Destiny’s Shadow

 

                           DESTINY’S SHADOW



          The country is on the verge of civil war, and Alexandra Stratford is desperate to rescue her four year-old nephew from the hands of his powerful and abusive father. When she enlists a mercenary for help, she gets more than she bargains for.

          Logan Drake is devilishly handsome, bold, and arrogant—and he has an agenda of his own. From the first moment he sees her, he knows that something doesn’t ring true. Intrigued by the mystery, he resolves to learn the secrets of this fair-haired beauty with the startling sea green eyes. As they embark upon their mission, made even more perilous by the outbreak of war, little does Alexandra know that Drake has a score of his own to settle with her brother-in-law.

          From the evils of a Missouri plantation to political intrigue in the nation’s capital, their journey reveals painful truths and a love that is tested time and again by the trials and tribulations of the Civil War.

PROLOGUE


February, 1861—Kansas


The night was bitterly cold. The new moon and the blinding snow obscured the five men on horseback who pushed steadily across the Kansas line. They needed no light to mark their way; the route paralleling the Osage River was one well known to them. They had followed it on past raids along the Kansas-Missouri border. Only the haste and nature of their mission this night saved the prairie sod homes in their pathway from destruction.

When they rode into Unionville, the scout that had been sent ahead was waiting for them. Silently, he pointed to a small, square building that stood between the bank and the general store. A yellow light streamed through the window illuminating the gold and red letters on the glass that read The Unionville Sentinel.

The leader nodded and signaled for his men to dismount in front of the newspaper office. There was little need for caution. The streets stood empty, and the howl of the prairie wind concealed the jingling of their spurs as they set foot upon the boardwalk. Through the window they spied an older man of medium height and build engaged in the business of printing. A young woman busily stacked newspapers as they came off the press.

The leader turned to the scout. “That her?”

“Yeah. Pretty, little thing, ain’t she?”

“That ain’t our concern. We do what we come to do. Anyone else in there?”

“Just her, the old man, and the kid.”

The leader motioned to the others and moved around to the door. There was a loud splintering of wood and a shattering of glass when he kicked it open. Gusts of snow blew in and pages of newsprint went flying through the air. The fire in the potbelly stove flared in the wake of the bone-chilling draft. The woman cried out, and her father ceased his frantic efforts to gather the scattered papers as, one by one, the raiders filed into the room.

The man stepped protectively in front of his daughter. “What do you want?” he demanded, struggling to keep the fear out of his voice.

The leader’s pale eyes bore straight through him. “Where’s the kid?”

“No!” cried the woman, when the scout pointed to a door that led to the living quarters.

The leader turned to his gang. “Tear the place apart, until you find it.”

Instantly, type and books crashed to the floor as the marauders overturned tables and cabinets, ransacking the room with a religious fervor.

“You dirty, no-good bushwhackers! That bastard sent you, didn’t he?” the old man shouted.

He lunged at one of the intruders and a deafening explosion split the air. The woman screamed as her father clutched his chest and crumpled to the floor, a bright crimson stain spreading across his shirtfront. Across the room, the killer smiled and coolly blew the smoke from his gun barrel.

The woman slowly sank to the floor in shock and disbelief and cradled her father’s head in her arms. The leader looked down at her dispassionately for a moment, the hooded eyes betraying no trace of humanity. When he started for the door to the back rooms, the woman bounded to her feet and frantically pummeled his back with her fists in a mad effort to stop him.

Cursing, the leader twisted around and locked her arms in a bruising grip. He lifted her off her feet and threw her to another member of the gang who caught her easily and encircled her with his arms.

A small, frightened voice cried out from the back room. “Mama! Mama!”

“Jaime!” The women struggled helplessly against her captor.

When the leader emerged carrying a terrified little boy wrapped in blankets, she kicked, screamed and clawed with renewed energy. Arching her back, she twisted in her captor’s arms and raked her nails down the side of his face, leaving four bloody streaks. The raider yelped and unleashed a volley of oaths.

“Hey, Todd, iffen you can’t handle a woman any better’n that, ye best hang up yer spurs,” jeered one of his sidekicks.

“Give her over to me. I’ll tame her fer ye,” yelled another.

“C’mon, boys, it ain’t here. Best leave afore someone comes by,” said the scout.

At the mocking laughter of his departing companions, Todd’s mood turned ugly, and he viciously backhanded the woman across the face.

The scout grabbed his arm. “Leave her be. We got the kid, an’ slappin’ her senseless ain’t gonna tell us where the journal is.”

“You leave her to me. I’ll get it out of her.”

“The colonel said she wasn’t to be touched. He has other ways.”

Todd angrily threw off the scout’s hand. “To hell with the colonel. This bitch needs to be taught a lesson.”

“The colonel ain’t gonna like it.”

“He ain’t gonna know now, is he?”

The scout looked at the woman. She was so pretty, so frightened and, for a moment, he faltered beneath pleading, blue eyes. But the look on Todd’s face warned him not to interfere, and the scout turned away. He tried to close his ears to the young woman’s cries as he hurriedly left the newspaper office.


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