Desert Isle Keeper
The Double Cross
Capturing the brutality and fragility of life on the frontier, The Double Cross is a strong beginning to a new series set in New Mexico in the 1780s.
As a juez de campo, an agent of the Spanish crown who registers and inspects livestock brands in the territory of New Mexico, Don Marco Mondragon knows and executes his duty to his constituents. He is the closest thing to law enforcement Valle del Sol, on the edge of Comancheria, has. While performing duties as juez de campo away from his hacienda, cholera took the lives of his young wife and twin sons. Marco is without family, a solitary man in need of companionship, though he does not yet realize it.
Upon riding into Santa Fe with his neighbor Alonso Castellano, Marco encounters Alonso’s future in-laws, the Morenos. The Morenos are an unpleasant lot and Marco is anxious to be away from their home until he sees Senor Moreno’s niece Paloma. Orphaned in a brutal Comanche raid, Paloma Vega is now eighteen and obviously mistreated by the Moreno family. Marco is intrigued by Paloma and wonders what it would be like if she were to return to Valle del Sol with him. Marco fears losing another wife, however and begins the return journey with only his men and a yellow dog bought from Senor Moreno for company.
He regrets this decision almost immediately as thoughts of Paloma and her kind nature consume him. The dog gets away from him and makes its way toward its former mistress. Unwitting of the magnitude of the danger of the journey to Valle del Sol, Paloma sets off to return the little dog to its rightful owner, the man whose light brown eyes she can’t forget.
When Marco looks at Paloma he doesn’t just see a woman who has endured a horrific experience at the hands of Comanche raiders and survived the abuse heaped on her at the home of her relatives. He sees her strength and also her kindness, evidenced by her caring for the runt of the litter of puppies. Paloma never views Marco as a meal ticket or merely a way out of her dreary life with the Morenos. She, too, sees his kindness, evidenced in the way he treats his employees and the care he takes with his newly acquired dog.
Paloma, for all her fear, never cowers. She has plenty to fear, yet stands her ground well and faces those fears. Marco takes care with her, allowing as much as possible for her to accustom herself to him and his place in the world. As she gains confidence, Paloma begins to take charge of the hacienda, befriending the housekeeper and riding with Marco while he performs his duties as juez de campo.
While they are instantly attracted to one another, their relationship builds slowly, as befits Marco’s nature. He is a deliberate man, one who takes great care with his words and actions. Paloma also is not one to rush headlong into any situation. Marco’s marriage proposal and the subsequent negotiations in which he engages to try to convince Paloma to marry him though she has no dowry are beautifully done.
This novel is short, maybe category length, but packs a full story with plenty of frontier action and believable, sympathetic characters. I’m already looking forward to the next entry in the Spanish Brand series, but until then I will content myself with rereading The Double Cross.