I needed more community, solid secondary characters who are interesting to me. Although I could set this new story into the characters from the previous three, I hadn't actually wanted to do that. I wanted to put them into a town where I have been many times but never, of course, during the period in which the book will be set. I began to wonder, despite its interesting diversity of Chinese, Indians, miners, military, shopkeepers, even a poet, what would these people really be like?
Finally the story began to take shape. I expect when I am there again, which should be about when this gets posted, I'll find even more ideas. The following vignette won't be part of the book because I took the story a different direction. Still it has the feel I want for the hero and heroine.
As soon as Rand rode into the narrow canyon, past the blue walls, around the bend and saw four men and Belle, guns pointed at him, he understood it was a trap. It was too late to turn around; so he rode boldly forward with only one question in his mind. Was Belle part of the plan? Seeing her standing beside her horse gave him no clue. Neither did her employer who moved to take her arm.
“How nice to see you, Captain,” Forester said with a broad smile.
“Wish I could say the same thing,” Rand said pulling Jess to a halt. The odds were against him if he decided shooting his way out. He had no clue from the stoic expression on Belle’s face as to what her part in all this was. Had she been forced to write the note?
“Get off your horse,” Forester ordered and when Rand didn’t immediately obey, he put his gun against Belle’s temple. “You could decide to disobey but she won’t like the results. Such a lovely face to destroy.”
“Don’t do it, Rand,” she said wincing a little as the barrel dug into her skin. “He won’t really kill me.”
Rand dismounted and a moment later two men had grabbed his arms, unbuckled his gun belt, unbuttoned his jacket, pulled it and his shirt from him and bound his hands together behind his back.
“Your major is a better judge of men than you, my dear,” Forester said releasing his grip on Belle.
“You can’t kill him,” she said with her chin in the air. Rand had to smile. No matter what the situation, Belle never seemed to lose her grit. That was good as at this point, grit was all either of them had.
“What did you want with me?” Rand asked even though he had a pretty good idea. He also had no respect for a man who would be stupidly lured to an assignation with a beautiful woman even if that man was himself.
“You have been way too nosy into my dealings,” Forester said. “If you had stayed out of it, you’d not find yourself in the situation you’re in. Fight Indians, wasn’t that your job? When did it become protect the Chinese or investigate graft?”
“Let her go and we can discuss this,” Rand said aware his hands were beginning to grow numb from the tight bonds.
“Too late for that. Here’s the plan. Two young lovers come out here, get carried away with their passion, a rock slide, horses run off. He’s hurt. She can’t leave him. They die of heat and thirst. Such a sad story. I will, of course, grieve for Belle. Her mistake was choosing a lover who was so inappropriate.”
Belle should have been crying, weeping and in a panic as one of Forester’s men tied her wrists behind her back, but she stood without a word and let them do it. He felt proud of her while he also wished she had never written him the note. Likely she’d had no choice.
“You won’t get away with it,” Rand said.
“Rough him up a little,” Forester said. Two of his men grinned. While one held Rand’s arms, the other drove his fist into his belly, doubling him up. The blows that followed were hard and fast until he finally crumbled to his knees.
“The proud major humbled,” Forester said with a smile. “Well here’s how this scenario works out. At the mouth of this canyon, my men will wait. You two can console each other if you wish but without water or anyway to do the things you will so wish to do. As your thirst grows, you might even lose interest in that. We’ll be back later to take the bodies into town. Such a tragedy.” He laughed and he and his men rode off down the canyon.
“Why did you come?” she hissed as she crawled over to him.
“Why did you write me the note?” he asked when he could say it without a groan.
“I didn’t. Anything you got didn’t come from me.”
“There’s a knife in my boot,” he said, “try to get it out.”
“And do what?”
“Cutting us free would be a good start.”
She smiled then and bent forward to kiss his bloody lips. “Just slipping my hands free might work better than possibly slitting your wrists.” A moment later her hands were free. She lifted her riding skirt.
“Not that I don’t admire your beautiful legs,” he said already thirsty, “but how about getting me free first.”
She smiled as she revealed a sheath attached to her thigh with a small knife. He twisted around to give her a better angle to cut the rope. When he was free, he began rubbing his hands and trying to decide what options they had. Going out the mouth of the canyon clearly wasn’t one of them. Two knives against armed men was another way to end up dead; dead wasn’t what he wanted to be.
Before she could move away, he grabbed her and pulled her to him. “I thought we were done for,” he said as he bent to claim her lips.
“We still might, and you’re getting amorous,” she said with a laugh but met his kiss with as much passion.
“I plan not to get killed. But we have to move fast.” He pointed to the wall of the canyon. “We have to go up.”
She felt of his forehead. “You must be running a fever. We’d be killed faster that way than with them.”
“Look again.” He pointed to the way the ledge sloped. “That’s hard rock and it forms a small trail for animals. We can take it up and get out of this trap. We can’t stay here with no water.”
“Rand, falling is a quicker way to die than thirst.”
“Why don’t we do neither?”
She licked her lips. “Have I mentioned I am scared of heights?”
He smiled and took her into his arms. “Those guys will come back when they figure we are dead of dehydration. How appealing is that to you?” He counted on her courage to give him the answer he wanted.
She sighed and looked up again. “All right, but if I fall, I am taking you with me.”
“I think you already did that.” He smiled and took her hand leading her over to the cliff as he studied the rock formation. The layers came in diverse colors, some crumby but some were solid looking. When they got to the top, so far as he could see, he’d be able to lift her up. Then he’d have to figure his own way up as the last five feet didn’t look nearly as stable. He glanced over at her uneasy expression and decided not to mention that part.