Phantom Suns

Phantom Suns

Linda Hines

The Metairie Cattle Company - Book Four

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Three suns in a dusky sky,

Omens whisper legends of old

Acts of nature the wise ones say

Phantom suns or phantom sons

Great dangers or great deeds

Or is this all simply an Illusion?

After suffering great loss, Galen Metairie vows to protect his family. But who is Archer, and why did he risk his life to save the rancher’s? And what is the boy’s connection to the ruthless renegade Moor?

 
PUBLISHED BY: Linda Hines
ISBN: 978-0-6151-5677-4
PUBLICATION DATE: 2009
WORD COUNT: 36483
SEXUAL CONTENT RATING: 2 2
EBOOK READER RATING:
CATEGORIES: Historical, Romantic Fiction, Western/Cowboys
KEYWORDS: historical, cowboy/western, adventure, romantic fiction
 

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EXCERPT
COPYRIGHT Linda Hines/2009
His whole heart and soul and life were hers …But never had he named it Love. – Thomas Carlyle

My turn.”

After giving his temporary quarters to Archer and living like an orphan for months, with no bed or room to call his own, Galen Metairie reclaimed his lair. Now empty save for that one oil painting which lived above the ornate mantel. Even the old draperies were gone. As he walked about the huge room, he was deluged with random thoughts, mostly of the past two years.

“Galen?”

He turned when he heard her voice, watching intently as she walked over to stand before him.

‘How moody his beautiful face,’ Mariah mused. “Of late my thoughts are dark,” he had whispered to her. The wedding at River Crossing Ranch, a time of happiness for the young people involved, seemed to trigger a flood of doubts for the tall gaunt man who stood before her now. She knew he wished only the best for Court and Lily, but he was also concerned for their safety. Even the mention of Moor’s name sent him into rage.

Galen perceived a threat. As such, he had increased security for the ranch. But he felt the greatest threat was to Mariah, and this triggered a particularly exaggerated reaction on his part. Whenever she was away from Metairie House, he seemed to fear he might lose her. ‘Then, I must always ride close by his side, when walking stay close to him always; but never be out of his sight.’

For the present, she did not object. ‘We shall work through this,’ she reasoned; for she understood his anxieties, just as he understood hers. This was not about control; but an evolution through his grief, through his memories. And now he had asked her to join him here.

He reached for her hand, just to give it a gentle squeeze; then drifted toward the window. Mariah watched him walk away. “How kind, Galen,” she murmured, “for you to give Lily and Court all your beautiful furniture.”

He turned to her. “No,” he stated, his voice clear and resonant; “Selfish on my part. Pragmatic.”

“And what do you mean by that?”

Some of his thoughts were bitter. ‘No matter how briefly, I shared that bed with Sable.’ And he frowned. ‘How I want to forget that episode in my life!’ But to Mariah he said, “Because I want to begin anew.” He smiled and reached for her hand: “With you.” Turning her palm upward, he touched her soft skin with his lips.

Deeply moved by his courtly gesture, sensing his playful mood, she contemplated this noble man with an enigmatic smile of her own.

Gently, he squeezed her hand before releasing it. “Mariah, may I ask?”

“Yes?”

“Will you help me to create a place of comfort and solitude ... for you and me? A place where we can gather with our boys ... the way we used to come together in this room ... as a family.”

She searched his expressive eyes, his gaunt face; so much was written there. Her voice was soft. “Of course.”

He gestured to the area before the hearth. “I would like a fireplace chair for both of us here, Mariah … and perhaps even a settee as well.” He turned to stroll around the vast room. “Choose whichever colors please you, m’dear,” he suggested. “We both prefer blues and greens, I know; perhaps augmented with those berry colors which you always seem to fancy.”

Mariah watched him, a soft smile lingering on her lips. She understood well his vision for the room ... as well as his words which remained unspoken. “And the furniture?”

“Ahhh ...” turning to her, he grinned. “How nice indeed for us, that an artisan such as Herr Roen chose to immigrate to America.”

“And that you convinced him to leave Chicago to bring his fine craftsmanship to our town.”

“No matter how rugged our territory now, my love,” he murmured. “Civilization will endure, advance. And it is men and women just like Herr Roen and his talented wife who will make it so.”

He moved to stand close before her. “I will take you into town to see how he is progressing with our furniture, Mariah,” he said quietly; “So that you may make your wishes known to him. The quality of his work, I know, will please you.”

So much between them still unsaid ... yet understood. Both so bound by honor. A symbol of their sensitivity, their acknowledgment to one they both loved; and their fierce determination to abide by custom. But the feeling was there ... strong, unconditional ... and so apparent to them both when she said to him, “Galen, it’s your furniture.”

He placed his fingers gently over her lips. Glancing up, she found his eyes fierce and burning, his voice hoarse. “This is no brother’s love I feel for you, Mariah.”

She heard his sharp intake of breath, saw him clench his hands as he stepped away from her.

Almost nine months had passed since that awful day.

Mariah turned to him in surprise. “Is this really necessary?” They were riding into Tribute Town to see Herr Roen about the furniture. When he went to fetch the horses, she expected to find him at the bottom of the stone steps quietly sitting Argent, holding Mythos’ reins in his hands. But instead, here he was awaiting her on the porch, while an “army” watched them from below.

“Yes.” His reply was blunt, as was the message he extended to all who would threaten those he considered his. He gestured toward his twenty armed riders awaiting them. “I no longer want you to leave the ranch without a proper escort.” They descended the ten stone steps. Accepting Mythos’ reins from Archer, he held her horse while she mounted, then handed Mariah her horse’s reins.

She did not pursue the matter, especially not in front of his men; but she did think he was overreacting. Sensing this, Galen placed his hand on her thigh and sought her eyes. “Please understand, dear,” he murmured. “This is not only for your protection, but I wish to make a point, as well.”

Though now known more often as Metairie Town by those in the territory who passed through or traded there, the individuals fortunate enough to call this prosperous community their home called their town by the name their benefactor had chosen.

Eloise Brownley swept the walk in front of her husband’s general store. ‘Our store,’ she thought proudly. They had shared long hours over the past two years establishing themselves here. Like Stewart, her husband, she heard the call of the untamed territory. They had yearned to move west, to make a fresh start in a new land for themselves and their little girl. Now she felt quite comfortable in this little community and considered Tribute Township her home.

They owed so much to Ruark Metairie’s foresight … and his financial support; not only for the building, but whatever supplies were needed until they could operate on their own. A service he had provided for other industrious folk as well.

With no conditions or restrictions; and no expectation of return. He had faith in the energetic individuals he had gathered together here … each family’s goal to become self-sustaining. For he felt in serving themselves, they would serve their community as well. Establishing its own civil authority, the determined individuals who comprised this community worked hard and prospered; welcoming other industrious newcomers to their group. Good people just like the cabinet makers, Christoph and Thekla Roen, who had emigrated from Vienna to build a better life for their family in the American southwest.

If the people thrived, the town would thrive. That was the vision of the man.

But now their benefactor was dead. Murdered … forfeiting his life to save the life of one of their own. Tribute Township mourned deeply this good man’s passing. Notified the funeral would be private, they had organized their own memorial service a week later to honor his memory. While his widow was unable to attend, all the Metairie men were there: Galen, Court and both of Ruark’s sons. Present also were many of the fine men from Alteza who had worked along side the people of this close-knit community to make their town … and their dream … a reality.

Afterwards, the townspeople did not know what to expect. Though he had been instrumental in the building of their homes, Galen Metairie had always been very reserved. They did not know him the way they knew his brother. Because the town was Ruark’s pet project: “For Mariah,” he would always say, with that cocky grin of his.

Oh, the regulars from the High Three still came into town for their supplies, riders to the saloon or sometimes to talk to the pretty girls. But those whose lives he had touched remembered nostalgically Ruark Metairie’s charismatic smile, his encouragement and praise for their accomplishments. And the way he would ask about this one’s ailment, or that one’s child.

He was missed … greatly.

So on that September morning, Eloise Brownley was surprised to see the large group riding down the wide dirt street; more surprised when Galen and Mariah Metairie pulled their horses up in front of their general store: For this was the first time Ruark’s widow had been to town since his passing. As the couple dismounted their escort of twenty or so riders did as well, dispersing all up and down the boardwalk. Quickly setting the broom back inside the building, the storekeeper’s wife wiped her hands on her apron. “Oh, Mariah, how nice to see you again! How long since you’ve come to town.”

“Yes, it has been a while, Eloise.” Her smile was soft.

“And you too, Galen!”

“Thank you, Eloise,” he said gravely, tugging his brim, nodding to her in his usual courtly fashion. Gesturing them both forward, he followed the ladies inside.

Hearing their voices, her husband hurried from the backroom. Friendly as always, he greeted them both. But the mood sobered when the Brownleys expressed their condolences once again. “We miss him, Mariah,” said the storekeeper quietly. “He made all of this” and he gestured to their well-furbished establishment “possible for us.”

But he did not say the words which he and his wife had expressed so many times before: How deeply these good folks were indebted to the Metairies for saving their daughter’s life. But Mariah and Galen understood … for now, connected by marriage, these two families were sharing other happier memories as well.

“I know, Stewart.” Her soft smile was bittersweet. “But that was Ruark’s dream for you all, my friend … for this town to flourish.”

Eloise watched them both, noticing once again how protective Galen was of his brother’s wife. Lily had remarked on his devotion to her many times; a fact the Brownleys had seen often enough during the time they spent with the family. So why were they here? Socializing seemed to be the last thing on his mind; he wasn’t rude, just very reserved. How haughty Galen Metairie could appear, but only to those who did not know him, or who did not understand the noble nature of the man; or this family’s caring and courageous ways.

No one had done more for her family than these Metairies; as, together, they had shared a terrible ordeal. And she and her husband valued their friendship highly.

Word had spread that the Metairies were in town, and now Barkley the sheriff, Richmond the banker, hats in hands, crowded into the store. As Mariah exchanged words with Mrs. Brownley, Galen spoke to the men. He answered their most pressing questions and arranged to meet with them individually the next day. Satisfied, after paying their respects to Ruark Metairie’s widow, the two men walked out the door.

Once out of earshot, the banker turned to the sheriff, nodding toward all the heavily armed men, some of whom were waiting there beside their horses; others had congregated over in front of the hotel. “I’ve been hearing things.”

“I know.”

“He’s hiring fast guns. He sent bounty killers out after Moor.”

“I know.”

“He seems so changed.” Richmond hesitated. “But then I guess I’d be too if I’d had a brother murdered.”

Barkley nodded, adding grimly, “And if I was concerned about my family’s safety.”

 
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