Saturday, March 08, 2014

Saturday Sample, March 8, 2014

Welcome back to Saturday Samples! This week I'm giving you a scene from Ride to Raton, the second novel in the Owen Family Saga. James Owen has contracted a marriage of convenience with a Hispanic girl named Amparo, since the man she was sent to marry has died. James intends to return her to her home in Santa Fe. She has a different view on the subject. Winter is coming, but that's not the least of their troubles.

          It was late afternoon when James and Amparo neared Trinidad, one of the towns along the trail to Santa Fe. They crossed the Purgatory River beneath the looming height of stair‑stepped, flat‑topped Fisher’s Peak, then pulled their horses to a stop on Main Street in front of a store.
          Amparo craned her neck to one side to look down the street, then to the other side, and glanced back the way they had come. “AquĆ­ estamos,” she said.
          James shrugged his shoulders at her words. “This is Trinidad. I hope the storekeeper has a good warm blanket he’ll sell me cheap.”
          After he got down and tied the horses and mules to a rail set into posts, he put up his arms to help Amparo to dismount.
          Behind him he heard a loud cackle, followed by a rude laugh. Then a slurred voice called out, “Looky here. A new boy in town. And he’s brought his own fancy girl.”
          James’s back stiffened as his body tensed, but he tried to keep his face clear so Amparo wouldn’t see there was a problem.
          “A dirty Mexican, at that,” rasped a second voice. “Hey girlie, guess what I got for you.” The voices joined in ugly laughter.
          James lowered Amparo to the ground. One part of his mind appreciated the lightness of her body, the swirl of her cape as her feet touched the street. Another part thought, I’m not minded to pick a fight today, but when a man takes on a duty, he has to protect his stewardship. He turned to face the challenge, keeping the girl behind him and to his left side as his right hand dangled handy to the gun he wore in his holster.
          Two men sat on barrels in front of the store, sharing a bottle of whiskey. They kept up their nasty talk, laughing and pointing at James and Amparo.
          “Excuse me, gents,” James began. His voice sounded mild in his ears, but he didn’t feel mild. He felt mean—mean and ruffled—for these men had said some harsh things about the girl at his side. “I like a good joke, but I reckon I missed yours. Tell it again so I can join the merriment.”
          “He can talk.” One man nudged the other. The two held their sides, laughing fit to bust a gut and rocking from side to side.
          “That’s a mighty fine greaser gal you got there,” the second man hooted. “She belong just to you, or do we get a sample?”
          As the man talked, Amparo caught a quick breath. She must have heard the word `greaser’ before, James thought. Her sandal slid in the gravel as she backed up a step.
          James took one step forward. “She’s a lady,” he said with a brittle edge on his voice.
          “Yeah. Sure she is,” the first man said, leering and winking at Amparo. “Ain’t you gonna share her?” He took a pull from the whiskey bottle.
          “We’ll be glad to pay you,” the second man said, then he fished a coin from his pocket and tossed it at James’s feet.
          The bright circle plumped into the dust, and James stared at it, feeling the nerves pinging in his tight jaw. He had to concentrate to keep his hand from pulling the gun.
          “She’s my wife,” James declared. He heard his words echoing off the front of the building back to him. They had a ring like a fine and shining quarter thrown on a marble countertop.
          “The devil you say,” the first man sneered, then giggled.
          “No white man needs to marry a Mexican,” tittered the second. “Not when he can get it free.” He collapsed from the barrel to the ground. The first man bent over to raise up his friend, and fell in a heap atop him.
          The trouble was over. These men are harmless enough, James reflected, although their words bit deep into his soul. He kicked the coin aside, took Amparo’s hand, and stepped past the men into the store.
          “Malditos. Bad mans,” she whispered, and her hand shook in his.
          When he looked at her to see if she was frightened, the angry set of her chin and the fire in her eyes cleared up his worry. His chest expanded as he drew in a breath of relief mixed with pride.
          “That’s a girl. They’re only drunks.” James smiled and watched the corners of Amparo’s mouth inch upward, then he squeezed her hand and led her deeper into the store.
          At the back counter stood a man with a large nose and a green visor over his eyes. He looked up and cleared his throat. “We don’t serve Mexicans,” he said, sniffing.
          “She goes where I go,” James answered.
          “Then take your business out of here. I don’t like greasers.”
          That fine, proud feeling left James, and he clenched his teeth to stifle a hot retort. He could feel muscles bunching along his jaw, down his neck, and through his chest to his belly. Despite the tightness of his body, an oath got through his teeth, and he grabbed Amparo’s hand and hurried her along as he stalked down the aisle.
          “This town must be full of Yankees,” James muttered. “You don’t deserve this kind of treatment.”
          As he stepped from the door, several gunshots brought him up short, and he moved sideways to shield Amparo behind him. He couldn’t see who had fired, due to the stinking gray cloud of smoke that drifted over to them, but there were no more shots, and soon he saw the results of the gunplay lying crumpled in the street.
          The drunks from the front of the store lurched to the edge of the boardwalk to stare down at the body, and James turned to block Amparo’s view. “This town is roaring,” he told her between his teeth. “There’s no safety for us here.”
          He helped Amparo to mount, then untied the animals, swung into his saddle, and gigged the sorrel to a trot.

Racial discrimination has always been an ugly issue. I'm proud of James for standing up for a woman who is essentially a stranger to him.

What do you do when you encounter those who would consciously cause others pain? Have you yourself dealt with discrimination because of your race? Did anyone stick up for you?

I hope you enjoyed this scene from Ride to Raton. Some readers cite it among their favorite books. Thank you for visiting. I love to read your comments, so if anything in the sample compels you to speak up, rest assured that I eventually read what you write and will reply, if needed. Questions? I'm open to them, too.

Please come back next Saturday for another sample. Thank you!

Marsha Ward is the award-winning author of the acclaimed novel series featuring the Owen family. Her latest book, Spinster's Folly, won the 2013 USA Best Book Award for Western Fiction. A former journalist, Ward has published over 900 articles, columns, poems and short stories. She is the founder of American Night Writers Association aka ANWA.

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