The simple job of escorting city-born twins Josh and Sarah across the rugged terrain of old-west Colorado becomes a life-and-death struggle for cowboy Calico Ramsay and his charges to stay ahead of four men who for reasons unknown are out to kill them. Along the way, Calico finds himself increasingly--and mutually--attracted to Josh. Their gentle love story evolves against a background of violence and imminent danger.
The train came chuffing and wheezing into the station like some asthmatic dragon, wreathed in smoke and steam. The great black wheels slowed wearily to a crawl, bell clanging in unnecessary notification of its arrival. Calico stood on the platform, watching the grimy windows move past. The train ground to a creaky, squealing halt and the thick clouds of steam slowly disappeared like ghosts at dawn. Calico tried to watch in both directions at once as the train emptied around him: men in derbies with long straight cigars, cowboys toting saddles and saddlebags, gloved and parasoled ladies in frilly Eastern hats and bustles, ranch women looking ill-at-ease in their Sunday best, young children skipping and jumping and screaming in excitement either at the wonder of seeing the iron monster up close or in joy at being freed from its confines. People greeting one another, hugging, shaking hands, milling about. Calico wondered how in hell he was going to spot two half-grown kids in all the melee.
Then Calico's eyes locked onto the far end of the rear car, where a gangly young
man in Eastern clothes stepped down from the coach carrying two large valises, which he
set down to turn and extend his hand to a well-dressed young lady. Calico knew his charges had arrived and, he suspected, his own adventures just begun. With a resigned
sigh, Calico moved down the platform to greet them.
They were younger, he saw as he approached, than they had looked at a distance.
It was obvious that they were twins. The young man stood, awkwardly, just at the brink
of manhood—his first shave wasn't far behind him, Calico was sure, yet there was
something about him Calico felt himself drawn to instinctively.
With fair skin, wide blue eyes, and curly dark brown hair, the boy was a masculine image of his sister. The girl, Calico could tell, would develop into a beautiful woman; the boy into a handsome, strong man. He could understand why their grandfather had been so concerned for their welfare, and why he had entrusted them to Uncle Dan's care.
Calico was also reminded that he did not even know their names; Uncle Dan, if he
knew, had never mentioned them, and they did not appear in any of the correspondence
Calico had seen. He felt not a little stupid.
Both twins seemed to notice him at the same time, and both faces reflected a
mixture of relief, slight confusion, and anticipation.
"Howdy," Calico said as he reached them. "I'm Calico Ramsay, and I reckon you're expectin' my Uncle Dan."
The young man stepped forward and extended his hand. "I'm Josh Howard, and
this is my sister Sarah. It was kind of you to meet us." His handshake was strong, and
warm, and Calico sensed something in it that puzzled him. For a moment, Josh's eyes
locked on Calico's, and Calico blushed. Then, quickly, Josh looked past Calico and his
eyes searched the now thinning crowd. "Isn't Mr. Overholt here?"
Calico shook his head. The young man's look had somehow disturbed him, and he wasn't sure he knew why, except that it went beyond the usual reaction people had to his eyes. "I'm afraid not, son. It's a long story, and I'll tell you all about it on the way." He moved for the grips, but the lanky young man got to them first. "I can get these," he said, though the bags were obviously heavier than he could carry for long. Calico took a step forward. "Tell you what, Josh, let's both take one, okay?"
The young man grinned. "Okay." And again Calico sensed something in the way the young man’s eyes watched him.
"Now, let's get away from this railroad station before the smoke outright kills us."
They left the station and walked across the busy street to a large hotel, where
Calico had rented two adjoining rooms. "When I saw the train was goin' t' be six hours
late, I figured we better stay overnight here in Hutchinson an' get an early start come
morning," Calico said as he herded the two young people toward the three story structure,
which was bigger by far than anything Grady had to offer. But then Hutchinson was a
big city—nearly 8,000 people all crammed together in one place. The twins seemed
unimpressed, and Calico could hardly imagine a city being as large as he'd heard Chicago
They stopped at the desk for the keys and climbed the stairs to the third floor. It
was as high in a building as Calico had ever been but it didn't seem much higher than the
loft in Uncle Dan's main barn.
Their rooms were at the far end of the hall, and it occurred to Calico that he had
something of a problem on his hands. Each room had a large double bed, and he was
suddenly aware of the possibly awkward nature of the sleeping arrangements. The twins
were obviously beyond the age of sleeping together. "Sarah, you take this room here, an'
Josh, you c'n have the other," he said casually, as if he'd had it planned that way all along.
"What about you, Mr. Ramsay?" Sarah asked. "Where's your room?"
It struck Calico that he could not remember ever being called "Mr. Ramsay" before. He smiled at the young woman, and said "I’d feel more comfortable if you’d call me Calico."
Sarah returned the smile and repeated her question:. "So where is your room
"Well, I..." Calico began, wishing he had a quicker answer.
"Calico can sleep with me," Josh said, sensing Calico's dilemma. "The bed's plenty big enough. Right, Calico?"
"I guess so. Or I can just camp out on the floor. We’ll work it out," Calico said.