Linda Weaver Clarke

Desert Intrigue

Chapter 1

Julia meandered to the edge of the cliff and overlooked the valley below. What an impressive country southern Arizona was! The valley was covered with yellow daisy-like flowers, palo verde trees, giant saguaro cacti, breathtaking red-flowered chollas, and the sunsets were magnificent.

"Don't get so close, Julia," warned John. "You're making me nervous."

She smiled and stepped back a few steps from the precipice. Her husband's chocolate brown eyes were wide with concern. He was a worrywart but for a very good reason. Superstition Mountain was located east of Phoenix. It was known as one of the most rugged and dangerous mountains to hike, but Julia knew she was in safe hands. Her brother Kelly was an expert climber and tour guide. He knew what he was doing.

John took her hand and pulled her further away from the cliff. "I really hate it when you look over the edge like that."

Julia held back a smile. "Sorry."

"Yeah, right! I think you do it just to see if I'll say something."

"I do not," she defended and then smiled. "It's so beautiful when you look at the valley below. You should try it."

"Not on your life!" He looked at her lovingly and shook his head. "You're just too daring for your own good, Julia."

"Hey, you two! When you're all done admiring the view, follow me." Kelly pointed toward a tall peak in the distance. "That's Weaver's Needle, the approximate area where millions of dollars worth of gold is hidden. The only problem is, no one has been able to find the old mine."

John scratched his head curiously. "How do you know all these stories are true? What if they've been exaggerated and there isn't really a gold mine up here?"

"Oh, it's true all right," Kelly said firmly. "There's too much documented history, too much evidence."

"Evidence?" asked John. "What kind of evidence?"

"How about Dr. Thorne?" said Julia. "Tell him what the good doctor found."

"Ah, yes!" Kelly nodded with a grin. "That's an excellent example. In 1865, Dr. Abraham Thorne moved to Phoenix and became an army doctor. He gradually earned the respect of the Apaches while caring for their sick because of his great compassion for their people. They wanted to show their appreciation, so they blindfolded him and led him up the canyon. The doctor wrote in his journal that when they removed the blindfold, he saw a rock pointing toward the sky just like a finger. And stacked before him was a pile of gold nuggets."

"Gold nuggets?" exclaimed John.

"You bet."

"Did he see the mine?"

"Nope, just the pile of gold the Indians had stacked before him. He took it home and found it was worth $6,000."

John suppressed a smile, wondering if this was just hearsay. "And I suppose this is documented, too?"

"You bet. I had a chance to talk to one of his relatives and he says it's a fact."

John raised a curious brow. "Really?"

Kelly nodded as he motioned toward the peak. Standing before them was a pointed pinnacle, representing Weaver's Needle where the so-called lost Dutchman's mine was located. Julia looked at it and shook her head in wonderment.

She turned to her brother and said, "I don't understand. Those who discovered the mine… why didn't they show someone where it was?"

"Oh, the history of this mountain would astound you, Julia," said Kelly. "Those who discovered the mine were in grave danger, especially if they took any gold from this spot. This is sacred ground."

"Sacred ground?" asked John.

"That's right. The Apache spirits and the great Thunder God protect this mountain. People disappear and mysterious deaths occur. That's why it's called Superstition Mountain. The people who were able to get away safely never returned."

"Why?" asked Julia as she tilted her head curiously.

"Well, just as the men were about to form a party and return, something always happened to them. They would get sick and die or get in a fight and get killed or something mysterious would happen to them. A map was never created by those who escaped Superstition Mountain." Kelly shook his head. "Mysterious! That's what it is. Now you know how this mountain got its name."

The legend of the Thunder God and the gold mine was what made this old mountain so mysterious and intriguing in the first place. That was why Kelly was kept so busy giving tours.

"Well, it's getting late," said Kelly. "Let's get out of here. One thing about this mountain is that you don't want to be stuck up here in the dark. Too dangerous! We'd have to wait until morning to continue on. You'd never believe how many folks come up here without a sufficient water supply and get lost. Just this year they found some men that disappeared last year in these mountains." When he noticed Julia wincing at the thought of what condition the men might have been in, he quickly said, "Sorry. Enough said. Let's go."

That was just fine with John. All this talk about mysterious happenings was all nonsense. He believed there was an answer to everything, including the legend of Superstition Mountain.

* * *

It was late autumn and a few mysterious things began happening to Kelly and his ranch. No one could figure out what was going on. The ranch hands said that Kelly had been cursed because of taking a certain group of men up the mountain to search for the gold mine. The group had paid Kelly handsomely to stay for one week. During that time, they discovered a few gold nuggets here and there. The only problem was, it was on sacred ground owned by the Apache. Kelly had warned them not to take it, but they didn't listen. He never dreamed that he would have such a run of bad luck afterwards.

Julia said it was just a coincidence. She was worried sick about her brother because his dude ranch was not flourishing as it had been. A short time later she began having strange dreams and couldn't figure out what was going on. With each dream, she found herself standing on a hillside not far from her brother's ranch. A deep foreboding was in the air and she felt someone was watching her. When she heard a horse whinny and paw the ground, she quickly turned around. That was where she awoke every night. But tonight was different!

Julia was standing in the same spot as usual when she felt a chill run up her spine. This time when she turned around, a large horse walked around a boulder and stopped in front of her. Julia's eyes widened. She gasped. She couldn't believe her eyes. The rider was sober and his eyes were full of resentment. He held a long spear high above his head, as if aiming the weapon at his victim.

Julia screamed and bolted upright from her bed. Her eyes were wide with fear as she gasped for breath.

John was in a deep sleep when he awoke with a start. His body jerked, almost jumping out of his skin. He quickly sat up in bed and blinked a couple times, trying to get his senses about him. It took a few seconds to get his bearings when he noticed how pale his wife was. Not only that, she was breathing heavily. What had just happened? When he placed his hand on her shoulder, she jumped from his touch.

"Whoa, lady!" John said softly. "Are you awake or still asleep?"

Julia turned toward him and said mournfully, "Awake."

"What happened? Bad dream?"

Julia nodded.

"Want to talk about it?"

She shook her head.

John knew her all too well. Yeah, she wanted to talk about it. He slid over to her, swept her auburn hair from her face, and took her in his arms. Her hazel eyes had changed color. Every time she was upset, they turned the most charming color of green. He also noticed that she was trembling and her back was stiff like a board. As he massaged the stiffness away, she gradually settled down and he knew she was ready to talk.

John lovingly cupped her chin with his hand and looked into her eyes as he said, "I'm all ears. Tell me about it."

When Julia saw the concerned look on his face, she sighed and leaned against him, cuddling in his arms. She took a deep breath and began.

"I was at Kelly's ranch, admiring the view. As I stood there, something didn't feel right. Something was wrong. I knew it. I felt it..." She hesitated.

"Go on, sweetheart. I'm listening."

"Well, a man came around a boulder, holding a spear in his hand. He raised it above his head and aimed it toward me." She swallowed and took a deep breath. "I was so frightened."

"Who was he?"

Julia shook her head and muttered. "I don't know. I screamed and woke myself up before I found out who he was."

"Is this the first time you've dreamed this?"

"No."

John creased his brow. "Why haven't you mentioned it before? You've always told me of your dreams."

Julia gave a shrug. "Because it was no big deal. I always woke up before anyone appeared. I guess my subconscious didn't want to know who was behind the boulder."

"Do you think you're having these dreams because you're worried about your brother?"

Julia bit her lip nervously as she thought for a moment and then shook her head. "I don't think so."

"Well, I know you're concerned about Kelly because he's losing money on his ranch," said John as he squeezed her shoulder. "And to add to his pressures, his housekeeper just up and quits. I'm so glad the twins are going there to help out with the household chores. Besides they've been feeling stressed about college lately. They need a break."

Julia frowned as she said, "And that's another thing that worries me. Why did that housekeeper quit so suddenly? Why didn't she give Kelly some notice? He told me that it was as if something had scared her off. She didn't even give him a two-week notice so he could find someone else."

"I wouldn't worry. Things will be just fine. The girls are excited about helping their uncle out."

Julia nodded. "You're right. I shouldn't be so fretful. It's just that..."

"What?"

"Well, my dreams usually have some sort of significance. But this time it doesn't make any sense to me. Why would a person dressed in Indian garb threaten me?"

As John opened his mouth to answer, she stopped him with a raise of her finger.

"And he had a spear in his hand, too."

When John opened his mouth again, she put her finger on his lips.

"But that's not all. Why isn't Kelly having any customers? It's so strange. He was doing so well and he was making plenty of money. I don't understand it."

John smiled as he took her finger from his lips and held her hand in his. "Do you want to hear what I have to say," he said with a chuckle.

She smiled. "Okay. It's your turn now."

He laughed. "Well, I think it's the economy, Julia. Our economy isn't doing as well lately." When John saw the discouragement in her face, he rubbed the palm of her hand lovingly. "Don't worry, sweetheart. He's a fighter. He won't give up. I know your brother. He's almost as determined as you are when it comes to adversity."

Julia gave a slight smile and sighed. "I hope so. I just don't understand why I had that awful dream."

"Well," said John as they both slid under the covers. "It might be that you're worried Kelly will lose the ranch. The man with a spear might represent the threat on his land or failure to pay his debts."

She nodded, knowing it sounded reasonable. Realizing he had a big day tomorrow, Julia said, "Go back to sleep, honey. I'll be just fine."

"Sleep?" John said with a chuckle as he took her in his arms. "Are you kidding? Some woman startled the bee-gee-bees out of me and I'm wide awake now. I don't think I could go back to sleep if I tried."

"Sorry." Julia tried to suppress her laughter as she said, "Next time I'll try to muffle my scream."

When John heard her giggle, he grinned and pulled her close. "Are you laughing at me, woman?"

"No,' she said with a grin. "So what do you want to do? Shall we talk until you're relaxed enough to go back to sleep?"

"Talk?" He caressed her back and nibbled on her ear as he whispered, "I can think of a lot more interesting things to do than talk."

"Oh?" Julia said with laughter lacing her voice. "And what do you have in mind?"

John wiggled his eyebrows and then spread whispering kisses along her neck. When he heard his wife giggle, he said, "I'm in the mood for some cuddling and a few of those delicious kisses of yours."

As he gazed into her eyes, the message he communicated was one of adoring love. A longing to kiss her rose sharply within him as his eyes trailed down to her mouth. Then he pulled her against his chest and tightened his arms around her as his lips met hers.

Lost in the wonder of their kisses, nothing else seemed to matter but one another. They were in a world of their own, one of ecstasy and euphoria. All of a sudden, the alarm clock let out the most annoying ring.

John groaned as he gazed at his wife. "What time is it and why did you set that blasted alarm?"

She raised her eyebrows in surprise. "I can't believe it's 5:00 already. It doesn't feel like it."

"Five o'clock? Why on earth..."

"I have to take the girls to the bus station. It leaves at 7:00 and they have to be there an hour early. Will you take a rain check on that cuddling session?"

"Do I have a choice?" John said good-naturedly.

She shook her head and kissed him.

He licked his lips and smiled. "Mmmm! You know I won't be able to sleep a wink now. I'm wide awake."

Julia laughed as she slid out of bed. "I'm so sorry. I didn't mean to awaken you."

John said nothing as he watched her walk into the bathroom to freshen up. After slipping into some pants and a tee shirt, she said, "Since you can't sleep, how about fixing us a delicious breakfast when I get back."

Silence.

"John?"

Julia looked at her husband. With the glow of the night-light in their room, she could see his chest rising and falling with each breath. His eyes were closed and his mouth was open. He had fallen back to sleep. When he began snoring softly, she had to grin.

She kissed his cheek tenderly. He was a tall nice-looking man with an olive complexion. He had a square jaw, dark brown hair, and rich chocolate-brown eyes. He was completely opposite from Julia: more cautious and guarded, more subdued and quiet. He was a gentle man with a great sense of humor and quick wit. He admired his wife's accomplishments, including the raising of three daughters.

The thing that Julia loved about her husband was how he treated her...with love and respect, as equal partners in marriage. Their relationship was unusual compared to the normal couple. John helped with cooking while she grew a garden. He helped wash clothes while she mowed the lawn. He chose what he enjoyed doing and she did what he disliked, such as washing dishes and folding clothes.

Julia looked at the man she adored and covered his shoulders with the blanket. As she watched him sleep, she sighed. She was deeply in love with this man. He was her life.

©Copyright 2005, Linda Weaver Clarke