San Antonio, Coahuila y Tejas
March 5, 1836
Someone was in the house.
The realization was like jumping into icy water. Afraid to breathe, afraid to move, Olivia Torres held herself perfectly still, her hands gripping the bed sheet, desperately straining to hear a noise, praying it had just been a continuation of her nightmare.
A soft thump in the kitchen sent tremors coursing through her blood and her skin became clammy. She sat up quickly—cringing as the bed creaked, counting in her mind, ticking off the time since she had heard the first noise. In the dark, cold room, time seemed to crawl and she feared whoever it was had been in the house for several minutes already.
Her mouth was dry, her hands trembling. Olivia slipped off the bed and knelt on the cold floor, ignoring the ache in her ear as her heart pounded frantically. Her fingers felt under the cornhusk mattress until the smooth butt of a pistol fit into her palm. Gripping it tightly, her tremors slowed and she felt stronger, braver.
The door to her room seemed yards away, though it was only two short steps. Her mind was racing with possibilities and she tried to imagine how she would handle whatever it was she faced. Olivia hoped it was only her grandmother, or perhaps Serena, up and about for some odd reason. The likelihood was very small.
More than likely it was a Mexican soldier or a vagrant seeking shelter, food, or some other comfort she wasn’t prepared to offer. The sporadic fighting at the mission had been going on for days now, and it seemed inevitable that Santa Anna was going to make a hard push at the Alamo any day. It seemed every passing moment the Mexican Army built in size.
But the tension was thick and the soldiers were restless. She didn’t want to think about the danger her family would be in if the soldiers decided her home would provide entertainment. Cautiously, she opened the door and slipped out into the hall. The insane thought ran through her mind that her feet were cold and she should have grabbed her slippers. Yet her hands were sweating.
Same as in her dream, her heart pounded so hard it seemed impossible to hear anything more than the thundering cacophony. She hesitated for a moment in the hallway, pressing her back to the wall as she tried to gather her wits. This wasn’t her nightmare. There were no bullets and cannon balls flying around her. She was in her own home and just needed to discourage someone trying to escape the cold March night.
Her heart lurched as someone bumped into their stack of cast-iron pans. The curse that floated on the air was one she had never heard before, and her cheeks flamed at the colorful expression from the deep male voice that held a drawl that wasn’t familiar to her. Licking her lips, she whispered a quick prayer and crossed herself, then tiptoed silently towards the kitchen.
She couldn’t hear any more sounds, which only made her more nervous. Her ear started to throb painfully. She clenched her teeth together. It was bad enough she could barely hear a sound out of her left ear, but it was worse that it continued to ache and throb.
She peered around the corner of the hall, barely peeking her head out into the kitchen. Shadows from the moonlight made it difficult to distinguish anything. Gradually, her eyes adjusted and she began to pick out the familiar objects in the kitchen.
One of the pots had been knocked to the floor. Whatever man had invaded her home that night had certainly been clumsy. But where was he now? Nothing moved in the shadows. Swallowing hard, fingers tightening on the gun, she took a step forward, then another.
Nothing moved, not a sound was made other than her own nervous breathing. She took another step and her foot slipped on something. Surprised, she glanced down and noticed dark spots scattered on the floor. Confusion lasted for only a moment before her mouth went dry.
Blood. She heard an ominous click behind her. Her instinct was to whirl around and confront whoever had invaded her home, her sanctuary. But she had learned the hard way she needed to listen to reason and rational thought instead of blindly following her gut instinct.
“What do you want?” Her voice was nowhere near as strong as she had hoped. It even quivered. She had no idea what kind of madman held a gun at her back.
There wasn’t an immediate answer and her fingers twitched around her gun.
“Is this the Torres home?” The voice was deep, rough, and strained.
“What do you want?” she demanded again, avoiding his question. She was proud that her voice was stronger.
There was a sound, as though he took a step towards her, but then stopped. “I was told—a man told me you could help me…”
She turned very slowly, trying to keep her gun hidden within the folds of her nightgown. She didn’t see him right away. He was dressed in dark clothes that allowed him to blend in the shadows easily. His dark hat was pulled low over his eyes, and at least a day’s growth of beard shadowed his jaw. But it was hard to focus on anything with the large gun he held.
It wasn’t pointed directly at her, but she had no doubt the mysterious man would aim at her heart in the space of a breath.
“I’ve come for sanctuary. If you aren’t able to provide it, tell me now so I can get away quickly.” His words were curt and to the point and made it impossible for her to dodge the question.
“This is not a boarding house.” She didn’t know if she was handling the man the right way or not.
For all she knew she was only provoking him further. For a moment, the gun wavered and Olivia wondered how injured the man was, and how he had become injured. Perhaps he was a thief that someone had caught and he had escaped. Or perhaps he was a Texian. The thought gave her hope. Maybe he had brought others with him and they had come to help the defenders holed up within the Alamo.
His eyes searched her face intently, the creases around his eyes deepened as he squinted in the faint light to really see her face.
Then he nodded with finality. “I will leave you. Just please don’t alert anyone that I was ever here.”
Curiosity and something else pulled at Olivia, overriding her usual logic. She took a step towards him, then another. “Who would I alert? Whom are you running from?”
The man lifted his chin and stared down at her. Suddenly, she was staring into the coldest blue eyes she had ever seen. She had to restrain herself from taking a giant step backwards. This was a man who had met the devil and laughed.
“Every man with a gun is looking for me,” he said softly.
Olivia’s lips pulled into a thin, tight line. “Then you must have done something truly terrible.”
For a moment something clouded his eyes, an emotion that made her wonder if he actually might still have a soul. “Yes, I did something terrible. I believed in the wrong people.”
Olivia watched him for a moment, and for the first time in her life, was uncertain. “So whom, precisely, are you running from?”
“The entire Mexican Army.”
Olivia fingered the high collar of her nightgown. “It would seem we have a common enemy.” He was silent, watching her warily.
The creak of a floorboard drew his attention and he spun quickly, so quick she wondered if he really was injured, and his gun was pointed directly at a wide-eyed Angie.
“Stop!” Olivia gasped and raised her gun, clumsily cocking it.
The man glanced between the two sisters then slowly lowered his gun. “They’ll be here any minute.” He spoke in a rough whisper. “Once I have tended to my wound, I’ll leave. You’ll not be burdened by me long.”
The weight of the gun felt odd in her hand and she brought her other one up to support it. “Tell me why we should trust you.”
Small beads of sweat covered his forehead, and she could tell by the way he stood he was in a great deal of pain. But he didn’t want to reveal it. “You have no reason to trust me. Nor do I have reason to trust you. But we are rapidly approaching a situation where your only decision will be whether you hand me over to the Mexican Army or shoot me dead right here. At this point, I’d prefer you shoot me, ma’am.”
The man was badly injured. That much was certain. Never taking her eyes off their mysterious visitor, Olivia spoke to her sister. “Do your best to clean up the blood. Throw down a rug if you must. I’ll take him down to the basement…”
At her words, the man wavered on his feet, and Olivia rushed forward. He was bigger than she had realized, standing inches over her already tall frame. As her arms wrapped around him, most of his weight pitched forward and she staggered, trying to keep them both from falling.
“I’m fine.” He grunted and pushed himself back up to his original height, putting minimal weight on Olivia.
Olivia scoffed, but said nothing. As though things weren’t already bad enough, the sounds of men outside suddenly met their ears. The sounds prompted the man draped on Olivia to push from her and begin to head for the back door. “I have to get away. I have to…”
“Come with me. Quickly. Angie, don’t light a lamp. We must hurry.”
Olivia scrambled towards the dining room, the man following closely behind her. She paused when they came to the dining room and turned just in time to support the injured man as his knees sagged. From the warm dampness she felt on her nightgown, the man was bleeding profusely.
“Can you stand on your own?” she whispered.
The man looked down at her with pain in his eyes. “Yes, I’m fine.”
She pulled away from him slowly, trying to make sure he was steady, and realized she was still holding her gun. A glint of light drew her eye and she saw a lantern out in the street. Whoever was out there was getting closer.
Moving quickly, she knelt and pulled back the rug, revealing the small trap door that would take them to the basement. She struggled to pull open the heavy door, and suddenly found a large hand covering hers and pulling for her. She glanced up and the man gave her a tired smile.
“I don’t even know your name,” she whispered.
She realized the door was open and they were wasting precious time. She tore her eyes off of him and started down the ladder.
“Follow me,” she said, even though it was unnecessary.
It felt comforting to issue directions in a situation that was far outside of her control. As soon as she reached the basement she fumbled in the dark for the lantern she knew she’d find.
By the time Cade had made it down the stairs the lantern was lit and Olivia waited nervously for him. When his feet touched the floor his knees buckled, but he forced them to straighten and held tightly to the ladder for several long moments.
Slowly he turned to face her and she pulled in a deep breath. She had been able to tell simply from holding him that he was a large man, but she hadn’t really prepared herself for what he would look like.
He was tall, a good three inches taller than her, and he had broad shoulders that tapered down into narrow hips. His clothing was slightly different from what she had seen many of the Texians wear. He wore a rustic shirt and still had his chaps on, making her wonder if he had been part of a small skirmish against the Mexicans.
She moved towards him with determination, though it felt as though her stomach was lodged in her throat. Good God, he was such a big man, and obviously a strong one that had been through hell and back. Once he recovered—if he recovered—would he prove to be a danger for her family?
A sound reached Olivia and she turned her head to the side, straining to hear with her good ear. It was the sound of boots on the porch. A loud knocking at the door caused her heart to lurch in her throat.
Cade cocked the pistol that was still in his hand and stared up at the floor boards above them.
Then he lowered his gaze back to Olivia. “Do you have any other weapons? Any bullets? Knives, even?”
Olivia took a deep breath for courage and wrapped her arm around the man. “First, you need to whisper, in case you haven’t noticed there are Mexican soldiers entering my home.”
He grunted softly as her body pressed against his side, forcefully guiding him to a cot that lay in the corner. “Second, you are no good in the battle against the Mexican military if you can barely stand.”
She turned slowly and eased him down on the cot.
He grimaced in pain, then opened his piercing blue eyes on her. “Why are you doing this?”
“Because I refuse to have a man die in my house. I don’t want your spirit haunting me,” she snapped back at him, even though she couldn’t keep the teasing tenderness to her voice.
The man—Cade—might very well die that night, lying on the cot in the basement of her home. She began to turn from him but was drawn up short by his hand clasping her wrist. She looked back at him in surprise, her eyes fixated on the spot where his flesh touched hers. She couldn’t remember the last time a man had willingly touched her, and the sensation left her more breathless than when his body had been pressed to hers.
“Mr. Cade… I must go help my sister.”
“Cade. My name is Cade. Just Cade.” His other hand came up and caught a handful of her nightgown. “And how do you plan to explain this?”
The bright red splotches all over her gown were far too obvious to be ignored. A guard would be certain to question the stains. Olivia’s mind raced. Would Angie be able to confront the guards on her own? Shaking free of Cade’s grasp, she raced for the ladder and went up as fast as her now numb feet would allow. She hadn’t heard the front door open yet, and prayed Angie had been successful in cleaning up the blood.
She nearly screamed when her head popped through the opening and nearly collided with Angie. Where was her usual calm?
“Do I let them in? Are you coming out?”
“Did you clean up the blood?”
“Most of it. I covered the largest spot with a rug.”
There was a pounding at the door again and, by the sounds, the men outside were growing impatient. “I can’t come out. My gown is covered in his blood. Close the hatch and cover it. Don’t light a lamp till you’re nearly at the door. Pretend you just woke up and…”
“I know how to lie, Olivia,” Angie said, already beginning to lower the door. “Keep your light dim. I don’t want them to see through the floorboards. I’ll come get you when it is absolutely safe.”
The door closed and Olivia said a quick prayer, hoping her decision hadn’t just killed her family.
End of Excerpt