Skye threw an arm around her shoulder, hugging her slightly. “I am the first to voice my displeasure of papa’s new wife, but I’ve never seen you this annoyed before Tía. We should give it time for everyone to adjust to the new way of things. Although I have yet to meet her, I’m sure this has been an adjustment for her, also.”
Maria laughed crudely at Skye’s naivety. “You will see. The evilness of this woman is visible for all to see. She will destroy Agustín’s goodness, if it is not too late.”
Grinning Skye nudge Maria with her shoulder, “Jealous are you, Tía?” Although, Skye was only teasing, unbeknownst she was exactly right.
Stepping away for her niece, turning her back, Maria concealed her reaction to Skye’s jesting. Loathing the actuality of Skye’s words Maria could not remember a time when she had not loved Agustín Valdez, although out of the memory of her cherished cousin, she never took her love any further. She certainly had not thought he would marry again, especially to a gringo woman like Linda Barclay. The thought of that puta touching Agustín was too agonizing to reflect upon.
Maria knew she would never marry, therefore if she went to the convent, like her Tía, to become a nun would matter less to her. Yet she longed to flee from the pain of seeing Agustín with another woman, she would stay for Skye, who was more daughter to her than if she had a child of her own loins. However, in actuality if she never saw Agustín again, it would kill her. Something had to change for the current situation was causing Maria to be short-tempered, which was unlike her.
“I cannot abide to this arregló,” Maria unknowingly exploded.
“What are you saying?” Skye exclaimed.
Regretting her outburst, Maria stood behind Skye combing out the knots in her hair, “just talking out loud sobrina, do not preocupación. It is just that mujer… I see evil, in her colorless eyes. I do not like seeing your Papa used by her spitefulness. I am just worried that is all?”
“He seems different, doesn’t he Tía? I guess it’s the effects of war.”
“Si, he is. I have never heard Agustín grito, bellow at anyone before, as he has these last few days. He yells with such enojar, anger.”
Picking up a biscuit, Skye sat down at the table thoughtfully chewing on the flaky dough, Whelan the cook should take tips on making biscuits from Maria, his rock hard biscuit were beginning to make her teeth ache. If her papa had, been yelling at his wife for, as Maria said the last few days, then how long had he been home?
Skye asked, “Maria, how long has Papa been home?”
“Over a week,” Maria said turning back to her cooking. “Por qué?”
Skye was surprised will Maria’s response. “A week! But … but Papa sent Josh to tell us he was back today. Why didn’t someone inform us before now?” Skye thought aloud.
“Did you talk to your Papa, sobrina?”
“Si, but he didn’t mention how long he has been home; I assumed he’d just arrived especial with all the wagons pulled to the front of the casa.”
“Maybe he didn’t know where your camp was. Or possibly he didn’t want you listening to the arguments,” Maria spat sarcastically.
“Possibly …” It was uncharacteristic of Agustín and it hurt to know that he would rather stay in the company of his new wife, although Skye could understand, but she hadn’t seen him for two years. “Tía, I forgot to ask Papa, why are so many wagons …?”
“The bruja!” Maria interrupted. “Bought some things from her home and also a mouthy gringo maid who thinks to order me, in my own casa.”
“We will just have to make the best of the situation, until we can get to know each other.” Skye stated with optimism.
“Have your bath, sobrina. I will get you clean clothes.” Maria kissed Skye on the cheek as she left.
Apprehensive and leery from what Maria had told her, Skye silently watched the couple making a dramatic entrance. Linda Barclay Valdez looked the very picture of a rich man’s wife wearing a shimmering silver evening gown with short tapered selves and a high waist. She was simple in appearance, pale and exceedingly skinny and if Skye were being candid, she would admit that Linda was unattractive. She wore her blonde hair swept up upon her head in a mass of ringlets encircling petite, sharp features. Her eyes were an unusual dull murky blue – colorless as Maria mentioned. Her bony nose was relatively large for her small face, which cause her to look almost bird-like. Shockingly Skye notice her thin lips and cheeks were unnaturally red. The woman sported face paint! Skye had only seen whores paint their faces, never had she seen a so-called highborn lady wearing cosmetics.
The earrings and necklace Linda wore were lovely, matching her silver gown completely. Then suddenly Skye started with belated astonishment – the earrings and necklace had belonged to her mother. Looking over at Maria, standing by the far service door, Skye saw she too had observed the priceless jewels Linda wore.
The set had been made for Isabella’s coming-out ball. It sported a large inset pearl surrounded by a cluster of small crescent diamonds set in white gold, with the identical earrings to match the necklace. The fact that Agustín let Linda wear the jewels was a blasphemy towards his former wife. Even though, Skye couldn’t remember Isabella she was still her mother and demanded her respect, as should Agustín. Deciding to speak with Agustín later, Skye remained quite.
In whole, Linda Barclay’s peculiar and disprovable appearance wasn’t what shocked Skye, glancing at Agustín, when Maria and then back at the young woman who they told was now her stepmother. Biting her tongue from voicing her displeasure over having a stepmother, a few years older than herself. Not realizing she was staring until Linda spoke in a tone as if she were speaking to a small child, did Skye become vigilant.
“Hello Skye, I have heard a lot about you from your papa. Although he failed to tell me your true age, I was thinking I would meet a little girl,” Linda droned, as she moved forward.
Choking on Linda nauseating perfume, Skye stepped away. Suppressing the urge to stroke her aching temples. Each word Linda spoke grated on Skye’s nerves, the annoying woman had a high-pitched voice, which vibrated Skye’s eardrums giving forth an instant headache or was it the repulsive odor that the woman emanated, she knew not.
“Austin dear, why didn’t you tell me what a pretty little thing she is? With the right apparel …,” Linda droned onward. Skye refused to listen, there were people in Fredericksburg and San Antonio whom have tried to change her; she wouldn’t listen to them either. However, the manner in which Linda was looking at Skye with brazen disgust as she assessed Skye from her scuffed boots, up her trouser clad legs to her work worn green shirt and finally to her braided black hair, grated further on Skye nerves. “… and her hair dressed just so she could be … mm well … somewhat pretty.”
Immediately she became enraged by Linda’s criticism of her attire. She was trying hard to be polite, however when the woman spoke of her as if she were not present, Skye’s will to lash out was teetering on the edge of no return. Supposing that she would wear her gun belt to dinner tomorrow night, wouldn’t that certainly cause a ruckus, Skye mischievously thought. Nevertheless, Skye merely put on a pleasant smiled and said, “It so nice to meet you Linda, welcome to La Fiera Belleza. I hope you will enjoy it here.”
Her pink lips turned up into a calculated smile, “Call me step-mama, it is more appropriate. Your father tells me this room is hardly ever used. It is such a lovely room; it is a shame no one has benefited from it magnificence, until that is we arrived here last week.” Skye was taken aback by her obvious reminder that they had arrived the week before. With a knowing smirk Linda continued, “Skye please go to your new room and put on one of the lovely dresses that your father and I brought for you. It is not near the quality that one can gain in Paris or New York but it was the best we could get in such short notice.”
“I’m more comfortable with what I’m wearing, Linda.” Turning to her father, “why don’t we sit before the food gets cold, Papa?”
Not happy being abruptly dismissed by an ill-mannered girl Linda obstinately probed further, “Excuse me Skye my dear, young ladies such as yourself do not wear male attire. Especial to dinner, is that not right Austin.” She waited until Agustín obediently nodded his head, until she persistently began anew, “Quickly run along and change into one of the gowns. Maria can take the food back to the kitchen and keep it hot, until Skye dresses according to her station.”
Skye laughed from peer shock, “Damn you have balls. Sorry but no. The food is on the table and I’m so hungry I can eat the hind ass of a steer.”
“Cielo Susana Isabella Constantina Valdez.” Agustín yelled then instantly he calmed. Smiling tightly Agustín asked, “Humor me, novio.”
“Sorry yet no, Papa. I have missed my first dinner this night, when Josh arrived with your tardío summons; I won’t miss another. I’m exhausted for being on the trail for weeks and I’m not about to wait to eat.” Skye stood ready for a fight as she stared back at her father. “Am I not wearing the clothes I have always worn? I won’t go back to my room …” Turning to Linda, Skye served her with a hostile stare. “What did you mean by saying my new room?”
“Oh yes,” She had the audacity to laugh. “I have taken the room adjoining to your fathers. I of course am the lady of the house and such should use the mistresses bedchambers. She …,” Linda pointed at Maria, “… put your belongings in another room.”
Seeing his daughters anger mounting Agustín commanded in Spanish, “Skye it’s just a room and unfortunately she is right.”
“Whatever you command papa,” Skye said between clenched teeth.
Agustín said as he pulled out a chair for Linda, assisting her into the seat. “Bueno. Although Skye, tomorrow night wear a dress?”
Deliberately replying in Spanish, Skye smiled brightly, “We will talk more on the subject, padre. Tomorrow.”
“Bueno.” Finally, with everyone seated Agustín began to say grace, “Heavenly Fath … “
“Maria … oh, sorry dear,” putting her hand on top of Agustín’s and smiled sweetly at him with her whore pink lips. “Maria, should you not eat in the kitchen?”
Before a stunned, Maria could reply Skye said, “No Linda! My Tía … my Aunt! She will not eat in the cookhouse.”
“Austin?” Linda said in her high-pitched voice, smiling sweetly, which was making Skye sick, “Where I come from servants do not eat with the gentry?”
“Sirviente!” Maria squeaked.
“Sorry Maria,” Agustín said apologizing to Maria for his wife’s impoliteness, “Linda, Maria is not a servant; she is a member of this family and household. A cousin of my former wife and Skye’s aunt, she is family. This is her home. Maria has chosen by her own free will to manage the house.” Once again, he began to say grace only to have Linda interrupt for a second time. “¿qué quieres?” Agustín shouted, causing Skye and Maria to jump in surprise.
“Excuse me.” Linda spoke with contempt, “Austin I have told you before I do not know Spanish, therefore speak English!”
“Linda amongst my immediate family; meaning Skye, Maria and I we speak Spanish. Get used to it.”
“Austin dear, I do not know the language.” Linda said again with the same sickly sweet smile.
“Another matter I wish to address, Austin, should not the management of the house fall on to your wife, being my job?”
“No! This is not a Manor House from that you are accustomed, but a working rancho. Maria not only manages this hacienda, but the bunkhouse also. For the sake of my rancho, Maria will continue to do as she has always done. Is that final?” He said between clenched teeth. “Let us eats while the food is still … warm.”
They silently began to dish food on their plates, forgoing with grace for there was nothing anyone could thank the lord for this meal, save for the departure of one ugly, smelly gringo.
Skye sat discreetly watched her madrastra. Although she was starving, food was the last thing she could stomach. Something grated on her nerves regarding Linda; it was not in the way she talked in her high pitch voice or what she wore or her appearance. No, it was something else she could not put her finger on.
Skye glanced at Maria who was unusually quiet and pale. Staring down at her plate, Maria toyed with the rapidly cooling food.
Agustín asked, “Are you not hungry Maria?”
Startled Maria answered too quickly, “Si … No! If you would not mind, I would like to be excused. Bueno noche, amo.”
The significance of the label master, did not go unnoticed by Agustín. The sad look on his face was proof of such acknowledgement. “Si, bueno noche,” said Agustín.
Finishing as much as she was going to eat, Skye said, “If you don’t mind I would like to be excused also?”
“Por favor, Padre.”
“Si. Buenos noches Skye.”
“Buenas noches Padre.” Skye deliberately spoke her native language.
Maria followed Skye back to the cookhouse, as soon as Maria had closed the door Skye erupted, “I don’t like her Tía. Phony is what she is. And how old is she, anyway? She can’t be much older than me?” Skye all but screamed, “And oh … Did you see what she was wearing. I will tear the jewels off her boney neck.”
“Si. It is a as I told you.”
“Mother’s jewels! How could father give mother’s jewels to another woman?”
Forgetting her own pain Maria tried to ease the hurt Skye’s was feeling from Agustín’s betrayal. “Sobrina, your father is a good man. He has gone through a difficult time.”
“Obviously he was a good man. I’m sorry Tía and the way she treated you was unforgivable.”
“You should not be sorry.”
“No, you’re right padre should be.”
“Sit, Sobrina, I will make coffee, and we will wait to clear the dining room when they leave.”
Sitting down hard on a wooden chair, Skye exhaled loudly. After living on the rancho all her life, with mostly men except from Marie and Betty. She had not had any dealings with women especially of Linda’s quality – superiorly snobbish, sarcastic and disrespectful. Linda presented the facet of the prefect ‘lady’, although Skye sensed a shrewd, sinful nature behind her perfected exterior.
Living in the same house as Linda Barclay was going to be worse than Skye originally thought......