Dru Ryder woke and turned in his bed. His arm stretched out across to the emptiness that was beside him and the old and awful lurch inside his chest brought back reality. Asleep, he sometimes dreamed that he was living his old life, but waking up was always a blow. He moaned and turned his face into the pillow and wished that it would all go away, but it didn’t happen.
It was almost a year since he had come home from his sheriff’s office in the early evening and found the house empty and his beautiful, blonde, young wife gone. He allowed himself to think back to the life he had lived before and wished that he could have his old life back again.
In a friendly town, he had been a good sheriff. He and his brothers kept a strong family connection, and they had their whole lives in front of them. He and Polly had planned to have kids, extend the house and grow old together. She was a quick moving, cheerful woman who had lit up his life from the moment they first met. He knew from the start there was no other girl for him. The pain of losing her was intolerable. On top of that he blamed himself. If he had been at home, she would be safe.
Dru pushed himself to a sitting position, and his head hurt with the movement. The empty whisky bottle was on the floor where he had dropped it, but he felt in his shirt pocket and fingered a small pendant that his wife had worn around her neck on a thong of leather. The necklace was a gift from her mother, and she had never been without it. When he had found it on the ground outside of the little house where they lived, he had known immediately that something was terribly wrong.
The small, silver charm was the only thing in the world that had kept Dru going for the whole year. In that time, he had gone over every possibility, but he always came back to the one fact that she would never have gone away willingly and left her necklace behind. The thong was snapped, and he had picked it up with dread in his system. Without that one piece of evidence, Dru might well have taken his gun and ended everything. He had been an excellent sheriff, was well respected in the town, and inside himself there was still that small spark that wanted to right wrongs.
“Oh, Polly. I am useless without you,” he said out loud and not for the first time. “Please dear Lord, let her be safe somewhere and not hurt.”
He slumped onto a chair. The stove had gone out, and there was no coffee to drink.
His brother Joel and his sister-in-law, Lola, found him asleep in the chair and shook him awake.
“Dru, it’s me, Joel. Wake up.” Joel actually slapped his brother’s face and shook him by the shoulders. “This is no good. You have to start doing something.”
“This is no good, Dru. You are breaking our hearts giving up like this.”
Dru looked up wearily and saw the two anxious faces. He felt a sharp pang of guilt at making everyone worry about him but didn’t respond. Inside of him, there was that old sheriff who would ride for days to save someone else, but it was held down by despair and misery.
“Dru Ryder,” Lola said and stamped her foot on the ground. She put her hands on her hips and shouted into his ear. “You have given up, and we won’t let you. I’ve brought you food. Sit at the table and eat and listen to your brother.” Dru looked despondent and shook his head. “Do you hear me?” Lola shouted. He nodded.
“Thank the Lord for a response,” Joel said and took his brother’s arm.
“Up. Now. Eat. Listen.” With a few helping tugs and pushes, Dru sat at the table, and the pie was pushed in front of him.
“You have to eat,” Lola pleaded. “Please, Dru. You are killing all of us by giving up.” That one plea struck the part of Dru that still wanted to do the right thing, and he ate some pie. Joel had stoked the fire in the stove and brought a cup of coffee. Dru was coming back into the land of the living as he ate and drank and the fire warmed him through.
“Better?” Lola asked, and he nodded and even managed a smile for her.
“Thanks, Lola. I know you are right, and I’m sorry to worry everybody.” Joel took a seat at the table.
“Listen to me, Dru. There are some things you should hear, and some things we should do. You are my older brother, and you’ve always looked after me. If it was Lola gone, I would be as desperate as you about it, but we need you to do what works – take action. Snap out of the way you are living and do something.”
“But what?” Dru asked wearily.
“Well,” Lola said sitting down as well, “now that we have your attention, I would like a promise that you will try and be your old self.”
He nodded. “I can try,” he said.
“Polly and I were best friends,” Lola went on, “I miss her dreadfully as well, but we may have some possible news.” Dru looked at her but didn’t react. There had been too many disappointments.
Joel took over. “I know at the time we searched and followed tracks and everything led to a dead end.”
“So, what’s the use in going over old ground and being disappointed all over again?” Dru asked.
“I heard yesterday by a very roundabout way that a man called Collier had told someone else who told someone else that the sheriff’s wife was still alive. Now put your old sheriff head back on and try and remember anything that might give us another clue.”
Dru sat back in the chair and tried to give them a glimpse of the strong and thoughtful man he had been a year ago.
“I know it hurts, but go back to life before Polly disappeared. She would never have left of her own accord. She must have been taken.”
“The sheriff you used to be would have worked out why and kept investigating.”
Dru thought for a few seconds and remembered the happy home, his smiling wife with her blonde curls framing her sweet face. Tears welled up behind his eyes, but he took the advice of his family and tried to think as if it was someone else who needed his help.
“That sounds a good idea,” Lola said when he said as much.
“We had been planning an extra porch to the back of the house, and Polly had been drawing little sketches of what she would like. She wasn’t an artist. They were very rough, but I think she must have been working on them when it happened. They were scattered all over the floor.”
“She had been out down the main street because some friends told me that they talked to her about local gossip,” Lola said, and Dru looked up with a first spark of brightness in his eyes.
“Can you remember the gossip?” he asked as if he was still sheriff and conducting an investigation.
“I think,” Lola said thoughtfully, “it was about Jeannie Crane’s baby, the latest batch of material in the store and and – there was other stuff.”
“Keep thinking,” Dru encouraged, and Joel started to feel as if they might be getting somewhere even though they had been over this conversation before. Dru seemed a little more determined this time.
“We had that hanging the week before after the trial of Wilbur Tanner,” Joel said. “I guess they would still be talking about that.”
“That was part of it,” Lola cried. “Yes, that was part of the talk around town.”
“I can’t bring to mind anyone called Collier,” Dru told them. Then he straightened up and looked at Joel. “Who told you about him?” Joel told him what he had heard and when.
“So, we should find the man who told him and follow the trail back.” Lola clapped her hands.
“That’s the old Dru.”
“If we can do that and get some sort of clue, Will and I can go with you to try and find her,” Joel told him.
“In the meantime,” Lola said standing up. “I am finding clothes and what you need, and you will move in with us.”
“Why? What if she comes back and I am not here?” Dru suddenly panicked at the thought.
“And you think she wouldn’t come to me for the next place to visit? You can’t be trusted here to look after yourself, and when Polly is back home, she will tell me I did the right thing. Come on. No time like now.”
“Don’t argue, Dru. It never works.” But he kissed his wife on the cheek when he said it.
Lola bustled off around the house and asked Dru what else he would need, and he took a pile of papers from the desk.
“This is old sheriff stuff, but I wouldn’t want to get them stolen. Mitch could make use of them.”
“He is doing well but still wishes you were sheriff,” Lola told him.
Once Dru was up and moving, it felt as if he had turned a corner. Lola and Joel gave each other smiles and nods, and they packed what they needed into the small cart they had arrived in.
“Lock up. You can build that porch when she’s safely home,” Joel told him, and they managed to get the man onto the front seat. Lola scrambled into the back, and the journey to their house began.
The main street was quite busy, and lots of people waved at them.
“No doubt I will get questioned when I venture out again. They will want to know why you were being driven down the street in a wagon,” Lola remarked, “but the folk in Whiterush were always decent people. They would all help if it brought Polly home again.”
Dru knew she was right, but he felt so guilty about leaving his job and letting folk down that he tried to just look straight ahead. Finally, they reached the house at the edge of town where Joel had his workshop as a carpenter. The place was warm and welcoming, and his ten-year-old nephew ran to say hello.
It was a relief to be somewhere that felt like life was good, and leaving his empty house had been hard, but he was more cheerful by the minute.
“Have a seat by the fire and think about where to ask for the next step in the search,” Joel said. “If you feel like work, I can use an assistant for holding the big piece of wood I am working on, and Will is coming over later.” He went off to his workshop and left his capable wife to organise everything else.
“I am riding better, Uncle Dru,” Bailey, his nephew, said with a grin, and it helped to bring back a bit of normality. He talked to the lad about horses and riding and drank coffee.
“They will say Ryder by name and rider by nature about me as well as you,” Bailey added. “I love riding.”
“Yes, it does feel good,” Dru admitted and told the lad that his horse was still in the sheriff’s stable.
“Can we collect him and bring him here?” Bailey queried, but Dru was not sure he could walk into that office just then.
“You’ll have to do it sometime,” Lola told him briskly. “Bailey will keep you company. No time like the present, and ask them if they know anyone called Collier.”
Bailey tugged him up from the seat. “Come on, Uncle Dru.” The boy’s enthusiasm was infectious, but Lola made Dru change into clean clothes before he walked down the street.
“You might not feel like it, but you can pretend everything is fine,” she said. She watched the uncle and nephew walk away with Bailey chattering like a magpie.
The boy’s talk distracted Dru enough for him to say good day to people who greeted him, and they actually stopped to talk to Ray Goodman who was an old friend of the ex-sheriff.
“You don’t recollect anyone called Collier by any chance?” Dru asked his friend, but the man shook his head.
“Is it important? I can ask around,” Ray offered, and Dru said it would be a great help.
Several folk called out that it was good to see Sheriff Ryder again. He managed to raise a hand and wave to them, but it was hard. Inside of himself, Dru knew that he had to make this effort.
Dru had to take a deep breath before he walked up the steps to his old office but did it. Trying to step back into a normal way of life was taking a lot of willpower and effort. The sight inside stopped him in his tracks.
The man who had been his deputy and was now the sheriff saw who had come in and jumped up with relief.
“Hello, boss,” he said as if Dru was still sheriff, “I am glad to see you. I need you to listen to this.”
The man sitting to one side with a bruise the size of a hen’s egg on his forehead was his own elder brother, Will.
“Good heavens, Will. How on earth did you get that whack on the head?”
“He got it,” a female voice said from behind the door, “for trying to steal my bag.”
“Don’t be ridiculous. The man has never stolen anything in his life.” Dru jumped to his brother’s defence.
“Tell him what happened,” Mitch, the sheriff told the woman. She was well-dressed and spoke with some authority. She related the tale that her bags were beside the hotel and Will had walked up and simply picked one up and walked away with it.
“My cousin ran after him and stopped him, but he said the bag belonged to a friend.”
“And you hit me with a stick you were carrying at the time.”
“Because you stole my bag,” she repeated.
“You turned the stick and hit me with the heavy part at the end. I wasn’t trying to get away, and the bag belongs to Serafina Gilbert.”
“Well,” Dru said to the woman, “you will have to tell us what is in the bag and that will prove it is yours. If it is, you can have the bag back, and my brother will not press charges for the assault.”
“Assault. Assault. I was protecting my property,” she shouted back.
“Prove it.” Will said and asked if the sheriff had a cold cloth for his face. Mitch went to dip a cloth into a bowl of water and handed it over.
“Yes. Prove it,” he said.
“It contains clothes of mine.” The others waited for more. “Some underwear and two skirts.”
“Colour of skirt?” Dru asked. Being back in an investigation had temporarily taken away the depression and hopelessness.
“Brown and Blue,” she answered. Mitch opened the bag and looked inside and then he looked up and lifted the bag onto his desk. He tipped out two sheets that were covering a heavy handgun and a bag that contained what looked like gold nuggets.
The boy Bailey was watching all of this with great interest and voiced what the grown-ups were thinking.
“Is that gold?”
“It is indeed young Bailey,” Mitch told him, “and I wonder who it belongs to.”
“I told you – Serafina Gilbert. She described the bag and asked me to pick it up because it would be heavy,” Will said.
“Well,” Mitch told the woman who had gone particularly quiet. “It is not your bag. I think you can leave now.”
“Well my bag is exactly the same. It is an easy mistake to make.”
“Would you like me to come and find the real bag with you?” Mitch asked her.
The woman sniffed and picked up her skirt as she swished out of the door and said that she would do that herself.
“Now, Will. Who on earth is Serafina Gilbert?” Dru asked.
“I know,” Bailey grinned. “Mom says she married old Gilbert for his money.”
“I don’t think you should repeat that, Bailey,” Dru said, but the men couldn’t help smiling at the revelation.
“She just paid me to collect the bag. I did some work on the ranch,” Will said. “I was coming down to Joel’s when I collected it.”
“We had best get back there,” Dru said. He asked if his horse was still there and asked Mitch if the name Collier meant anything to him. He explained why, and the sheriff said he would look through the leaflets that came for wanted men although the real name Collier might not be the one on the poster. They went and collected the horse and saddle, and Will picked up the bag.
“Glad to see you out and about, Dru. You can have this job back anytime. I was much happier as a deputy,” Mitch told him.
The brothers and their nephew arrived back home to find Ray Goodman talking to Joel and Lola.
“I found out that a man called Collier is in town and was in the Bucking Bronco saloon just a short while ago. He might still be there but said he was leaving and heading north.”
“Let’s find out,” Joel said, and all four men went off. Lola took the boy inside and heard the strange story of the stolen bag. The bag sat on the chair where Will had left it, and Lola glanced around.
“Can we look at the gold?” Bailey asked, and she opened the bag. There was quite a large handgun, and it was heavy to hold. Lola put it on the table and looked at the bag of gold nuggets.
“They must be worth a lot of money. Seems a silly way to send such valuable things,” Lola remarked and found some papers at the bottom of the bag. They were, indeed, labelled with the name and address of Serafina, and there were some other papers relating to the man who had been hanged the year before in the town.
“Maybe she was related to him and maybe these were his things,” Lola pondered and tucked everything back in the bag. Will could take them to the woman as arranged. She had satisfied her curiosity.
The men came back after a short time and through their very obvious excitement told her that they had found the man Collier, and he described Polly very clearly.
“It was her,” Joel said. “We have to find her.” Lola looked at Dru who was not as bursting with enthusiasm as the others.
“Do you know where he saw her?”
“Somewhere near Blackrock Canyon which is a good ride away.”
Lola touched his arm. “You are frightened that it’s a false alarm again, aren’t you?”
Dru looked at her and nodded.
“We’ve had times before and nothing came of it.”
“But this time, the man had been part of the camp where she was living,” Joel said, and Will added that the man had told them he was riding away north and the sooner the better.
“He said,” Ray Goodman added, “that Polly had been kind to him when he was shot in the arm. She had cleaned it and bandaged it for him even though she was frightened herself.”
“That sounds like Polly,” Lola said. “What now?”
“I’ll take that bag to Serafina as I was supposed to do and then tomorrow we can start off to look for Polly.”
“You, me, and Joel,” he added and patted Dru on the shoulder. “It will do you good to be in the saddle and doing something practical.”
“Wish I could go,” young Bailey put in, and Joel said that he was needed to help his mom.
Ray Goodman said that he was happy to have been useful but couldn’t offer to go along and help. They all told him that he had been really helpful, and Dru thanked him. The man left, and the brothers looked at each other.
“Tomorrow we’ll go and find her,” Joel declared.
“Thanks, guys,” Dru said and slumped into a chair.
“Food and sleep,” Lola told them. “Get yourselves ready for a long journey.” She bustled off to start a meal, and Will went off with the bag of gold. Bailey came and sat beside his uncle.
“Aunt Polly will soon be home,” he said with the wisdom of a youngster, and Dru felt tears prick at the back of his eyes.
“You take care of your mom,” Dru answered and said he should go and check his saddle and guns. The stirrings of hope were making themselves felt in his system, and that had not happened for a long time. He went to brush down the horse and check that all was well and let himself whisper to the animal that maybe, just maybe, life could be happy again. Nero snickered at his shoulder, and Dru realised that he was looking forward to taking action again.
Lola noticed the difference in his step when he came back inside, put a big plate of stew in front of him, and sat herself.
“In a few days, you might find her. Just keep the hope alive.” She reached out and laid her hand on his arm. “Polly is the sweetest natured woman I ever met. The man seemed to think she was well, and it seems like it is a real piece of news for you to follow up.”
Dru nodded and smiled at her. It was the first time his sister-in-law had seen him smile in a year, and that was a good sign.
“I pray every night for her to come safely home, Dru. This time it will work.”
“At least it is a definite piece of information. If I was the sheriff, and somebody else was in this position, I would take a posse and find out.”
The three brothers were ready at first light. They did not look alike at all but had always been close to each other. Each one could ride and shoot and would back the others to the hilt. Will was a big man with wide shoulders and looked quite fierce to those who didn’t know him. Joel was more slightly built than the other two but had friendly grey eyes that twinkled when he was amused, and Dru was the classically tall, dark, and handsome cowboy of storybooks. He had darker hair than his brothers and dark brown eyes. He stood at just less than six feet tall and was a lean and wiry build. His skill as a horseman was well known in the area, and he had been a good sheriff in the town. The folk of Whiterush would all have stood behind the man in a crisis and many a tear had been shed for him in private as he collapsed under the grief of having his wife kidnapped.
The trio of brothers left Lola and Bailey at the steps of the house and walked their horses down the main street. The sheriff came out and waved at them to stop.
“Good luck, boys,” he said, “I heard around town that the people you are after are called the Wiltan gang. They seem to be train and bank robbers from what I can pick up, but they’ve never given us any trouble here as far as I can tell. The place is supposed to be well guarded, so take care. It would be better to take a posse.
“We’ll check it out and come back to you,” Dru answered. “It might be another dead end.”
They thanked him and rode on out of town in the direction of the mountains.
“Take about three days ride to reach the canyons,” Will said.
“We might as well go easy and the horses won’t be tired,” Dru added.
“Did the woman get her gold in the bag?” Joel asked his brother, and Will told them that she had not said a word about what was in the bag.
“She thanked me and paid me the money she had promised. Said that when her brother sent another parcel, she would ask me again.”
“What is it like at that ranch?” Dru asked thinking about what young Bailey had said.
Will grinned. “I think she keeps the old man happy and the foreman runs the ranch. Seems to suit them all so who’s to say anything about it? The woman has a taste for expensive things, but she lives a fairly quiet life.”
The three men rode at a steady pace for most of the day, stopped for food and water and met no one on the trail. They were considering turning off to go cross country when the sound of thudding hooves sounded up ahead.
All three whirled their horses and made it into cover before the approaching horses appeared. They watched from behind the trees as two riders galloped past, and a short time later, four men pursued them with guns in hand. One of the men in pursuit had strikingly blond hair tied back behind his head. His Stetson was loose and had fallen away.
The brothers stayed undercover for some time but nobody appeared, and in the end, they continued their journey and found a hidden spot in the rocks to make camp.
Dru slept with his head on the saddle and wrapped in a blanket. He saw Polly in his dreams as clearly as if she had been standing in front of him. When he woke, he almost expected her to be there beside him but shook away the heartbreak of knowing she was still missing.
“Maybe she is not so far away,” he mused as he washed at the little stream and drank some coffee from the pot over the fire.
After two more days of riding and camping without seeing a single soul, the brothers reached what they knew was the area that Collier had mentioned.
“If it wasn’t for Polly being missing, this would be like the days when we were kids,” Joel remarked as they drew up to look out over the next section of the land. Montana stretched out in magnificent glory with a lake, smooth and glassy reflecting the sky, mountains, and trees. The highest mountain tops still had snow, but the valleys were lush and green.
“It sure is a good lookin’ place,” Will said as he gazed around. He pointed to the far distant right hand side of the lake.
“That side looks as if there would be canyons leading off into the higher ground.”
“We’ll need to be careful,” Dru observed. “Don’t want to spook anybody.”
The men continued cautiously into unknown territory and were very much aware that they could be shot at any time if guards were well hidden and protecting the entrance. The wilderness appeared to be just that – wilderness untouched by human habitation. They were well aware that there could be bears out there, and the place was full of wildlife.
“You wouldn’t go hungry,” Joel observed as they startled some elk.
By nightfall, they had still not found any sign of human settlement and made camp in a protected spot in the rocks but made no fire in case the smoke was spotted.
“We keep looking,” Joel said to encourage his brother the next morning, and they set off again. Dru held up a hand and put his finger over his lips. They all stopped instantly and saw that he had spotted a little curl of smoke rising in the distance.
“There could be a guard somewhere,” he whispered, and they nodded and dismounted. Dru offered to scout ahead on foot and left the other two holding reins and waiting in silence. He took with him the rope from his saddle pommel and loosened the knife in his belt. Guns would raise the alarm instantly.
He moved soundlessly through the trees and stayed away from what was a track that they had been following. By a roundabout route he came to the entrance to a canyon and noted how easy it would be to defend. The entrance was narrow with rocky heights on either side. Sitting on one of the rocky outcrops and not looking very alert was a man chewing on a cigar. Dru looked around carefully to see if they could bypass the man, but the spot had been well chosen.
He backtracked and then climbed the rocks to get above the man on watch.
“Just one chance,” he thought and shook out the rope. “Thank the Lord for competitions when I was a kid.”
Dru was above the lookout but knew one loose stone would give him away. He stepped cautiously and balanced himself in a steady position and then dropped the loop directly down and over the shoulders of the man on guard. The rope jerked, and Dru braced himself to take the strain. The man’s arms were pinned to his sides, and in the time before he could shake free or shout out loud, Dru leapt on him from above and tied the knot securely. There was a scuffle as the man tried to fight with his feet which were still free, but Dru was strong and had spent his working life subduing unruly characters. The breath was knocked out of the captive, and before he could recover, Dru tied the man’s bandana over his mouth to make sure he could not escape or warn anyone. He cut off the rope with a knife and coiled it in his hand. It was too valuable to leave behind. Then he scouted out the route into the canyon and went back for his brothers.
They left the horses hidden away from the track and used the roundabout way to the canyon entrance. Dru checked the guard was still secure and out of sight and then they carried on. The hideaway was well chosen. The narrow entrance had a dozen places that could be used as an ambush, but no one was about, and as the rocky walls opened out into a clearing that was a small, box canyon, they stopped and took cover. The settlement was almost the size of a small mining village. Some of the structures were log cabins and some were permanent cabins with tented extras staked into the ground. It looked like a ranch with a bunkhouse and barns.
Spirals of smoke rose from all of them, and people moved around doing the jobs that folk did everywhere. From the log cabin that was more or less in the centre of the clearing, a man came out. Joel grabbed Dru’s arm, and his brother nodded. They all recognised the blond man that had ridden past at speed after the men on the galloping horses. He went over to talk to two other men.
Then Dru drew in a sharp breath and Will held his shoulders steady, and Joel held up a finger for absolute silence. The woman that followed him out of the cabin was Polly. There was no doubt about that. This was the same pretty girl that Dru had married and still loved desperately. The two brothers held onto him with fierce grips to stop him calling out or rushing forward.
Polly hung out some clothes on the line and went back inside the house.
Joel signalled that they should go further away, and they moved cautiously back the way they had come to be out of earshot.
“We could wait until most of the men go away,” Joel suggested.
“They’ll wonder about the guard when he doesn’t go back,” Will said.
“We need to act fairly quickly,” Dru said and looked around at the territory they were in. “If we set up a diversion to bring the men out of the canyon and one of us leads them away, the other two can go in and grab Polly. She’ll get a fright when we suddenly appear, but we’ll have to allow for that.”
The others agreed it seemed the only plan, and Will volunteered to be the one to draw them away and said he would make for the mountains once he was away. They found a place to hide the guard and make sure he could not get away and then started a fire at the entrance to the canyon to obstruct the view of whoever came out. Will gave enough time for the other two to be in position, and this time they took in the horses but kept them in the woodland.
Joel and Dru waited and then heard the gunshots. Will kept on firing, and it sounded like some sort of major battle. The smoke could be seen curling up from the rocky outcrops, and there was commotion from inside the camp.
Half a dozen men thundered past on horseback, and Dru hoped Will was well away before they reached the end of the canyon.
“Go,” he said. The two men drew guns and ran for the house in the centre. Joel stood at the door ready to defend them if anyone came, but surprisingly, nobody did. One or two women looked across but never tried to come near.
Dru ran inside, and Polly screamed. He called out that it was him, Dru, but she went on screaming and struggled when he took her arm.
“Go away. Go away,” she shouted, but he simply scooped her up in his arms and ran for the door. It was hard running with a weight to carry but they made it to the trees, and he pushed her into the saddle and leapt up behind her. Joel was already mounted and led the way out of the canyon.
Both men hoped that there was not a man left on guard or that the chasing party would give up and go back, but they made it out of the rocky passageway and into the woodland at the side. They made their way in the roundabout fashion that they had used before and stopped to listen for sounds of pursuit.
Polly struggled all the way, and he told her to stay still and asked her how she was feeling.
“We’ve got to get you safely out of here and then we can go home.”
“No. No,” she cried. “I don’t know you. Who are you? Take me back. I live there. Take me back.” The breath was knocked out of her by the movement of the horse, and eventually she stopped screaming and shouting but still struggled violently, and Dru was hard pressed to hold her on the horse.
They stopped to listen for pursuit, but none came to their ears.
“It’s Dru, your husband, Polly. It’s been a year since they took you away,” Joel explained, but she looked at them blankly and clearly had some sort of problem that made her think she should go back to the cabin in the canyon.
“We can’t stay here,” Dru said. He held her tight around the waist and set off through the trees. Joel followed, and they made a circuitous path away from the canyon and up onto higher ground. “Nobody will track us when we are on harder land.”
When the steep slope became too much for the horses, they stepped down and walked. Dru had to keep a tight hold on his wife or she would have taken off and slid back down the slope to get away. In the end, they found a place that was reasonably safe and hid them and the horses. It was also a good vantage point to see anyone approach, and they had time to take a breath.
“Listen, Polly … I have been trying to find you for the whole year and finally made it. You have to remember the life you had before they took you away. Please listen.” He took out the little silver charm that he had carried in his pocket for a year and put it in her hand. Her expression changed, and she put a hand to her head.
“Oh. My head. I was hit on the head when I lost this.”
“Thank goodness, you remember something,” Joel told her. “Can you tell us anything else?”
Polly had stopped trying to get away, and Dru relaxed slightly.
“Who is the big blond man?” Dru asked. “Did he take you away?”
“That is Karlsson. He looks after me. He says I have always lived with him.”
“How long has he looked after you?” Dru asked, and she looked blank and told him she didn’t know. “We are trying to get you home. Do you believe me? This was a necklace that you always wore.”
Polly looked uncertain and then felt the silver shape in her hand.
“My mom,” she whispered. Dru smiled and nodded.
“What was she like, your mom?”
Polly screwed her eyes and clutched the pendant. “She gave me this when I was sixteen.”
“It will all come back once you are safely away from here,” Joel joined in, and Dru said they would stay where they were and see if Will came to find them.
“We might have to detour, but we will get there in the end.”
“You’re safe now,” Joel said. “Lola will be so happy to see you.”
“But I can’t go,” Polly whispered.
“Yes. Yes you can,” Dru said.
“No. I can’t leave the baby.”
There was stunned silence as both men looked at the blonde woman they had come to rescue.
“Baby?” Joel asked, and she nodded.
“He is called Andrew, and he is seven months old.”
The men looked at each other and then at Polly.
“Seven months? Are you sure?” Joel queried, and she smiled and nodded.
”He is such a good baby and quite a big boy now.”
Joel looked at his brother.
“He’s your baby, Dru. He’s your son.”
Dru Ryder sat down on the nearest rock and tried to take this all in. “It puts another complexion on the whole situation. We have to rescue the baby as well.”
“Is the baby safe where he is?” Joel queried, and Polly said that Jennifer would look after him.
“She is kind and helps me all the time.”
“We need more help,” Dru said. “We need to get Polly to safety and then come back with the sheriff and rescue the baby.” Joel nodded and then Dru held up a hand and they all listened. A low bird call sounded, and both men smiled and whistled back.
Joel stood up and looked over the rocks that were hiding them from view. He whistled again and heard a reply. The newcomer found them by following the whistle, and Will staggered into the little clearing with blood dripping from his left arm and looking just about on the point of collapse. He slid from the horse, and his knees gave way. The two men lowered him to the ground, and Polly came forward to see how bad the wound was.
“They always bring the gunshot wounds to me,” she said and knelt down to look at his arm. “Have you got a knife to cut this away?” She was so matter of fact about the job and had obviously got used to dealing with these sights. She wiped away the blood and looked at his arm.
“Gone through. You’ll be okay,” she said unemotionally. “Have we got water?” Polly expertly cleaned the wound on both sides of his forearm and took no notice when he winced with the pain. She ripped up the bottom of her skirt and tied it around the wound. “Try and keep it up against your chest to stop it bleeding again.”
It was coming home to all three men that Polly had lived a very different sort of life for the last year and that was apart from having the baby.
“What do we do now Dru?” Joel asked. The ex-sheriff looked at the woman he had come to bring home and knew that she still didn’t know who he was. That was a terrifying thought, and he was finding it hard to manage, and on top of that, he had to come to terms with the baby. His brothers looked to him to make decisions, and he tried to put the sheriff’s hat back on. Polly was being very matter of fact. He would be the same.
“I think the best thing to do would be to split up. Two people in two different directions are harder to catch. If you two go back in a roundabout way to Whiterush and tell everyone what happened, the doc can check your arm, and the sheriff can be getting together a posse to come back out here. Polly and I will go in the opposite direction, stay hidden, and arrive back at Whiterush from the north.”
“You will gradually get your memory back,” Joel told Polly. “It will happen bit by bit. Lola will be so pleased you are coming home. She has missed you so much.”
Polly listened to him but made no reply.
They made preparations to leave. Will was obviously in some pain from the gunshot. The two men left cautiously, and Dru listened quietly for some time to make sure that no gunfire sounded. Then he turned to Polly.
“I know this is all confusing. It will get better, and we will rescue the baby. Do you believe me?” Polly looked solemn for a few seconds and then gave him a smile. It was the first sign that she trusted him and made his heart jump in his chest. He stopped himself from wrapping his arms around her because there was still the air of the frightened animal, and he was being very careful. He wanted her to trust him like she had in the days before she was kidnapped.
“We will wait until dark before we move, I think. Get some rest, and tell me about little Andrew.” He put his blanket on the ground, and she sat down. He sat beside her but not close enough to make her scared. He dug out the dry rations from the saddlebag and handed her some biscuit and beef jerky. There was water in his canteen, and they ate together for the first time in over a year.
“Andrew has dark hair and dark eyes and a lovely smile. He sleeps through the night and is really very good.”
“What does Karlsson think of the baby?” Dru asked, and she said that he ignored him. There are a couple of small children with other women, and he takes no notice of any of them.”
“Do the women want to stay there?” Dru wondered.
“Two of them would stay because they are with their men, but the others are brought as workers. Jennifer was always talking about wanting to go home.”
“So, we need to bring her out as well?”
Polly nodded and answered a few more questions about the place. It seemed that the blond man was only concerned with money. He was a hard man and quite ruthless, but it was all to protect the gang and make more money.
“Try and sleep a little, and we will travel through the dark,” he said but didn’t want to risk sleeping himself in case she took off and ran away. He stood looking out from the rocky hideaway and trying to decide which was the safest way to go. She slept a little, and he sat with his arms around his knees and wanted to go and hold her close, but he knew it would be the wrong thing to do.
“I’ve found her. Now she has to get well,” he told himself.
They ate a little more and drank some water and then packed up.
“We’ll walk the horse just now,” he said and held out his hand for Polly. “Hold on for these steep bits.” She hesitated but took his hand. It felt so good that Dru Ryder could have shed tears of joy. He had longed to feel the touch of his wife’s hand for over a year, and now that it happened, he had to keep calm and pray that everything would work out.
They reached the more level ground, and he said they could ride.
Would you like to climb onto the saddle yourself or will I lift you?” he asked.
“Lift me, please. I haven’t sat on a horse for a long time.” He took her by the waist and lifted her onto the saddle and then climbed behind her and took the reins in one hand.
“Trust me,” he said and slid his other arm to hold her in place.
“Thank you for being kind,” she told him, “I know you are worrying about me.”
“Tell me what you remember as we go, and it might help to bring everything back.”
She thought for a while and then told him that she only remembered being at the camp.
“I know there were things before that, but they are just out of reach.”
“You remembered that your mom gave you the necklace when you were sixteen. What did she look like?” Dru tried to jog her memory.
“She was blonde like me and loved to wear blue coloured clothes.” She half turned and smiled. “I did remember something else.”
“Why did you choose Andrew for the baby?” he asked as if he was questioning a suspect and a change of subject might startle them into a revelation.
“The name was always in my mind. I just felt happy when I thought about it.”
Dru smiled behind her and told her that he was Andrew but had always been called Dru.
Even if we have to ride on forever more, he thought, life is already worth living again.
The horse walked on steadily through the dark, and every step took them further away from the gang. As the fingers of dawn came up over the horizon, Dru started to search for a place to give them cover for the day. He veered off towards the higher ground again and walked the stallion quite a long way upstream in the small river that came down from the mountains. Satisfied that anyone tracking him would have great difficulty, he stepped out of the water onto a place where the hooves would make no mark.
Dru was starting to think like the strong sheriff that he used to be.
The ground rose away although they were still amongst trees, and in the end they had to dismount and lead the horse to find a way through to open ground. They were finding the walking hard going as it was all uphill, and then suddenly the tree line finished, and they came out into open space and bright sunlight that made them hold hands over their eyes. Dru was only concerned to find a hiding place and not in trying to reach Whiterush. The mountain rose up almost vertically, but there were places that looked possible, and Dru chose one that seemed to lead into the mountains.
“You okay?” he asked Polly, and she patted her chest and said that she had her breath back. Leading the stallion, they walked into the rocky passageway and it led for quite some way before there was what looked like a goat track that wound its way uphill.
“Let’s try that,” Dru suggested, and they cautiously followed the little pathway around the shoulder of the mountain. Polly gasped and reached for his hand as the ground dropped away steeply to one side and they stopped. She told him she was fine, and he led the way forward and was relieved to find that the path went away from the precipice edge and into a sheltered spot with a small trickle of water coming down the rock face.
“This seems a good place,” Dru said and tethered Nero to a stunted tree, “we can’t have a fire because the smoke will be seen from below.” Polly went over to the little stream and scooped some water into her mouth. “Does this remind you of the place we had the picnic with Joel and Lola?”
The woman looked round in surprise and said it was apple blossom time.
“Well done,” Dru replied. “It will come back piece by piece.” She walked over and told him that she was sorry her memory was gone.
“I feel that I know you but cannot quite bring back the reality.”
He told her not to try too hard and it would happen in its own time. Looking out over the panoramic view, Dru was satisfied they were safe for the time being, and if anyone came up the little goat track, Nero would hear them even if he didn’t. He started to unpack the things in the saddlebags and heard some noises from around the corner of the rock. The horse was agitated and shuffled his hooves, pulling against the reins.
Polly looked alarmed and whispered to ask if he could hear somebody coming. He shook his head and held up a hand for her to stay still and lifted the rifle out of its scabbard. The wait seemed interminable, but the noise of something in the bushes continued. He reasoned that it must be an animal, and the one that appeared was enormous, strong, and fierce.
“The Redemption of the Lonesome Sheriff” is an Amazon Best-Selling novel, check it out here!
It’s been one year since Sheriff Dru Ryder last saw his wife alive. Ever since she was kidnapped by a ruthless gang, he has succumbed to misery and whisky, overwhelmed by grief and guilt over his failures as a husband. And when he thought that everything was lost, there came hope! An anonymous tip eventually pushes him to fight his depression and seek her in the wild. In an unexpected turn of events, they meet each other, but she acts like a stranger! Will the sheriff help her find everything she’s lost, even if endangering their future together?
Polly Ryder was kidnapped from her home. Her memory is foggy and she only remembers the place where she was held. In losing her memory though, she also forgot the problems that tainted her marriage. When her husband comes to her rescue, will she regain her memories and forget the heartache that comes with it?
This is a journey of battling together to overcome all the obstacles that stand in their way and the snatches of memory that she gains. Finding his wife is only the beginning, since a greater battle awaits him. In saving her from the vicious gang, will he also save her from the mistakes he made in the past? Will he earn her forgiveness so that they can relive their love all over again?
“The Redemption of the Lonesome Sheriff” is a historical western romance novel of approximately 80,000 words. No cheating, no cliffhangers, and a guaranteed happily ever after.