is number 5 of the Coldiron series. The series has received high praise from national reviewers such as Booklist, Bookmarks, and Kirkus. It is a rousing saga of adventure, romance and violence set in the rugged frontier of New Mexico and old Mexico.
The time is 1846 and President Polk orders General Zachary Taylor to march his small American Army of 5,000 men, encamped at Corpus Christi, Texas, to the Rio Grande and start a war with Mexico. A war that will decide the future ownership of the American Southwest; Arizona, New Mexico and California.
Sixteen year old Charlie Bell, mother dead and deserted by his father, works as a blacksmith’s to survive. Hating the charcoal smoke burning his lungs and the ear bursting clang of iron hammers pounding on iron, he lies about his age and joins the Army. The Army marches west to the Rio Grande, the disputed boundary between the United Sates and Mexico. General Taylor dares the Mexicans to attack.
The Mexicans attack and Taylor marches his army into Mexico. Out-numbered three to one, the Americans fight four fierce battles, at Resaca de la Palma, Palo Alto, Monterrey, and Buena Vista, and defeat the Mexicans. To survive the savage attack of the Mexicans, Charlie kills with musket and bayonet.
At Buena Vista and while fighting a young Mexican soldier, a cannon ball lands near them and explodes. Both men are seriously wounded.
While healing from his wound in the army hospital, Charlie visits the wounded Mexican soldier Ernesto Armentes, taken prisoner and now healing in the prisoners’ hospital. Over the next days they become friends. Upon healing from their wounds, both young me weary of killing strike out for New Mexico to make their fortune.
They fight their way through the outlaws of the deserts and mountains of Mexico. Near Torreon, they kill bandits to save a mother and her young daughter from being raped. They arrive in Santa Fe and find New Mexico is a land of conquered Mexican people. The Americans, with but a tiny force of five hundred soldiers, are trying to maintain law and order in the huge territory.
Charlie and Ernesto, after two years of hard work with Charlie blacksmithing and Ernesto farming his father’s small section of land, find they can never acquire enough money to build the horse ranch they desire. There is only one way to accomplish this. They steal a herd of filly colts. They make the
mistake of stealing from Luke Coldiron, who has the best horses in New Mexico. They hurry away with the colts into the mountains to find a valley for their rancho.
Max Cleland a ruthless Texan has come into New Mexico with a band of killers to rob the conquered Mexicans of their land. He kills a friend of Luke’s and steals his large rancho, a Land Grant given to him by the King of Spain generations ago. The Army Commandant, fearing that Cleland’s killing and thievery will cause the Mexicans to revolt against his small American force, asks Luke to find Cleland and his band of killers.
As Luke prepares to search for Cleland and his band, he discovers that a score of his colts have been stolen. He hurries into the mountains to track down and hang the horse thieves, and to kill Cleland and his band.
Thus begins a searing saga of search and vengeance as Luke turns hunter and killer.
As Elena rose from her stool and moved toward the stove, a loud knocking sounded on the door. A man called out in a rough voice, “Widow Sandoval, open the door. We’re wet and cold and need a fire and food. And some other favors you can give us.”
Elena halted and began to tremble. She rushed to her mother and clasped her tightly around the waist. “It’s them! It’s them! Mother, don’t let them in. Oh, please don’t let them in. They hurt me awfully when they were here before.” She broke into violent sobs, her young shoulders jerking with their violence.
Rosa hugged Elena tightly to her and stared with desperation at the door. “I won’t let them in, baby. I won’t let them hurt you again.”
“Let us in, woman, or I’ll kick the door down,” the same voice shouted angrily. A heavy foot struck the door and the wooden bar jumped in its metal brackets, but held fast.
Elena’s body jerked with great spasms and she shrieked with terror, her cry rising to a peak that was not recognizable as human.
Charlie watched in astonishment as mother and daughter held each other in their fear. They seemed to have forgotten Ernesto’s and his presence in the house. The cruelty, the cowardice of the men demanding to be let in to do what they wanted with the woman and the girl washed over him in a wave of anger that seemed to burn him.
“Get your gun,” Charlie said to Ernesto. He moved quickly to the crack between the door and the doorjamb and peered out into the night. The clouds were gone and in the moonlight, he saw two men standing on the porch.
“Two of them,” he whispered to Ernesto. “Don’t give them any warning. You kill the man on the left. I’ll take the one on the right.”
Ernesto stepped to Charlie’s left and held his pistol ready.