Santa Fe, New Mexico
Annoyed with the slight tremor in his hands, Beranger North stared at the twenty-two-year-old daguerreotype of his father, William Northcott, the Duke of Brightshire. Next to his father stood Beranger’s eight-year-old half brother, Gavin, the heir to his father’s dukedom back in Kent, and then Beranger himself, age seven, lurking half-hidden behind Gavin. On the duke’s other side stood Beranger’s stepmother, whose fear and treachery had been the catapult that had changed his life.
Those eyes! Every time that boy looks my way I feel the whisper of death.
Her words rang in his mind as clearly as when she’d first uttered them all those years ago.
Beranger took in his father’s tall countenance, his wide, square shoulders, his vivid eyes—the color he remembered being the blue of the darkest sea, a deep cobalt that rendered most people speechless. Gavin’s eyes were the same color—it was the trait of all the male heirs of the family Northcott.
Except me, the illegitimate offspring of a commoner.
Anger made his hand tremble harder, and the image shook. He was a grown man, and he felt that memories of long ago shouldn’t have any hold on his emotions, but sometimes they did. Like today.
Except for the deep blue Northcott eyes, Gavin was the spitting image of Beranger’s stepmother—winsome, to be sure, but fair-haired, rounder of shoulder and slighter of chest than the typical Northcott males. Beranger had grown up to resemble their father. He had the height and strength of his sire, the dark hair that became shaggy if left to grow, the strong chin and straight nose. Had he remained in Kent, Beranger could easily have been mistaken for the duke himself.
Beranger had always known he was different. Illegitimate. He was tolerated by some, possibly hated by others. But in the recesses of his boyhood heart, he’d wanted to believe he held the same status as Gavin. Loved and cherished. His mother and father had been lovers long before his father had wed the duchess—and for a short time after Gavin had been born. They belonged together, and Beranger with them. When his mother passed, his father brought him to live at the manor house without question.
Then, sixteen years ago today, the course of his life changed. He remembered every detail as clear as yesterday, but he refused to let himself dwell on it. “Does no good to look back,” he murmured aloud as he slid the photo, his only memento of his former life, back into the burgundy velvet bag that had long ago lost its sheen.
“Happy birthday, Father,” he said. He placed the keepsake in a small leather pouch and clipped the bag closed. The leather had grown supple over time, just like his ability to find the good in his new American life.
Beranger knew he had nothing to complain about. He’d made a fortune in the hills and rivers of this great country. Men considered him an expert in the field of mining. Eleven years ago, when Beranger was eighteen, an old-time prospector, in for a drink at some broken-down saloon, found him mopping floors to make enough money to eat. The grizzled fellow took him under his wing and taught him everything he needed to know to strike it rich. And Beranger had. Where to look, and then how to coax gold and silver out of the earth.How to read a man’s eyes to see if he was bluffing at poker. By the time his mentor died, Beranger had a bank account bursting in a way that most men only dreamed about. Finished with mining, he’d packed up his tools and moved to town. But his reputation had spread. He was sought out for advice. Soon others were throwing money his way just for instruction, saying he had a nose for minerals.
Yes, America has treated me well.
He’d wanted to prove himself as a man, and he had. The Northcott name meant nothing to him now—he’d abandoned it as soon as he ran away—nor did the lack of his family’s acceptance. Faced with being illegitimate, he’d proven his legitimacy. Many times over. Ashbury Castle had no hold, and his home village of Brightshire was just a distant memory.
“And that’s how I like it.”
For the past year, he’d called Santa Fe home. It was the longest he’d stayed anywhere. Soon he knew the urge to pack up and move on would be upon him, just like always. As a matter of fact, he was planning to speak with a rancher about a new possibility that very night, at supper. If the draw was strong enough, he’d be headed for a town in Colorado called Eden.
As he placed the leather bag that held his father’s picture back into the trunk for another year, he thought of his mother, his real mother, and wondered what kind of person she must have been. He hadn’t known her, because he’d been too young when she’d died. But from his uncle he’d learned she’d been kindhearted and generous. A woman not impressed with riches, but with loyalty and love. A smile played around his lips.
Sobered, he closed the lid. It was time he headed to the saloon to scare up a game of poker. He needed something to pass the hours before his meeting tonight.
Eden, Colorado, he thought again.
Settling in one place sounded nice. If he found the right woman, would he be able to overcome his rambling ways? Or would that burning need to keep moving ignite once more?Return to Heart of Mine