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Enjoy Chapter One of Love’s Dream Song.
“Professor. Watch out!”
Autumn grabbed Dr. Davidson’s arm and yanked the elderly man away from the crumbling wall. The archaeologist stumbled into her. They heard a loud roar, and a cloud of dust surrounded them as ancient adobe rolled to their feet.
Dr. Davidson bent to push away a brick that had landed on top of his boot. “Whew, that was close, girl.”
Autumn choked and gasped for oxygen in the dusty air. “Too close. Are you all right?”
“Aye, but I’m more worried about the tablets.”
Autumn straightened and tried to peer through the red cloud of dust to the far side of the walled-in cave. She could barely see the professor as he knelt to inspect the priceless stone slabs.
“Are they all right?” She crawled beside him and brushed away the silt that had already settled from the cave-in.
“Appears so.” She heard the relief in his voice. “We’ll have to clean this up before the crowd arrives tomorrow morning.”
“What caused the cave-in?” she asked.
“Who knows? These walls were built almost seven centuries ago. They don’t last forever.”
“Real Tall Man would say chindi caused it. After all, we’re digging around in their homes.”
The professor glared. “Don’t be giving me any more of that nonsense about these ruins being haunted by ghosts.”
“I only told you what Real Tall Man explained about the Navajo beliefs.” She brushed back the ebony strands of hair that had loosened in the dash to avoid the crumbling adobe. They were coated with red dirt.
“Your grandfather and his people can believe what they want about the ghosts getting upset when their belongings are disturbed, but dead is dead. There’s no way they can cause us any trouble.”
Autumn eyed the tablets and shook her head. She knew the professor was right, but if the streak of bad luck they’d had lately was anything to judge by, it would seem the curses of the chindi—the spirits of the dead—were indeed the cause. “They say you and I are cursed, as well.”
Exploring the Anasazi ruins wasn’t the only reason her Navajo relatives thought she was cursed. To the communal Navajos, accumulated wealth was a sign that one dealt in their version of witchcraft. Only a witched person would amass personal property and money, as the Anglos did.
The O’Neills, Autumn’s adoptive family, were wealthy. The worldwide export-import business they owned was a sign of success in their culture. It was bad enough that Autumn had been raised by outsiders, but the fact that she was three-quarters Anglo herself only reinforced the belief that she was under the spell of chindi.
The professor continued to brush off the ancient tablets they’d discovered the month before. “When are you going to stop worrying about what those clan people think of you? What difference does it make?”
“They are my family—the only real relatives I know about,” she reminded him.
“Some family,” Dr. Davidson said. “They don’t act like they care.”
“That’s because they can’t. They think I’m under the influence of evil spirits.”
The Coyote Pass Clan, máii deeshghizhnii, could welcome her if Real Tall Man—her grandfather and the clan’s medicine man—performed Nda, the Enemy Way ceremony. The three-to nine-day sing would cleanse her and protect them from her contact with outsiders. The fact that they hadn’t offered was a source of heartache for Autumn.
She’d thought applying for the graduate assistant grant to work with Dr. Davidson at Northern Arizona University would give her an opportunity to become acquainted with her natural relatives, who lived on the nearby reservation. But their exploration of the Anasazi ruins had only created misunderstanding.
The professor dusted off the last tablet and stood. “We’re almost done here. Once the scientists and press arrive and record my discovery, we’ll be done with this project. If I were you, I’d go back to your adoptive family. They raised you, and they’re the ones who care for you.”
Her brothers, Donny and Mike, had told her the same thing, but they were natural sons of the O’Neills. They had no idea what it was like to be adopted and wonder why your mother had given you away.
Autumn hadn’t been able to find out, either. She now knew that Dora Ross, Real Tall Man’s deceased daughter, had been her mother, but the clan would not speak of her or give any clue as to why Autumn had been given up for adoption. In fact, Autumn had the distinct impression that the Coyote Pass Clan had not even known of Autumn’s existence before her arrival in northern Arizona.
“It’s crazy foolishness to poke around where you’re not wanted. You have a bright future ahead of you. You’re better off without them.”
Autumn forced back the sharp reply that sprang to the tip of her tongue. The professor’s prejudices never ceased to surprise her.
To change the subject from what she knew would become a heated debate, she asked about the arrival of the scientists. “How many will be coming in?”
“Close to fifty. Jess said he’d arrive with them around midmorning.”
The change of subject had brightened the professor’s mood, but the mention of Jess Barron dampened hers. “I thought Jess was too occupied with ranch business to participate in this.”
“Come on, girl. Don’t let your bitterness toward the man ruin your moment of glory. This is big news. We’ve made the discovery of the century—and on Barron’s ranch. Of course he’s going to be here to keep tabs on the action.”
Jess Barron III was the owner of Eagle Heights Ranch and the man she loved. She wasn’t at all thrilled that he was arriving tomorrow—at least, she told herself that. The fact that her heart rate had increased and the palms of her hands had suddenly become sweaty had nothing to do with the prospect of seeing him.
“Don’t you go letting your personal differences get in the way of our big moment. I want the reporters’ full attention on the discovery.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Autumn assured the professor. “The last thing Jess will want is a public scene.” He believed in maintaining a low profile, and heaven help anyone who didn’t agree.
Autumn wasn’t worried about the press but she was concerned about seeing Jess, especially in front of other people. Her feelings were too raw where he was concerned.
The best course of action would be to disappear. The professor wouldn’t need her right away. In the morning, she could hike to the top of the butte overlooking Coyote Springs and watch the party of scientists arrive from there. The high rocky ledge afforded the best view of the canyon. Maybe Jess would have to return immediately to the demands of his large ranch.
For a moment, she debated about whether she really wanted him to leave without seeing her. Images of his face, framed by chestnut-brown hair, danced in her mind’s eye as she continued to clear away the fallen debris. She remembered how the light sparked in his silver eyes, and the crease of his smile. No, she didn’t want to be near Jess Barron—he might see the longing and hurt.
Autumn tossed aside another crumbled brick and closed her eyes. “Jess,” she whispered. “Where did our love go wrong?”
Jess reined in his horse and waited astride the stallion while the medicine man, who’d ridden with him to the top of the red-rock butte, dismounted. He paid no attention to Real Tall Man, but studied Autumn O’Neill. Her khaki slacks and coral camp shirt were practical enough for her archaeological work, but he knew they sported designer labels. He supposed the Rolex watch was a necessity, but he knew what it cost. With her wealth and sophisticated upbringing, she should look out of place in the Arizona desert, but she didn’t, and that annoyed Jess.
“Hasteen Nez asked me to find you. He came from the reservation to talk.” Jess easily pronounced Real Tall Man’s name in Navajo, but he couldn’t keep the irritation from his voice. It annoyed him how her nearness could still affect him.
She straightened and tilted her head in that haughty manner that he hated. “You don’t need to explain your presence to me. This is your property.” He could tell she minded the invasion of her privacy. She’d probably climbed the butte to avoid him.
He searched for the bracelet he’d given her. It didn’t surprise him to see it wasn’t there. He remembered it, though—the design as it rested against her skin. The silver was heavy, and when he’d take it off her arm, it would retain the heat of her body.
She turned to Real Tall Man. “Yaá át ééh.”
Her heavily accented greeting called up memories of other times she’d spoken the language of The People. He could still hear the whispered words when they had made love; her throaty laughter when she couldn’t pronounce the difficult expressions.
Real Tall Man stepped in front of her and blocked his view. It didn’t matter. He knew every inch of her body—the long legs, slender curves. He even remembered the velvet texture of her skin. Silently, he swore.
The Coyote Pass Clan said she was bewitched, and maybe they were right. In spite of his suspicions that she was involved in a drug ring, he found himself still attracted to her. He hated that. Fighting drug smuggling was a passion of his. As an undercover federal agent on the president’s international task force, he spent all of his spare time pursuing the criminals who used this isolated region of the country as an entry point into the United States. He resented Autumn O’Neill, but he still wanted her.
Leather creaked as his black stallion rapped the red sandstone with his hoof. Jess recognized the gesture and shifted in the saddle. Impatience gnawed at him, also. His eyes narrowed against the shimmering waves of hot desert air. Real Tall Man moved and Jess focused on him to stop his thoughts of Autumn.
In a way, Jess envied Hasteen Nez. The hataali knew who he was and suffered no regrets. That seemed an impossible dream to Jess. He tried to live and think as an Anglo rancher, but traces of his Apache heritage plagued his peace of mind.
From experience, Jess knew it was impossible for a man of mixed blood to determine who he was. Arlo Ross hadn’t been able to resolve the question. Nor had his sister Dora, Autumn’s mother. Jess wondered how Real Tall Man felt about the bitterness of one child and the self-destruction of the other—all because Real Tall Man had fallen in love with a white schoolteacher.
In fairness, he had to consider Thomas and Lee, Real Tall Man’s two oldest sons. Tradition required them to be known by their mother’s name—a white man’s name. Both were successful lawyers, serving in the state legislature. Jess wondered how they had resolved splitting their allegiance to two worlds that were completely opposite in values and culture. Maybe he’d go to Phoenix and visit them, but it would have to wait until he’d put a stop to the smuggling operation. That was top priority.
Real Tall Man shifted and Jess could see her again.
She stood motionless, her black hair tied in a traditional Navajo knot. She had no right to imitate the ways of The People. She was probably a phony.
Autumn and Real Tall Man turned away from the edge of the cliff and sat down, facing each other on the flat butte. Jess straightened in his saddle, wishing he could hear the conversation.
More than likely Hasteen Nez was warning her about the crowd of people in the canyon below. Dr. Davidson had announced his archaeological discovery and the Navajo nation was not pleased with the disturbance of the ancient ones.
The professor’s discovery would create difficulties. The crowd of scientists and reporters might provide an effective cover-up for Autumn’s suspected activities, but he was hoping the confusion would make her nervous. If she made a mistake, he would be around to catch it.
For several moments, he contemplated the problem until her movement distracted him. She pulled on the band holding her hair in place. A cascade of ebony flowed between her fingers. Jess stared as the straight tresses tumbled around her waist.
Jess remembered how her hair had wrapped around their bodies, trapping them in a silken web. The thick strands had framed her face and contrasted sharply with the white sheets of his bed.
Sweat trickled down his clenched jaw. He lifted his hand and wiped his forehead with the once-white sleeve of his western shirt. After settling the black Stetson back on his head, he nudged his horse and moved close to the pair. “I’m going back down.” He gestured to the canyon.
Her glance locked with his. Defiance and challenge glittered in her black eyes. His conscience twinged. He remembered all too clearly how those very same yes had clouded with passion.
Autumn struggled to maintain her aloof expression. It barely covered the pain and confusion she felt whenever Jess Barron came near. She had tried to avoid him, but she hadn’t planned on Real Tall Man showing up. She was glad now that Jess had spotted her on top of the butte.
“Are you staying for the press conference?” In a way she hoped he was, but she knew she’d be better off it he was far from Coyote Springs.
“I’ll be there. I want to make sure the reporters get in and out okay. They aren’t used to roughing it like you are.”
“We have everything prepared for them.”
“I’m sure you do.”
Autumn inwardly flinched at the sarcastic tone.
Real Tall Man nodded and said, “I’ll be down after I talk to Autumn.”
Her glance swung toward her grandfather. He had initiated this meeting. Had he come to tell her he finally believed he was her kin? Not likely, but she could hope.
Jess’s voice cut into her thoughts. “Arlo is unloading the supplies. I’ll see if he needs a hand.”
The news that her uncle was here crushed her hope. Arlo would see that Real Tall Man didn’t make any overtures of welcome.
Real Tall Man said something to Jess in Navajo. She forced her glance to remain on her grandfather. She didn’t want to see the coldness in Jess’s silver eyes—eyes that once had danced with laughter. She didn’t want to see the half smile that creased one cheek. Nor could she bear the sight of his body, which had held her close.
Why, Jess? What had happened? Had Arlo Ross managed to convince the rancher that she was evil?
Her glance lowered to the fists in her lap. Evidently, a simple explanation was too much to ask of the rugged men of this dry and desolate country.
Jess noticed the clenched fists with a small measure of satisfaction. At least he wasn’t the only one who suffered when they met. He kicked the sides of his horse and headed down the path that led to Coyote Springs in the canyon below.
Jess braced himself against the gravity of the horse’s steep descent and shook his head at the absurdity of Autumn’s claim to be Indian. True, the máii deeshghizhnii were a noble clan and Real Tall Man was a famous hataali, respected among the Anglos, as well. If a person had to claim Indian blood, his clan would be an honored family to tie into. But for the twenty-eight-year-old woman to insist she was a relative didn’t wash—not to Jess.
Many who left the reservation never came back. If they did, they often rejected their Native American heritage. That’s what he’d done. Images formed of his return from his stint in the army. Seeing his father drink himself to death had been his final disillusionment.
There were plenty of reasons to reject the way of Dineh, The People, which made it more unbelievable for a stranger to arrive on the scene and start pretending to be Indian.
Autumn played the part well, like women he’d met in Phoenix, who used their trace of Indian blood to appear exotic. The difference was, those women wore feathers and turquoise, but stayed in plush apartments. Autumn had the mystique, yet she dug around in the dirt.
The stallion stumbled and Jess pulled on the reins, his attention momentarily trained on the task at hand. Rocks slipped over the edge, each one loosening the shale on its way, until a small landslide tumbled to the canyon floor hundreds of feet below. Jess tightened his knees against the horse and nudged him toward the wall side of the narrow trail. When the horse regained his balance, Jess’s thoughts returned to Autumn.
The woman was clever, he’d give her that. For over a year, he’d been trying to gather evidence to connect her to the growing cocaine market suspected of coming from the nearby reservation. The ring had begun operations one month after her arrival. Her family, which owned and ran one of the largest import-export companies in the country, had connections throughout the world. She had to be involved, but her alibis were always airtight.
Jess tilted his hat forward and then straightened. Maybe the old professor’s discovery was a boon after all. With all the hoopla on his property, Jess would have to stay on hand. He’d be able to watch Autumn without creating undue suspicion.
The stallion took a final leap and landed on the bottom of the canyon floor. Jess eased his mount across the sandy wash and headed toward the springs. Just as he rounded the bend he glanced up, hoping to catch a last glimpse of Autumn and Real Tall Man. The rim of the canyon stood silhouetted against the blue sky. Jagged spires of red rock lined the steep walls. There was no sign of Autumn, but a movement caught his attention.
In spite of the heat, a chill traced down his spine. Jess shook it off as he watched the majestic bird. It was coincidence—the flight of the eagle at that moment in time—but Daya would not think so. She would tell him that it was a sign—the time of her prophecy had come.
Jess muttered under his breath as he spurred his horse into a gallop. Daya always told tales—myths, legends. They’d been no more than that. Even though he’d loved his grandmother, he’d never believed her prophecy.
As the thought formed, so did the image of Autumn’s hair flowing past her waist. “You’ll meet her here at Coyote Springs—the woman of your dreams, my son.” Daya’s words echoed in his memories. “She’ll have long, straight hair and eyes like Apache tears. But beware. There will be many people. Some of them won’t be who they seem.” Jess shook his head clear. If any of Daya’s prophecy was true, it was the part about people not being what they seemed.
Cottonwood trees loomed ahead as he rounded another bend in the wash. Coyote Springs sat amid the trees, the clear water gurgling from the red rock and collecting in large pools of fresh water. Jess headed for the desert oasis, but not before he caught another glimpse of the eagle. He pulled in the reins and paused at the edge of the greenery, watching its flight.
Ridiculous, he thought. Here he was, a man with a master’s degree in range management, and he was sitting on his horse considering Daya’s stories.
The fact that he’d first met Autumn O’Neill at Coyote Springs held no significance to Daya’s prediction. He no longer believed in the ways of the Dineh. Daya’s claim that Jess would meet the woman of his heart at Coyote Springs was just a wild and superstitious tale, designed to entertain a small boy.
The eagle swooped into the canyon, caught an air current, and soared upward. Jess waited until the bird disappeared from sight and then nudged his horse toward the spring and Dr. Davidson’s camp.
Autumn watched the eagle circle overhead. Suddenly it swooped toward her and then rose to soar above the red rock canyon on a current of dry air. Its shriek carried across the desert terrain.
“You see? Even our brother, astá the eagle, agrees with me.”
Autumn shifted her gaze from the eagle to Real Tall Man. He sat cross-legged on the sandstone, proud and regal. The streaks of silver in his long hair matched the silver belts he wore over the blue tunic shirt. He was the only member of the clan who treated her kindly. Perhaps his position of leadership would influence the others. Someday, with patience and persistence, she’d know what happened to Dora Ross and the clan would recognize her as kin.
As always, she looked for the visual clues that showed she was related to the man. There were few. Autumn had her grandfather’s height, but his flattened cheekbones and broad features were in contrast to the Celtic characteristics she had inherited from her father. The only signs of her Navajo ancestry were the exotic tilt to her dark eyes and the thick strands of black hair.
Real Tall Man waved his arm toward the base of the cliff below them. “You must not bring these scientists and archaeologists to the home of the ancient ones.”
“The Anasazi tablets Dr. Davidson discovered are the main thing we’re interested in. The ruins here are just a few dwellings.”
“They house a secret—a dangerous secret.” Real Tall Man leaned forward to emphasize his point. “They are filled with bad chindi.”
Autumn shifted with impatience. She tried to understand the way of The People, but sometimes the beliefs seemed so illogical. “Are you sure?”
The old man took a deep breath. Worry lines edged the corners of the weathered skin around his dark eyes—eyes she knew better than to look into. “You must tell the doctor.”
Her shoulders slumped in dismay. Just what she needed—opposition from her grandfather. She had no control over the proceedings of the dig, yet he expected her to put a stop to it. His demand would only put another rift in their precarious relationship.
She started to protest, but before she could, he held up the gnarled fingers of his hand in a gesture for her to be silent.
“Last night I dreamed. Chindi live in the ruins—one who will destroy. The eagle came, but it was too late. The evil one disappeared in the earth in a pile of stone.”
In spite of the early morning sun, already hot on the back of her camp shirt, Autumn shivered. Hasteen Nez’s serious expression belied any doubts. Her instincts told her to listen. She had only met her grandfather and her Navajo relatives a few short months ago. She didn’t yet understand all their ways, but she knew about vision quests and the importance of dreams to The People.
Real Tall Man spoke again. “You must tell the others to go home—before it’s too late.”
“You know I can’t do that.” She could just imagine what Dr. Davidson would say if she asked him to cancel the press conference on the basis of a old man’s dream—not to mention the uproar from the crowd in the canyon below. “Dr. Davidson has worked long years on this research for the university. It’s his moment for acclaim.”
“What about our people—your people?”
Autumn’s heart constricted. “Are they my people? I was not born to the máii deeshghizhnii. My mother . . .”
Real Tall Man interrupted. “Your mother was born of it. She was my daughter.”
“You believe that I’m Dora Ross’s daughter?” Hope soared, but was soon flattened when she saw the closed expression on his face.
Autumn let the pain of the old hurt come and go. Now was not the time to think of how her mother had denounced her Navajo blood and left the reservation.
“But if you are with these people who dig through the ruins, you will anger the clan. It may make the path of acceptance more difficult to travel.”
“This is a major discovery. It will change our perception of southwestern history.”
“They should not disturb the ancient ones.”
“They’re scientists. They only want to study the evidence and record the history of the Anasazi. Surely there is no harm in that.” If only she could make him understand.
Real Tall Man stood and gestured for Autumn to rise with him. “I can see you have a stubborn streak.”
“It’s not stubbornness, but dedication to my work.”
Hasteen Nez’s expression let her know he thought otherwise. Autumn sighed. She wasn’t the only stubborn one.
“I want to give you this.” He pulled a silver chain from around his neck and let it dangle from his fingers. A nugget of uncut turquoise swung at its end. “Wear this at all times. It will protect you from the evil in the canyon.”
Autumn started to protest, but Real Tall Man stilled her words with his next action. He draped the chain over her head. Gently, he lifted the long strands of her hair from under the silver and let them settle around the nugget.
His warmth touched her skin, while the aged woodsy scent she associated with him surrounded her. It was the closest she’d ever been to the old hataali.
“Grandfather,” she whispered. For how many months had she wanted him to show her some sign of affection? It seemed like forever.
As if the longing in her voice had warned him, Real Tall Man stepped back. The sadness and pain in his expression mirrored her own. It wasn’t to be—not yet.
“I have called on the spirits to be with you.”
“Thank you,” she whispered. The gift of protection was the closest he’d come to saying he cared. He would never have given it to her otherwise. The cultural gap had narrowed another inch.
“Jess Barron is a good man. If you have trouble, go to him.”
Autumn couldn’t mask her surprise. She trusted Real Tall Man’s uncanny instincts about people, but the owner of the Eagle Heights Ranch had made it clear he wanted nothing to do with her. Surely, the old man had sensed the curt hostility between them.
“I doubt he’d want to help me. Besides, I won’t need it. There are close to fifty people down there.”
Real Tall Man wouldn’t let it go. “I saw him in my dream.” A strange note sounded in the old man’s voice. “Trust him.”
Rather than argue, Autumn smiled and nodded her head.
Real Tall Man’s expression lightened for a moment, but turned serious again. “Don’t trust Riker. He is like the skunk who tricked the coyote.”
“Don’t worry. I’ve been around enough to know about men like him. I’ll be careful.”
Frank Riker would be a royal pain, but Autumn was prepared for that. The Bureau of Land Management ranger had already caused her enough problems. He took advantage of every opportunity to put the make on her. She wasn’t immune to male attention, and she enjoyed flattery, but Frank was rude. Many of the incidents had been unpleasant, and Real Tall Man surely sensed the friction between them.
Frank wasn’t her real concern, though. She could manage him. It was her uncle, Arlo Ross, who worried her the most. Hasteen Nez wouldn’t mention his son—not with the obvious hostility Arlo felt toward Autumn. She didn’t want the Navajo rebel along on this project, but Dr. Davidson had hired him to provide the pack train that brought the expedition in to the canyon. Why Arlo wanted to work for the professor was a puzzle to Autumn. He lived the old ways and he hated the white man. In fact, he had actively protested the dig. Perhaps he’d hired on to make sure the ancient ruins weren’t destroyed. Or, Autumn considered, he could have plans to sabotage the professor’s efforts.
Resolving to keep an eye on Arlo, Autumn spoke. “No one will try to make any trouble. You don’t need to worry. I’ve organized everything for Dr. Davidson and I’ve made sure the scientists will do nothing to disturb the ruins. They only want to see the tablets.”
Real Tall Man didn’t reply, but he didn’t have to. His knowing expression told her what they were both well aware of. Coyote Springs was isolated, hundreds of miles from civilization.
“You have been warned and I have given you the turquoise. I must return home now.”
“Walk in beauty,” she said—the traditional farewell of The People. She longed to embrace him like she did Grandpa O’Neill. Her adoptive parents’ family was large and demonstrative. She was used to shows of emotion, lots of kisses, bug hugs. But if she acted like that with this grandfather, she’d lose the months of progress she’d made to win his reserved affection. Have patience, she reminded herself for at least the thousandth time.
Real Tall Man mounted his horse and descended the sloping side of the butte, soon disappearing between the canyon walls. Autumn walked the few yards to the steep edge and looked down at Coyote Springs.
Dr. Davidson stood in the center of a large group of archaeologists, students, historians, and reporters. Wayne Carson, his undergraduate assistant, was at his side. She shifted, uneasy and oddly excited.
In the months she’d been working as Dr. Davidson’s assistant, there’d never been a crowd like this in the canyon. In fact, she’d wager there hadn’t been a gathering this size since the Anasazi had lived here seven hundred years ago. This group would announce to the world the new discover that would alter history. She grasped the turquoise nugget and worked it between her fingers.
What had it been like in that ancient time? She glanced from the group and let her gaze travel across the broken walls of the ruins. Farther up the side of the cliff and nestled in the moqui cave were more dwellings. Protected by the large overhang of sandstone rock, these walls were still intact. Small windows made dark spots in the expanse of red block. They looked like eyes studying the scene below.
They’d witnessed the village life of the Anasazi. Today, they would see the unveiling of the professor’s great discovery. Autumn glanced back at the crowd, sensing the anticipation they all shared.
Dr. Davidson gestured as he talked and Autumn smiled at the lanky, disheveled man. Never before had she seen him filled with animation. Pride radiated from him as he brushed back the long strands of his thinning hair. This discovery meant a lot to him.
As a young archaeologist, Davidson had been involved in several significant finds in Central American and Mexico. Unfortunately, his move to the Southwest had proven unfruitful—until now. She knew his dwindling prestige had grated on his sense of pride. Even though she couldn’t hear the professor, Autumn knew he was rambling. Dr. Davidson wanted to draw out his moment of glory. And why not? She knew how long and hard the search had been. Over the past months, she’d gone with him to dig in the old Indian ruins scattered across the Barron property. He had been exploring the area for five years—since the ranch had been opened to public research. He figured there had to be uncharted ruins, and he’d been right. He was now preparing to reap the reward of the years of hard work.
Autumn shifted her attention from the professor to scan the crowd. Riker was directing a group who were getting the gear organized. Father down the canyon, Arlo Ross and two other guides were unloading the mules tethered in the shade of the saltbush. She tugged on her nugget as another wave of uneasiness washed through her.
A shrill cry overhead brought Autumn’s attention skyward. The eagle fanned his tail and soared higher, circling again and again. She could imagine what he must see—desert for hundreds of miles, dotted with cactus, juniper, and sage. Like hundreds of church steeples, rock spires lined the canyons where water eroded its way to the Colorado River. The sheer cliffs were a giant sand painting of browns, ocher, yellow, and red.
The eagle glided with ease over his territory, his sharp eyes missing nothing. What did he think of the sudden mass of people invading his domain? As if in answer to her unspoken question, he shrieked and flew toward the distant mountains.
Autumn sighed, almost with envy. She’d been alone in this isolated wilderness long enough, and while it would be stimulating to converse with others who held the same interest in the Anasazi as she did, the sudden invasion of people, noise, and confusion had disoriented her peaceful existence. For a brief moment, she longed to fly away as the eagle had done. Instead, she swung away from the edge of the cliff and headed down the trail.
Sandra Leesmith writes romance designed to warm the heart and make you smile. Sandra loves to play pickleball, hike, read, bicycle and write. A retired teacher, she lives in Arizona with her husband. During the hot summers she and her husband travel throughout the United States in their motorhome, where she enjoys the outdoors and finds wonderful ideas for her next writing project.
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