Excerpt from Blood Stones: The Haunting of Sunset Canyon
Summer Solstice, 1911,
Little Springs River at Sunset Canyon, Arizona:
Emmaline Marton stopped at the top of the trail, breathing hard, one hand over her thrashing heart, the other holding up the hem of her long, cotton skirt. She turned in a complete circle, her gaze raking over every inch of the terrain as she recited her silent plea. "Oh please, please be here!"
She gripped the front of her thin blouse and pressed her fist hard between her breasts, a futile effort to quell the wild heartbeats that threatened to drain her spirit, siphon away all her hope into the thirsty emptiness around her.
He wasn’t there. All she saw was pinyon pine and cactus, dotting the mesa not far ahead, and the massive display of buttes, spires, and boulders of an ageless mountain that scored the sky far into the distance. What if he didn’t appear? Did he know she hadn’t brought what he’d demanded of her?
She closed her eyes over brimming tears, struggling to hold back a flood of emotion that would be as useless against the desolation of her heart as one thunderstorm would be to quench the deep thirst of the desert in which she was forced to live. She let her arms fall to her sides, took one step, and halted, startled by a winged shadow that moved toward her over the bare ground. She flinched and looked up as the shadow slid over her body. A red-tailed hawk treaded air above the dry, steep slope, the same one that had circled above her each of the last three days. It was hungry, too, she thought. But its eyes watched for any moving feast to sustain its life, while hers sought only the tall, sinewy form of the man who, in so short a time, had become her reason for living.
She took a deep, shaky breath, released the twisting hold on her blouse, then smoothed the rumpled fabric. Grabbing the brim of her floppy hat, she repositioned it to better shade her face and gazed up at the graceful bird. It appeared unhurried, clearly patient in its quest—in obvious contrast to her own lack of patience that had every muscle in her body drawn tight as sun-dried leather. Watching the bird of prey made her envy his vantage point. He could see everywhere at once.
Frowning at the bird, though it wasn’t the cause of all her disappointment and despair, she looked away then quickly sighted back on the hawk. Something seemed odd. She squinted and focused on him. After a few seconds, it became clear that he was watching her, moving in slow circles in the air, and casting, she noticed, a gliding shadow on the ground that traced circles around her. It made two complete circuits before she glanced back up, hesitated for a moment, then stepped outside the circle, and waited.
The bird seemed to hover, as if undecided, then flew up into the sky and headed toward higher ground.
Emmaline sighed and rubbed her arms, prickly with something other than a chill. It couldn’t be—could it?
But anything could happen. He could even be that hawk flying circles in the sky.
She blew out a heavy breath and reached into the pocket of her skirt. Her hand closed over the smooth stone hidden there. She closed her eyes, wishing that touching this curious gift from him would make him appear. She palmed the stone and felt its strange heat. What color would it be when she took it out and looked at it this time? Red with gold flecks? Dark variegated green like an abalone shell? Each time the stone was different. Strange, mysterious, and beautiful, just like he was. She was never quite sure when he would appear or what secret he would show her.
She shook her head, released the stone without looking at it, and pulled her hand from the soft material of the pocket. Holding up the hem of her skirt, she walked in the direction of the mesa. Tiny dust devils kicked up with each step. Her eyes darted from one spot to another to capture any movement—to see if, from a shadowed crack in the cliff face, he would take form and step out. Or, from the glare of sunlight glinting off veins of quartz in the bluff, his shape would waver like a mirage until he stood before her a solid man.