Reader Excerpt ~ The Anonymous Bride by Vickie McDonough

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Lookout, Texas
April, 1886

Luke Davis reined his horse to a halt atop the ridge and gazed down at the town half a mile away. Lookout, Texas—the place where his dreams were birthed and had died. He wasn’t ready to return—to face the two people he’d tried so hard to forget. But sometimes God asked hard things of a man.

“I’d rather face a band of Sioux warriors, Lord, than to ride into that town again.” He sighed and rubbed the back of his neck.

The town hadn’t grown nearly as much as he’d expected it would in the eleven years he’d been gone. From his high viewpoint, the town roughly resembled a capital E, with Bluebonnet Lane being the spine, and Main, Apple Street, and a new street serving as the three arms. New houses had been added that didn’t yet show wear from the hot Texas summers.

He glanced up. In the trees above a bird chirped a cheerful tune, oblivious to the turmoil churning in Luke’s belly.

Alamo, his black gelding, snorted, as if sensing they’d reached the end of their long journey. The horse tossed his head and back-stepped away from the steep drop-off. Down below, the small river that ran south and west of town still pooled as it made its sharp turn around Lookout. A healthy dose of spring rains had filled the crater dug out by past floods that local kids used as a swimming hole, and a new rope had been added for them to swing on, promising fun as soon as school ended. Memories of afternoons spent there were some of Luke’s favorite. But those carefree days were over.

He glanced heavenward at the brilliant blue sky, halfway hoping God would give him leave to ride away. When no such reprieve came, he reined Alamo around and back down the incline to the river bank. Dismounting at the water’s edge, he allowed his horse to drink while he rinsed three days’ worth of dust off his face.

Alamo suddenly jerked his head up and flicked his ears forward. The horse backed away from the bank and turned, looking off to the right. Luke scooped up a handful of water and sipped, watching to see what had stirred up his horse. Tall cottonwoods lined the life-giving river, and thigh-high grasses and shrubs made good hiding places. He knew that for a fact. How many times as a boy had he and his two cousins hidden there, watching the older kids swimming and sometimes spooning?

“Must have been some critter, ’Mo.” He stood and patted his horse, finally ready to ride into Lookout and see up close how much it had changed. How she’d changed.

Suddenly, three heads popped up from behind a nearby bush. “Hey, mister,” a skinny kid yelled, “that’s our swimming hole, not a horse trough.”

Rocks flew toward him, and he ducked, turning his back to the kids. Alamo squealed and side-stepped into Luke, sending him flying straight into the river. Hoots of laughter rose up behind him as cool water seeped down into his boots and soaked his clothing. His boots slipped on the moss-covered rocks as he struggled for a foothold.

“Foolish kids.” He trudged out of the river, dripping from every inch of his clothing. His socks sloshed in his water-logged boots. Dropping to the bank, he yanked them off and dumped the water and wrung out his socks. With his boots back on, he checked Alamo, making sure the horse wasn’t injured, then he mounted, determined to find those kids and teach them a lesson. Playing childish pranks was one thing, and he’d done his share of them, but hurting an animal was something else altogether.

“Heyah!” Alamo lurched forward. Luke hunkered low against the horse’s neck until he cleared the tree line then he sat up, scanning the rolling hills. He didn’t see any movement at first, but when he topped the closest hill, he found the rowdy trio racing for the edge of town. Luke hunched down and let his horse out in a full canter, quickly closing the distance between him and the kids.

All three glanced back, no longer ornery but scared. He’d never harm a child, but instilling a little fear for the law couldn’t hurt anything.

The two tallest boys veered off to the left, out-pacing the smaller kid. The boy stumbled and fell, bounced up and shot for town. Luke aimed for that one as the older boys dashed behind the nearest house. The youngster pressed down his big floppy hat and pumped his short legs as fast as he could. The gap narrowed. Luke leaned sideways, slowing Alamo, and reached down, grabbing the youth by his overall straps. The child kicked his feet and flailed his arms, but Luke was stronger, quicker. He slung the kid across his lap.

“Let me go! I didn’t do nothin’.” The boy held his hat on with one hand and pushed against Luke’s leg with the other hand. “You’re gettin’ me wet.”

“Just lie still. And I wouldn’t be wet if you hadn’t thrown rocks at my horse.” Luke held a firm hand on the kid’s backside, but the boy still squirmed, trying to get free. “Don’t make me tie you up.”

Suddenly he stilled. “You wouldn’t.”

“Whoa, Mo.” Luke calmed his horse, fidgety from the child’s activity. Alamo had carried him through all kinds of weather, fights with Indians in the Dakotas, and chasing down train robbers, but one skinny kid had him all riled up.

“My ma ain’t gonna like you doin’ this to me, mister.”

Luke grunted, knowing the kid was probably right, but then his mama should have taught him not the throw rocks at strangers. The next man might shoot back.

Being wet with a cocky kid tossed across his lap certainly wasn’t the homecoming he’d planned in his mind.

Vickie McDonough is giving away a copy of her book, The Anonymous Bride. Be sure to visit The Borrowed Book tomorrow for your chance to win!

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