Saturday, May 21, 2011

Sample Saturday: Ride to Raton, Excerpt from Chapter 2

Here's my second Sample Saturday offering, an excerpt from Chapter 2 of the second novel in The Owen Family Saga, Ride to Raton.

To learn more about Sample Sunday, see this post on the Kindle Author blog. To find more samples of e-books, follow the Twitter hash tag #SampleSunday.

$3.99 on Smashwords and Amazon's Kindle
$15.95 at for Trade Paperback

Chapter Two

As Amparo Garcés y Martinez wrung another rivulet of soapy water from the twisted white blouse she held in her brown hands, she gazed above the roofline of her home toward the sun-bathed mountains notching the horizon beyond Santa Fe. Puffy white clouds hung above the hills as though they were pinned on a clothesline stretched across the brilliant blue sky. Vegetation painted the slopes in variegated hues of greens and browns.

This is beauty, she thought, sighing, and glanced toward the shrine tucked into a niche in the corner of the courtyard. María Santísima, is Heaven so lovely a place as Santa Fe? Is my dear papá there? Tell me it is so, Holy Mother. If I know he is happy, I can bear to live without him.

Amparo wiped one eye with the back of her hand, then gave the blouse another twist. I miss him so much, Little Beloved Mother. I never got to tell him goodbye.

She took a deep breath and let it escape slowly from between her full lips. Oh, Madre de Dios, give me a little of your strength. Help me to bear my burdens with a light heart.

Amparo remembered the blouse clasped in her slim hands, shook it gently to uncoil it, then thrust the garment into the rinsing pool of the stone laundry basin. A few drops of water splashed onto her richly embroidered green satin skirt. She frowned, exclaimed, “¡Vaya!” and grabbed for a dry rag to sop up the liquid before it spotted the stiff cloth. She dropped the rag to the flagstone beneath her soft slippers and raised her arm to her head to push back the fringe of soft black hair clinging to her damp forehead.

I am sorry, Virgen Santa. I became distracted. I know it is absurd to wear my best clothes for this task. But they are the only clean clothes I have left, and if I am to have anything else to wear, I must do the laundry myself. You see, the woman came home from her errand this morning and dismissed the maid before she could even begin the washing.

“¡Chica!” cried a disapproving voice from a doorway. Amparo jumped. The voice continued. “Why do you wear your good clothes to do the wash? You will ruin them, and I cannot buy you any more fine things.”

Señora Catarina, you startled me!” The girl turned from the washtub and snatched up another blouse from a woven basket at her feet. “I could not help but wear these clothes. They were all I had to wear when you sent Lupe away.” She rubbed the blouse with a bar of soap smelling strongly of lye, then began to scrub the garment against the stone washboard in front of her.

A slender woman with thin red lips and wide eyes fringed with spiky black lashes stepped into the courtyard, her long black taffeta skirt swishing with the motion of her hips. She approached a pot of geraniums hanging from a bracket against the kitchen wall and, plucking a blossom, inserted it into the black knot of hair coiled at the back of her head.

“You forgot to call me ‘Mamá’,” said the woman, hiding a yawn behind her hand. “Until I met with the lawyer, I did not realize we were so poor that we could not afford to keep Lupe,” she added, arching her dark brows. “We will have to conserve until matters improve, so for the time being, you will wash the clothes and linen, and I will watch that Rafaela does not waste any food as she cooks.”

“My papá would not want me to do the wash always,” the girl protested, shaking her shoulder to dislodge a thick braid of black hair that rested upon it. “He said I must learn to keep a household, but I also must remember to be a lady.”

“Then your papá should have left more money to me and not so much to the beggars on the street,” the woman answered in a sharp tone. “You will do as you are told, chica.”

Amparo drew herself up proudly, rapidly blinking her dark brown eyes. “My papá was a great man to give money to the poor. He said we did not need much, and he was looking forward to receiving his reward for good deeds in Heaven, once he arrived there.”

“And for his stupid deeds, I have to suffer.” Catarina folded her arms across the front of her white blouse.

Amparo bit her lip. “My papá was not stupid. And it will not injure us to suffer in life.” She looked at the woman for a moment, then resumed her labors.

The woman drew in a noisy breath. “If you like to suffer, then we will do so,” she said, putting her hands on her hips. “We will not buy cream for the coffee, and no more sugar.”

Before Amparo could protest, the iron knocker boomed against the front door six times. The sound filled the courtyard with echoes. The girl stopped scrubbing and looked up. “Shall I see who is at the door?”

Catarina shook her head. “Keep working. I will go.” The woman moved in the direction of the front hallway, and Amparo went back to her work.

As she worked, she heard a murmur of voices at the front door. When it stopped, Catarina came back across the courtyard toward the laundry basin. Her mouth was brittle with a smile of satisfaction as she slowly fanned a folded sheet of paper before her face.

“Well, chica, perhaps I will have cream and sugar after all.”

Amparo raised her arms from the washbasin and dropped a skirt into the rinse tub. “What is that?”

Catarina regarded the girl with a cold look in her narrowed eyes. She tapped the paper against the open palm of one hand.

Why does she hate me so much, Holy Mother? Amparo asked silently.

Presently the woman spoke. “It is a way out of our difficulties, chica.” She turned away.

“What do you mean?”

Catarina cocked her head, then slowly pivoted on her high-heeled shoes. The smile on her lips sent a chill up Amparo’s neck, and she felt a prickle at her scalp. The woman held the paper high. “If you must know, this is your salvation.”

The girl took two steps forward, then stood stiffly beside the washbasin as Catarina came toward her, looked her over, then circled behind Amparo, trailing her free hand along the girl’s shoulders.

Amparo shuddered at her touch.

“When your papá had the poor taste to die, I asked my friend Señor Fuentes for his assistance.” Now Catarina was again in front of Amparo, her carefully rouged upper lip curling as she tilted Amparo’s chin upward with two fingers. “He saw you in the marketplace one day, and suggested that there is one good solution to my struggles.”

The woman turned Amparo’s head from side to side with her hand. “I am sure now that he was right.” Catarina loosed the girl’s face and tapped the paper. “Señor Fuentes received this communication yesterday. There is a man, a young man, who lives in the Territory of Colorado.” She paused, again arching a brow. “He is seeking a wife.”

“You are going to remarry?”

“No. It is not I who shall be a bride.” Her thin lips twisted toward a smile, and her eyes went hard as she gloated.

“¡Ave María, Madre de Dios!” Amparo whispered as comprehension froze her face. Her body went rigid, her hands in midair.

“You are to meet him in a small village known as Leones on the twenty-sixth day of October. Señor Fuentes is making arrangements for your jornada.”

“My journey?” Amparo’s hands dropped to her sides.

“Yes.” Catarina consulted the paper. “In the mission church you will marry the man, one Julio Rodríguez y Guzmán. In a few days, he will make a fine settlement on you. I, of course, will see to the disposition of the money.”

“Vaya, mi mamá,” said the girl, almost whispering. She swallowed, trying to wet her arid throat. “It is too soon to talk of marriage. I am not seventeen for two more weeks. I know nothing of men.” Virgen Santísima, intercede for me now in this time of trial.

“You’ve gone pale, chica. You do not appreciate our wonderful news?”

Amparo shook her head to clear it, then took a deep breath to settle herself.

“I suppose you do not want to go to the man? You would rather stay here and starve?” The woman laughed as Amparo shook her head again. “You need not worry, chica. It is very simple to please a man.”

Catarina approached Amparo and, taking her by the hand, drew her out into the middle of the courtyard. She tilted her head and looked at the girl.

“First, you will undress, so that he may appreciate your charms.” Catarina’s voice was low, seductive. “Do not look so shocked, chica. After all, you will be married. He will touch you.” The woman caressed Amparo’s cheek, and the girl shrank from her. Catarina laughed and drew her handkerchief from her pocket. “He will probably kiss you. Then he will take you to the bed, and you will lie down, perhaps upon silken sheets and pillows.” The woman trailed the scrap of silk across Amparo’s hand. “That will be pleasant upon your skin.” Catarina gave a bark of a laugh, and waved one hand in the air matter-of-factly. “Then he will do what he will do. You will pretend that you like it.”

Amparo lowered her head, attempting to hide her horrified face. After a moment, she looked up to find the woman appraising her.

“Will you like it?” Catarina smiled on one side of her mouth. “Will you like it when he touches you, strokes you, when he makes you a woman?” She laughed. “No, I do not suppose that a timorous child like you will appreciate the pleasures your bridegroom will bring to you.” She shrugged her shoulders. “Of course, it is possible that he will not be gentle. No matter. I will have cream in my coffee, and you will be the mistress of a large rancho. Make an heir for the man quickly, chica.” She turned away dismissively.

Amparo drew a quick breath. She took another, then angry words burst from her mouth. “You are selling me to this stranger! You are selling me like a...whore!”

Catarina gasped, turned, and struck Amparo across the face. The girl fell to the tile floor, hitting her arm against a large carved chest. She hunched her shoulders, clasped the injured arm against her chest with her other hand. Her eyes were tearless. Santa María, I will not cry.

“It is impossible to help you, chica. You appreciate nothing. Nothing!”

“You cannot make me do this hateful thing,” Amparo cried out, her back braced against the chest.

“Evil, willful girl, if it takes a stick to teach you, that is how you will learn to be obedient.”

“I will not do this,” Amparo whispered.

“Ungrateful child! Because of your thoughtless, selfish deviltry, your papá will weep in Purgatory forevermore!” The woman swept from the room, skirts rustling.

Forever in Purgatory? It cannot be so! Amparo fell forward onto the cold floor before the shrine. Blessed Virgin, tell me my papá is safely in Heaven!

Has anyone ever manipulated you to comply with their wishes? How did you feel? Did it cause a rift in your relationship?

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