Brave the Wild Wind

Johanna Lindsey

If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that this book is stolen property. It was reported as “unsold and destroyed” to the publisher, and neither the author nor the publisher has received any payment for this “stripped book.”

For my brother Michael, with love


1863, Wyoming Territory.

THOMAS Blair paused on a hill overlooking the valley where his ranch nestled among juniper and pine, his eyes glowing with pride. The house was only three rooms, and made of logs, but it would stand up to the blizzards of winter. Rachel claimed she didn’t mind the harsh home he’d brought her to. After all, they’d started the ranch only two years ago. There would be time to build Rachel a huge house, a place she could be proud of.

How patient she was, his beautiful young wife. And how he worshiped her. She was the epitome of goodness, beauty, and virtue. Because of Rachel and the ranch that Thomas now knew would thrive, he had everything he wanted out of life. Everything. Well... not quite everything. There was still the matter of a son that one daughter and two miscarriages had robbed him of. He didn’t blame Rachel, though. She had tried, uncomplaining at all times. It was Jessica he resented for not being the son he had prayed for, especially so because he had mistaken her for a boy during the whole first week of her life. He’d even had her baptized Kenneth, Kenneth Jesse Blair. The widow Johnson, who had helped with the birthing when the doctor couldn’t be found, had been too afraid of Thomas to tell him the truth once he began assuming the baby was a boy. And Rachel, who had nearly died and was so weak she could hardly feed the baby, also assumed she had given him a son.

It was a shock to both of them when Mrs. Johnson could no longer bear the situation and confessed the truth. How bitter he had been! He had never wanted to lay eyes on the baby again. And he never did warm to her, never forgave her for being a female.

That had been eight years before, in St. Louis. Thomas had married Rachel the year before, and she talked him into settling down there. For her he had given up the mountains and the plains of the West, where he had spent most of his life trapping, scouting, and hauling supplies to wilderness forts.

St. Louis was too civilized, too confined for a man used to the splendor of the Rocky Mountains, the awesome quiet of the plains. But he stuck it out for six years, running the supply store Rachel’s parents had left her. For six years he supplied the settlers who were heading west, to his West, his wide open spaces. It was not until gold was discovered in Colorado and the Oregon Territory that he got the idea of supplying beef to the mining camps and towns that were spreading over the land he knew so well.

He might have let the idea die, but for Rachel’s encouragement. She had never known hardship, never slept on an open plain, but Rachel loved him and knew he was unhappy living in the city. Although she didn’t like it, she agreed to sell the store and was willing to wait for Thomas for the year it took him to start the ranch, to gather the wild steers of Texas that were there for the taking, to buy the stockier eastern cattle to crossbreed, to build them a house. At long last, he’d brought Rachel out there to live, letting her name the ranch Rocky Valley.

Rachel’s only request before starting a wholly alien life was that their daughter be given the education she would have received if they’d stayed in St. Louis. She wanted Jessica left in the private academy for young ladies she’d been attending since the age of five. Thomas readily agreed to that, not caring particularly if he never saw his daughter again.

His daughter called herself K. Jessica Blair. Jessica, as Rachel had nicknamed her, let anyone who didn’t see her name written down assume the K was not an initial but the name Kay. Having the name Kenneth was a dreadful mortification for the doll-like creature she had become. With hair as black as an eagle’s wing and eyes the color of turquoise, she was the spitting image of Thomas and therefore a constant reminder of his longing for a son.

But all that was about to change. Rachel was pregnant again, and because the hardest part of starting a new life was over, he could devote more time to her. His cattle had survived two winters and multiplied, and he had met with complete success on the first drive to Virginia City, where he’d sold every head for twice what he could have gotten in St. Louis. Now he was home, much sooner than he had told Rachel to expect him, eager to tell her of his success. So eager, in fact, that he had left his three men behind at Ft. Laramie.

He wanted to surprise Rachel, to delight her with his success, to make love to her for the rest of the day without interruption. He’d been gone for nearly a month. How he’d missed her!

Thomas started down the hill, picturing the look of surprise and joy on Rachel’s face when she saw him. No one was outside. Will Phengle and his old friend Jeb Hart, whom Thomas had left behind to look out for things, would be out on the Shoshone range with the herd at this time of day. And the Shoshone half-breed he called Kate would be busy in the kitchen.

The main room of the house was empty. There was a delightful odor of baked apples and cinnamon from the kitchen, and he saw a pie on the kitchen table, but there was no Kate. It was so quiet that he decided Rachel was taking a nap in the big bed they had shipped from St. Louis. He left his guns by the front door so they wouldn’t be in the way, and slowly, quietly, Thomas opened the door to his bedroom, hoping not to wake his lovely, golden-haired Rachel just yet.

But she wasn’t sleeping. The sight that met Thomas was so utterly incredible that he just stood, frozen, in the doorway. What he saw was the whole of his dream shattering, his wife making love with Will Phengle, her legs beneath him, her arms clasped around him. Thankfully, her face was hidden beneath Will.

“Easy, woman.” Will’s deep chuckle bounced off the walls as his hips ground into hers. “There’s no hurry. God, you’re starved for it, ain’t you?”

A deep sound started in Thomas, a low rumble that erupted into a savage growl so chilling, it stopped all movement on the bed.

“I’ll kill you! I’ll kill you both!”

Will Phengle was off the bed in a flash, grabbing his scattered clothes from the floor. Seeing the empty doorway, he knew Thomas Blair had gone for a gun. He was a dead man.

“There is no need to run, Will. He only need see he is—”

“Are you crazy, woman!” Will cried. “That man will shoot first and then look. You stay and explain if you’re lookin' to die, but I’m gone!” Before he’d even finished he was climbing out of the narrow window.

Through the red haze blinding him, Thomas finally got back to the bedroom. Instantly he fired off two shots from the rifle. When the haze cleared, he saw that the bed was empty. So was the rest of the room. He heard a horse galloping away and ran outside, emptying the rifle at the naked form of Will Phengle riding bareback. The last shot missed along with the others.

“Rachel!” Thomas bellowed as he reloaded the rifle. “You won’t be as lucky as he was! Rachel!” He looked around the yard and back at the house, then started running toward the stable. “You can’t hide from me, Rachel!”

She was not in the stable, either. And the more he looked, the more enraged he became. Coldly and without the slightest hesitation, he shot the two horses in the stable and then went back to the front of the house and shot his own horse.

“We’ll see if you can escape now, Rachel!” he hollered at the sky, his voice echoing through the whole valley. “You’ll never get away from here without a horse. Do you hear me, whore? You’re going to die by my hand or die on the range, but you’re dead to me already!”

Then he went back into the house and proceeded to get roaring drunk. As the rotgut took effect, his rage turned to heartache, then to rage again. Every so often he would get up and look out the windows to see if he could see his wife. As he got more and more drunk, he thought he could finally understand the Indians’ drive for vengeance. The Cheyenne and Sioux he had traded with and become friends with had sometimes lived for revenge, died for it, going without rest until it was exacted. He understood that now. Drunk, he understood slowly—but he understood.

When Jeb came in from the range late that afternoon and demanded to know who had killed the horses and where the women were, Thomas wouldn’t explain. At gunpoint he insisted Jeb ride for Ft. Laramie to intercept Thomas’s men and turn them back for a week or so. Jeb, too, was to stay away. He tossed Jeb the gold he had gotten for the herd, caring about nothing but his privacy.

Jeb wasn’t going to argue with a drunken man, especially one with a gun in his hand. He had known Thomas Blair for nearly thirty years, and he never thought the women might be in danger alone with Thomas. So he left.

And Thomas waited, and drank more. At one point he remembered Kate and wondered where she had gone, but he didn’t give her much thought. He had never given the Indian girl much thought. She was the daughter of Old Frenchy and a Shoshone squaw, and Frenchy had asked Thomas to look out for her if anything happened to him. It did, and Thomas found the girl at the fort supply depot, whoring for the soldiers there. So he took her in, and it worked out fine, Kate being grateful for a home and Rachel needing the help Kate could give her.