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The rugged cowboy upon the handsome roan flinched in the sweeping dust wind that wrapped around the red rock rim. He was suddenly challenged to stay in the saddle, as the animal first buckled, then reared on his hind legs. Far to the west, the boundless plain hosted a mere dot of a moving object—Carson Windstone glimpsed it as his steed’s front hooves planted back into the sod. A dim wisp that far away should not have ignited such a fire in a gentle stallion like Drybones.
            Carson’s thirst for adventure, which knew no limits, goaded him to ride toward the mysterious figure; the lure of curiosity had forever burned the cowboy. He rode like a gallant knight, clad in timeless buckskin, and the gait of the roan seemed more a haunted, poetic gallop than an open, thundering run.
            During that flurry of hammering horse’s hooves, the blistering desert heat brought the smell of sweat and leather to a simmering reality. All this as the quarry loomed larger and larger in Carson’s line of sight. What he saw at last caused him to wince, pull on his reins, and writhe in the saddle, for before him gyrated a puzzling theater of horse and rider―stragglers now, though perhaps they had started out in pursuit of wild and whimsical romance.
            A woman!  The rider was a woman! She wrestled with the threads of consciousness—fading in, fading out—as her head dangled, a hapless appendage, to a body clinging to a restless dun that shifted first here, then there. The sight of her frightened Carson, and straightway he plummeted to earth.
            “Hey!!  Can you hear me?! What’s the matter?!”
Before he could reach the phantom rider, she’d pitched to earth in the last gasp of capitulation and struck her head on a jagged sand rock.
            “Ohhhhh,” trickled a feeble groan from the poetry that was her mouth.
            “Oh, god!” Carson exclaimed. “Is she dead?” Then she moaned, moved her lips up and down, then side to side. “She’s alive!! How could she possibly be…her lips! They’re movin’!!”
            He looked down at her face as she lay sprawled in the sand. She was young, with hair flowing a blood scarlet, as the flames of a raging prairie fire; her hair was so red it paled the blush of the roses that bloomed in the spring. Poets from time immemorial may have written about her tresses, but no matter—Carson figured that here lay the most ungussied-up hunk of woman he’d ever seen.
            Blood oozed from the wound just above her forehead. He got out a canteen of water, and sat down beside her in the sand, fumbling, groping the hot, thin air for a hint of what to do. More than anything, he felt, he needed to calm down. But as he sat there, befuddled, an errant dust devil arrived at his feet, hesitated, muzzled him in a hail of sand and debris, then vanished into the lost pockets of the sage and the prickly pear. The residue from the dust cloud made him sneeze, and when he again turned his attention to the girl, he was sputtering out dust particles and rubbing his eyes.
            Frustration gouged him full bore. He jumped back to his feet, fetched a tattered cotton cloth from his saddlebag, and returned to her side. He hesitated; he raised her head, put the folded cloth under it, and grabbed the canteen.
            “Yes, yes!!” he exclaimed. “I’ll put some water to ‘er lips and try to revive ‘er! Maybe that’ll do it!”
            The confused dun telegraphed his frustration―he pranced about, tossed his head and snorted, even as the sun bore down a scorching fever as prickly as the jumping cholla that bled into the lonesome soapweed flats. Suddenly, a rustling in the brush nearby caused Carson to panic, and the flash of his hand swished in the toasty desert air. And when the business end of his .44 cleared the shadow of leather, it, too, cut the wind, but the report was not to be.
            “Whew!” he sighed.
            Still in the flexed position, he watched a sage hen flush from the mesquite and taxi into the shadows.
            But precisely who was this intriguing fellow called Carson Windstone?  A lordly cowhand was he, a real pathfinder in every sense of the word. Now, true it was that he stood six four in his bare feet, but in some abstract sense he cast a shadow across four western states. He was also dangerously handsome; he might well have been a prince out of the Arabian Nights. His pine-knot virility had made him the envy of all men and the babbling obsession of women in every quarter of the desert wilderness.
            This fearless caballero, with shoulders so broad, wore a quixotic panache, a rakish yellow bandanna, and a large sombrero that was so tall he couldn’t tiptoe under a rainbow without getting the colors of the spectrum all over it. Here stood a real cowboy whose intense eyes beaconed a fierce intelligence, and many thought he could see tomorrow in the shadow of today. Whispers abounded all across the sage country that this robust caballero had never had the courage to back down from a fight. He laughed in the face of death, and it was said that death feared to face him—and his laughter.
            But the woman…
          Actually, his meeting with this beautiful maiden, to whom he must now administer medical attention, had been foretold to him in a dream―a daydream of sorts. The day before, while he stood in the shadow of a cottonwood tree, he looked beyond the restless cloud clusters and saw her, just above the range some called The Mountains in the Lonesome Wind.  High above the range, high above the wind troughs where eagles glide, he saw her in the garden of the courtyard of a castle in the clouds.
            In her blazing red hair she wore a large red rose, and she moved so delicately in her daring red dress embellished in old Spanish lace.  Then she looked down at him, discovered him leering at her from his earthly perch among the grit and the sand, and knighted him with the lyrical strangeness that forever glows around a woman of such surpassing beauty.  Her dazzling womanhood, and the piercing gleam in her eye, completed her conquest of him. She blew him a kiss and a capful of wind to savor the magic of the moment, and his heart pounded.
            Was it merely a dream?  It seemed so real! Was this lady lying beside him in the sand Venus descended from a placid portrait in the sky?  Was she now here in the flesh to embody the romantic reverie that fluttered his heart within the mystique of that dream?  He stood tall for a moment and looked away to the westward mountains, while she drifted through his mind like a tumbleweed.
            But the girl, who lay unconscious in the sand and the sage, required immediate attention! Carson grimaced with momentary indecision, then poured the water across her lips in a most ticklish, titillating way. This, he believed, afforded the best chance of bringing her back to consciousness. But after a thorough moistening of those lips, which Carson found more enticing, more alluring at every tick of time, the girl evidenced no staple of life. He steadied the dun, then hoisted the maiden dressed in a calico shirt, buckskin riding britches and cowhide boots, across the animal. He pondered the urgency of getting her out of the sun, into cooler, more suitable quarters. Without question, this task attained to his highest priority.
            Her condition was critical―time drew down, a menacing companion, compelling him to procure for her the most comfortable accommodations a struggling cowboy could find way out in the Badlands on such short notice. But since he lacked formal medical training, he’d just have to follow the dictates of his intuition.
            Suddenly, he remembered that not far away stood an old abandoned cabin where he sometimes stayed when on furlough from the vast cattle ranch where he’d done some serious wrangling over the past several years. He had put up in that shriveling shanty not so long ago, as a matter of fact. It was just that, in his frenzy to save the girl, he’d temporarily forgotten the place. And considering the few options at his disposal, that dwindling rack of loose boards promised to be the best—indeed the only—choice for a quick infirmary.
            Phantom devils laced their savagery across Carson’s brow. These were the days of Geronimo, Nana (son-in-law of Victorio), and the myriad renegade Apache hordes that had vowed revenge against the advancing white settlers.  The winds of change had been unkind to the red man, and the favored mode of vengeance was to relieve the settlers of their scalps. With hostilities between the famed Buffalo Soldiers and the Apaches white hot, stragglers in the Southwest were forced to travel at their own peril. Under this cloud, Carson had little choice but to transport the sinking princess to the dubious quarters of the long sequestered cabin........
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