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7

Ethan's cry came clearly into the kitchen, where Eve and Willow were just finishing the evening dishes.

Ill take care of it, Reno said from the other room. Unless hes hungry. Then hes all yours, Willy.

Willow laughed as she wrung out the dishrag. Youre safe. When I finished nursing him an hour ago, he was as full as a tick.

Calebs voice came from the long table just off the kitchen where he and Reno had been working over the Leon journal and that of Calebs father, who had been a surveyor for the army in the 1850s.

Eve, Caleb called, arent you finished polishing plates yet? Reno and I are having a devil of a time with your Spanish journal.

Im on my way, Eve said.

A moment later she walked up to the table. Caleb stood and pulled out the chair next to his own.

Thank you, Eve said, smiling up at him.

Calebs answering smile changed his face from austere to handsome.

My pleasure, he said.

Reno scowled at them from the bedroom door, but neither one noticed. Their heads were already bent over the two journals.

Reluctantly Reno went on into the room where Ethan howled over the injustice of being put to bed while the rest of the family was up and about.

Can you make out this? Caleb asked Eve, pointing to a tattered page.

She pulled the lantern a bit closer, angled the journal, and frowned at the elaborate, faded script.

Don thought that abbreviation meant the saddleback peak to the northwest, Eve said slowly.

Caleb heard the hesitation in her voice.

What do you think? he asked.

I think it referred back to this.

Eve turned back two pages and pointed with her finger to the odd symbols marching down the margin.

One of the symbols was indeed labeled with an abbreviation that could have been the same as the one on the other page. The letters were so faded it was hard to tell.

If thats so, Caleb said, Reno is right. It could be referring to the Abajos rather than the Platas.

Caleb opened his fathers journal and turned pages quickly.

Here, he pointed. Coming up from this direction, the terrain reminded Dad of a Spanish saddle, but

But?

Caleb flipped pages until he came to the map he had made combining his fathers explorations with his own.

These are the mountains the Spanish called Las Platas, he said.

The Silver Mountains, Eve translated.

Yes. And where theres silver, theres usually gold.

The excitement stealing through Eve showed in her smile.

If you come in this way, Caleb continued, at a distance these peaks look a bit like a Spanish saddle, too. But you could say that about a lot of peaks.

Did they actually find silver in the Platas?

Caleb shrugged. They found silver somewhere on this side of the Great Divide.

Nearby?

No one knows for sure.

Caleb pointed to scattered clusters of mountain peaks on the map. Some rose like islands from the red rock desert to the west. Others were part of the Rocky Mountains. At the base of one cluster, Calebs ranch was marked in.

Nothing showed at the base of the other mountains but question marks where old Spanishvistasmay have been located centuries before. Yet the land wasnt quite naked of mans presence. Drawn in with dashed lines, like the tributaries to an invisible river, rumored Spanish trails led down out of the mountain groups, came together in the canyon country, and headed south to the land that had once been called New Spain.

But here, Caleb said, pointing to the heart of the canyon country, a weeks hard ride to the west, pack trains loaded with silver wore trails in stone that you can still see today.

Where?

Down on the Rio Colorado, Reno said from behind them. Only, the Spanish called it the Tizon in those days.

Startled, Eve looked up so quickly her head nearly knocked against Calebs.

Reno stared at her, his green eyes shimmering with an anger that had grown every time he glanced out of the bedroom and saw the dark gold of Eves hair brushing against the thick black of Calebs hair as they pored over the journals.

Renos anger came as no surprise to Eve. He had been furious with her ever since Willow had insisted that they stay for supper and the night.

What did surprise Eve was the baby gurgling happily in Renos muscular arms. It occurred to her that she had rarely seen Reno without his nephew in the hours since they had arrived.

In a man as gentle and giving as her father had been, such pleasure in a baby wouldnt have surprised Eve. In a man like Reno, it was a revelation that astonished Eve every time it occurred. Nothing in her past had prepared her for it. The hard men she had known were just that hard. They used their strength for their own ends, and the devil take the hindmost.

Unfortunately, Reno reserved the gentle side of his nature for his family, period. Eve had no illusions that a saloon girl would get the benefit of his relaxed teasing and flashing, beguiling smiles. Nor would she get the benefit of the protective love that he extended to his sister.

Reno was obviously furious with Eve for insinuating herself into Willows house and Calebs courtesy. Eve knew it each time she looked up and saw Reno watching her with fierce green eyes.

At least he was careful not to let Willow or Caleb see his anger. Not that Eve thought Renos restraint was for her benefit. He just wanted to avoid raising any questions he didnt want to answer about saloon girls and his sisters home.

Is that where were headed? Eve asked Reno. The Colorado River?

I hope not, Reno said curtly. Ive heard the Spanish knew a shortcut between here and the Abajos. If they did and we find it well cut several weeks off our travel time.

Caleb muttered something under his breath about fools, lost mines, and a maze of canyons that had no name.

Oblivious to all, Ethan leaned forward and made a swipe at the bright scarf that was holding Eves loose chignon in place. When he missed, he protested. Loudly.

Bedtime, called Willow from the kitchen.

Eve slid the scarf from her hair. Immediately her chignon came undone, sending a cascade of dark golden hair down her back. She caught up her hair and bound it in a loose knot. Then she deftly reshaped the scarf into a doll with a knot for a head, other knots for arms, and a flaring skirt below.

Here you are, sugar man, she whispered to Ethan. I know how lonely those nights can be.

The babys hand closed around the doll with surprising strength. He waved it and crowed happily.

Though Eve had meant her words to be too soft for anyone but the baby to hear, Reno did. His eyes narrowed as he searched Eves face for any sign that she was trying to get his sympathy. He saw only the gentleness that came over her expression whenever Ethan looked at her and cooed his delight.

Frowning, Reno looked away and reminded himself that all women even conniving saloon girls had softness in their hearts when it came to babies.

Willow came out of the kitchen, took Ethan, and headed for the bedroom. Immediately the coos became unhappy cries.

I dont mind walking him around the room for a while, Reno offered.

If hes still crying in a few minutes, Willow said firmly.

How about if I sing him to sleep?

Willow laughed and gave in. Its a good thing youre going gold hunting. You spoil your nephew shamelessly.

Smiling, Reno followed his sister into the bedroom. A few moments later, the gentle strains of a hymn floated out into the room, sung by Renos fine baritone. Willows clear soprano joined in a few moments later in flawless harmony.

Eves breath came in with surprise and pleasure.

Had the same effect on me the first time I heard them, Caleb said. Their brother Rafe sings like a fallen angel, too. Ive never met the other three brothers, but I imagine theyre the same.

Think of sitting next to them in church.

Caleb laughed. Something tells me the Moran boys ran more to fighting than to sitting in church.

Absently Eve smiled, but it was the voices that claimed her attention. Music had been one of the few pleasures in the orphanage, and had been practiced under the demanding yet patient choirmaster from the nearby church.

Eyes closed, Eve began humming to herself. She didnt know the particular verse they were singing, but the tune was familiar. Automatically she took the counterpoint, letting her smoky alto voice weave through the simple harmony created by brother and sister.

After a few minutes, the music claimed Eve, making her forget where she was. Her voice soared, skimming between the light of Willows soprano and the deep shadow of Renos baritone, enriching both like a rainbow stretched between sunlight and storm, radiant with all the hopes of man.

Eve didnt realize what she had done until the harmony stopped abruptly, leaving her voice alone. Her eyes snapped open.

She found herself being stared at by Caleb, Reno, and Willow. Color rose in Eves cheeks.

Forgive me. I didnt mean to

Dont be a goose, Willow interrupted quickly. Where on earth did you learn that gorgeous harmony?

The church choirmaster.

Could you teach Caleb to play that on the harmonica?

No time, Reno cut in. Weve got journals to work on tonight, and were leaving at first light tomorrow.

Willow blinked at the roughness in her brothers voice. It hadnt escaped her that Reno was reluctant to involve Eve in his family. Willow couldnt imagine why.

The look in Renos eyes told her not to ask.

I found where the journals cross, Caleb said into the uncomfortable silence.

Good, Reno said.

I doubt it, Caleb said dryly.

Why?

It leaves you with half the West to explore for gold.

Reno took the chair on the other side of Eve and sat down.

Bracketed by the two men, Eve felt frankly petite. As she was every bit of five feet, three and one-half inches tall, the feeling was unusual; most of the men she met were barely a hand taller than she was.

Trying not to touch either of the pair of wide shoulders she was wedged between, Eve reached for the old Spanish journal.

So did Reno. Their hands collided. Both jerked back with a muttered word an apology in Eves case and a curse in Renos.

Caleb looked away so that neither of his companions would see the broad smile on his face. He had a good idea what was making Reno so touchy. Wanting a particular woman very badly and not having her had been known to shorten the tempers of men much more easygoing than Reno Moran.

And Reno looked like a man who was wanting a particular woman. Badly.

Now, Caleb said, clearing his throat, you say the Cristobal expedition came up from Santa Fe to Taos.

Yes, Eve said quickly.

She reached for the journal once more, hoping that the slight tremor in her fingers didnt show.

Her skin burned where Reno had touched it.

Some of the early expeditions went past the Sangre de Cristos and into the San Juans before turning west, Eve said in a carefully controlled voice.

As she spoke, she turned pages, tracing routes on maps that had been drawn by men long dead.

They crossed through the mountains about

She turned to Calebs journal.

here. They must have passed very close to this ranch.

Wouldnt surprise me, Caleb said. Were on the flats, and only a fool climbs mountains.

Or a man looking for gold, Reno said.

Same thing, Caleb retorted.

Reno laughed. He and Caleb had never seen eye to eye on the subject of hunting gold.

But here the trail gets hard to follow, Eve continued.

Beneath her slim finger a page in the Spanish journal showed the major route unraveling into a network of trails.

That symbol means year-round water, Eve said, pointing to one.

Caleb picked up his fathers journal and began thumbing through it rapidly. Year-round water was rare in the stone canyons. Any source his father had discovered would have been carefully mapped and marked.

What does that symbol mean? Reno asked.

A dead end.

What does the sign in front of it mean? Reno asked.

I dont know.

Reno gave Eve a sideways glance that was just short of an accusation.

Tell me more about the other symbols, Caleb said, glancing between the two journals. That one, for instance.

That means an Indian village, but the sign just to the right of it means no food, Eve explained.

Maybe the Indians were unfriendly, Caleb said.

There was a different symbol for that.

Then its probably some of the stone ruins, Reno said.

What? asked Eve.

Towns built of stone a long, long time ago.

Who built them?

Nobody knows, Reno said.

When were they abandoned? Eve persisted.

Nobody knows that, either.

Will we see any of the ruins? And why dont the Indians live there today?

Reno shrugged. Maybe they dont like scrambling up and down a cliff to get water, or to hunt, or to grow food.

What? Eve asked, startled.

Most of the ruins are smack in the middle of cliffs that are hundreds of feet high.

Eve blinked. Why on earth would anyone build a town in a place that hard to get to?

Same reason our ancestors built castles on stone promontories, Caleb said without looking up from his fathers journal. Self-defense.

Before Eve could say anything, Caleb laid his fathers journal down next to the other one and pointed at a page in each.

This is where the journals go separate ways, Caleb said.

Reno looked quickly between the two hand-drawn maps.

You sure? he asked.

If Eve is right about that sign meaning a dead end, and that one meaning an abandoned village

What about white cap rock? Reno said, pointing to Calebs journal. Does your father mention it?

Only well north of the Chama. Red sandstone is what he saw most of.

Cliffs or arch-forming? Reno asked.

Both.

How thick? And what about mudstone?

Lots of it, Caleb said. He pointed to the Spanish journal. Here and about here.

Were the layers thin or thick, slanted or level? Reno asked quickly. How about slate? Granite? Chert?

Caleb bent to his fathers journal once more. Reno did too, talking phrases that were more like code to Eve. With every minute, it became more obvious to her that Reno hadnt spent all his time in gunfights and looking for gold. He was a man of rather formidable geological learning.

After a few minutes Reno made a sound of satisfaction and tapped a page of the Spanish journal with the clean, short nail of his index finger.

Thats what I thought, Reno said. Your father and the Spaniards were on opposite sides of this big neck sticking out into the canyon country from the main body of the plateau. The Spaniards thought it was a separate plateau, but your daddy knew better.

Caleb studied the two journals, then nodded slowly.

Which means, Reno continued, that if theres a way to cross over the neck about here, we dont have to go all the way to the Colorado River to pick up the Cristobal trail.

Where do you want to cross? Caleb asked.

Right here.

Eve leaned forward. The hasty knot she had made at the nape of her neck after giving Ethan her scarf came loose. A long lock of her hair escaped and spilled across Renos hand. The individual strands gleamed in the lantern light like the very gold he had spent his life seeking.

And like gold, Eves hair was cool and silky against his skin.

Sorry, she mumbled, hastily redoing the knot.

Reno said nothing at all. He didnt trust himself to. He knew his voice would reveal the sudden, hard running of his blood.

Maybe youre right, Caleb said.

He looked intently between the two journals.

But if youre wrong, he added after a minute, you better pray theres more water than either journal shows.

Thats why Im hoping Wolfe wont mind if I run off with a couple of his mustangs for packhorses.

Take the two Shaggies, Caleb said. And get Eve a desert mount, too. Her old pony wouldnt make it.

I was thinking of the lineback dun, Reno said. She didnt foal this year.

Caleb nodded, then said bluntly, Horses are the least of your problems.

Water, Reno answered.

Thats one, but not the worst.

Eve made a questioning sound.

The worst problem, Caleb said, is finding the mine if the damned thing exists. Or were you expecting to find a sign saying, Dig here?

Hell no. I was expecting a carnival barker and dancing elephants to point the way, Reno drawled. Now, dont you go telling me there wont be any. It will plumb break my poor little heart.

Caleb laughed and shook his head.

All fooling aside, he said a moment later, how do you expect to find the mine?

Mining leaves marks on the land.

Dont count on it. Its been two hundred years. Long enough for trees to grow right over any signs of mining.

Im not a bad geologist, Reno said. I know what kind of rock to look for.

Caleb looked at Eve. What about you? Think you can come close enough with that journal to find a mine?

If not, theres always the Spanish needles, she said.

What?

Eve reached into the front pocket of her faded dress. A moment later she brought out a small, leather-wrapped bundle. When she unrolled the leather, two slim metal rods fell into her palm with a musical sound.

These, she said.

Spanish dip needles, Reno explained to Caleb. Theyre supposed to find buried treasure, not metal ore or water. Reno looked at Eve. Where are the other two?

She blinked, then understood. Don said his ancestors had figured out that two worked as well as four, and were easier to use.

Hells fire, Caleb said in disgust. Youd be lucky to find the floor with those.

What do you mean? Eve asked.

Theyre damned hard to use, said Reno. Ive never tried it with two, though. God knows it cant be worse than four. He looked at Eve. Have you ever used them?

No.

Reno held out his hand. She dropped the small rods on his palm without touching his skin with her fingers.

Look close, Reno said to Eve. The idea is to keep the needles touching on the forked end.

At the tips? Eve asked.

No. At the base. Interlocked but moving easily, able to respond to the least change.

Eve watched, frowning. The notch of each Y was so shallow that it offered no real aid in keeping the rods together.

Delicately Reno brought the narrow metal sticks together until they barely met at the base of the wide Y. Breathing very lightly so as not to break the contact, he held them out for Eve to see.

Kind of like this, Reno said. Just kissing, mind you. No real pressure.

Doesnt look all that hard, Caleb said.

Not when one person is holding both rods. But they dont work that way. Takes two people, one rod each.

No fooling? asked Caleb. Give me one of those.

Eve watched while Reno handed over one slim metal stick and kept the other. They indeed looked like needles when held in the mens large hands.

Large, but not clumsy. Reno and Caleb had unusually fine coordination. Eve had seen both men use their fingers with the delicate precision of a butterfly landing on a flower.

Indeed, very quickly Caleb had matched the flattened notch on his needle with the one on Renos. Keeping them barely touching was more difficult. Even so, it was only a moment before Caleb mastered it.

See. Nothing to it, Caleb said.

Uh-huh, drawled Reno. Now lets take a walk around the table.

Caleb gave him a startled look. With the needles touching?

Every step of the way, Reno said. Just kissing, mind you. No shoving.

A grunt was Calebs only answer. The two men stood, matched needles, and looked at each other.

On three, Caleb said. Onetwothree.

They took a step.

Instantly the small rods separated.

The second time, Caleb tried applying more pressure when he took a step.

The rods crossed like swords.

The third time the men tried, the rods clashed, slipped, and drew apart.

Damn, Caleb said.

He flipped the dowsing rod end over end on his palm several times, then shot it toward Reno without warning.

Renos free hand flashed out and snagged the flying needle. With no break in the motion, he flipped a rod in each hand like a circus juggler.

Whatever the problem in using the rods, lack of dexterity on the part of the men wasnt it.

Good thing youve read enough geology books to stock a university, Caleb said. Those needles are as useless as teats on a boar hog.

Eves hand shot out, catching one of the dowsing rods as it somersaulted obediently above Renos palm.

May I? she asked calmly.

The question was unnecessary. She had already leveled the forked end of the rod in Renos direction. The metal stick was balanced between her palm and her thumb, so lightly held that a breath could sway the metal.

Reno hesitated, shrugged, and carelessly pointed the forked end of his rod toward her. He held the rod as she did, balancing it between his palm and his thumb.

Eve moved her hand slightly. The notches met, brushed, and came back together like lodestone and iron.

As they caught and held each other, a ghostly current rippled through the rods to the flesh holding them, startling both people.

With a gasp, Eve let go of her needle. So did Reno.

Caleb caught both pieces of metal before they hit the floor. Giving Eve and Reno an odd look, Caleb returned the rods to them.

Something wrong? he asked.

I was clumsy, Eve said quickly. I knocked the rods together.

Didnt look clumsy to me, Caleb said.

Reno said nothing. He simply watched Eve through narrowed green eyes.

Let me try it this time, Reno said.

Eve positioned her needle and held still. Ready.

Reno brought his rod close, then closer, then closer still, brushing the prongs and then the cup of the Y on the end of Eves Y.

Ghostly currents rippled.

This time Reno and Eve managed to hold on to the rods, but their breath came in hard and fast. Even that small a motion should have jerked the needles apart.

It didnt.

On three, Reno said.

His voice was unusually deep, a sound like black velvet. The tone was a caress as intangible and undeniable as the subtle currents flowing through the Spanish needles, stitching together two halves of an enigmatic whole.

Yes, Eve whispered.

Reno counted. As one, they took a step forward.

The prongs interlocked yet moved readily, as though faintly magnetized.

Deliberately Reno jerked his hand. Instantly the needles came apart.

Again, he said.

The needles came to each other as though alive, eager, hungry for the fragile currents that would both join and define them.

I will be damned, Reno whispered.

He looked up from the oddly shimmering needles to the woman whose eyes were the color of purest gold.

And he wondered what it would be like to be buried within Eve, feeling her shiver as delicately and as completely as the two rods touching, two halves interlocked, moving freely, joined by currents of fire.


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