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A River to Cross

County Courthouse
El Paso, Texas
August 9, 1886

Elizabeth Evans lifted her skirts and sprinted up the back stairs of the courthouse. At the third-floor landing she hauled open the heavy door and propped it with her hip. Grinning, she called down to her brother, puffing up the steps. "I don't believe it. You can't keep up with me, Lloyd."

"It's ninety-eight degrees outside, and I'm ten years older than you." Flushed and out of breath, Lloyd Madison frowned at the small woman in ruffled green silk and trudged up the last few steps to the landing. He took her elbow and steered her into a long, windowed corridor with a pair of tall hammered brass doors at the end.

Lloyd pointed to the silent elevator. The clock above it said 11:10.

"A few more minutes and that elevator would've been fixed, and we could've ridden up like normal people," he said.

Elizabeth let out a little hoot of laughter. "Ha, not with Mexico right across the river. In this part of the world, a few minutes means tomorrow or next week. Besides, only an idiot would ride up in that rickety birdcage you call an elevator."

Lloyd laughed and threw an arm around her. "Hush now. It's modern and it's perfectly safe. The town spent a lot of money on that elevator, and it's only nervous Nellies like you who won't ride in it." He hugged her. "You little skeptic. My readers are going to love you. You're on their side already."

A guilty grin burst across her face. "You picked that up fast," she said, laughing.

"I run a newspaper, remember? That's my job."

When they were younger, she'd always looked up to him. Now, in one of life's turnabouts, she was looking after him and his three-year-old daughter, Ruthie. When his wife and newborn son died last spring, Lloyd asked Elizabeth to come live with them in El Paso after she graduated from college. He needed family to help him get his life in order. In return, he offered to teach her the newspaper business. He owned and operated the Grande Examiner, El Paso's leading newspaper.

Elizabeth was tempted. From time to time she'd written gossipy "Inside Washington" pieces for his paper under a male pseudonym, and they were a big hit with El Paso readers.

"School's over; you've got your degree, so tomorrow you're going to come work for me. Right?" her father asked over dinner the day she graduated.

She laid her napkin down. "I don't think so, Daddy. I tried that last summer, remember?"

Carlton Madison, U.S. Senior Senator from Texas, had squired her around to lunch all over Washington and lied through his teeth, telling her and everyone else how important she was, while all she did was make his coffee. He loved her. He just wanted her around.

"I've been thinking. How about I make you my speech-writer this time?" he said. "Would you like that?"

She let out a long sigh and got out of her chair. She walked over and kissed him soundly on the cheek, then went upstairs to her room and started packing for Texas.

But writing for Texans was one thing, she thought, stacking petticoats and chemises in a small calfskin traveling trunk. Moving out there was quite another. Just the thought of leaving Washington with its theaters and shops and elegant restaurants for Texas with its rough countryside and even rougher men made her uneasy.

That was silly, she told herself. Fort Bliss was almost next door. With the U.S. Army a mere three miles away, El Paso was probably the safest place in all of Texas.

In the courthouse, she pointed to the double doors at the end of the corridor. "How long will this meeting take?"

Lloyd shrugged. "Hard to say. People want to know why I wrote that the stepped-up border raids by Mexican bandits are an attempt to draw the U.S. into war with Mexico."

"How did you find that out?" she asked.

"Took me a while," Lloyd said with a sour smile, "but I finally have a good source in Mexico. Had to put pressure on a Ranger captain to get it --- and pushing those guys around is never a good idea. This one runs a Ranger company for the Frontier Battalion out of Camp Annex, a former subpost of Fort Bliss. He refused to talk to me without both Federal and state approval."

Lloyd laughed and shook his head. "Me --- the son of a United States senator --- and I had to get Washington's permission to talk to him."

"Did he help?"

"I'll say. And he knows a lot more than he's telling me. Mexican Army General Manuel Diego is a military thug and a liar. He wants to push President Guevara out. Says Guevara is a lackey of the United States. Not true. Guevara's a friend and ally. And it's been a long time since we had anyone in Mexico we could call a friend."

"You already knew that, though."

"Yes and no. The captain warned me to go easy with Diego, said however much we dislike the little general, Diego has a lot of support, and he just might win. Good advice, but I didn't want to hear it."

"Could he be wrong?"

Lloyd looked at her for a moment, then shook his head thoughtfully. "I doubt it. This man doesn't make mistakes. When the captain was in the Army, he was in Fourth Cavalry reconnaissance, so I figure he ought to know." Lloyd smiled down at her. "Actually, I'd like you to meet him."

Elizabeth held a hand up. "Thanks, but I'll pass. Carl was in the Cavalry. And if I remember correctly, reconnaissance is a nice euphemism for spy."

Lloyd chuckled and squeezed her shoulder. "I really don't think he's a spy. In fact, he isn't in the Army anymore. The Frontier Battalion went after him and wooed him over to their side. He's a Texas Ranger now."

"A Texas Ranger? Good grief, Lloyd, keep him away from me."

"Keep an open mind, Elizabeth. You're young, pretty. Ought to be out having a good time and thinking about getting married again. Instead, you hardly ever go out, and when you do, the men have slicked up hair and smell prettier than you. Fort Bliss has a hundred real men out there you could meet."

"No thanks," she said.

Lloyd frowned at her. "You're passing up some of the best men in the world. What have you got against the military?"

"Not a thing," Elizabeth answered quickly. "If I did, I wouldn't come out here to live. I love my country. I'm proud of it, proud of you. I loved Carl, and I'll never forget him. But I don't love the Army, and I'm not marrying another man who does."

"But why?" Lloyd asked.

"In the military, the wife comes second. Duty comes first." Her face tightened. "Carl was killed doing his duty."

Lloyd shook his head. "Carl was a hero. He was killed in an Indian attack, what he joined the service to prevent. What happened to him wasn't the Army's fault. If we're going to have a country that can hold its own in the world, it has to be a place that's safe to live and work and go to school in. We need a strong Army with a big fist. El Paso has that with Fort Bliss. But you're never going to give the Army a chance again because it might end in pain for you. Is that it?"

She smiled and hugged him. "You got it. It's called survival, Lloyd."

Lloyd grabbed the heavy brass door handles, opened the door, and edged her inside ahead of him. "And you know I'm going to change your mind!"

"Lloyd, wait!" Sheriff Bud Wagner, a balding middle-aged man she'd met before, hurried over. He touched the brim of his hat and gave a slight bow to Elizabeth.

"Hey, Bud." Lloyd shook the sheriff's hand warmly. "I came in early today to talk to you, but got held up outside with neighbors wanting to meet Elizabeth. How about after the meeting, maybe over coffee?" Lloyd said, and added quietly, "I have some new information for you about these border raids."

"Coffee sounds good. See any seats, Miz Evans?"

Up on her toes, Elizabeth pointed to several empty seats down front. Tugging Lloyd's arm, she started down the aisle, Sheriff Wagner close behind.

It appeared as if everyone from the local seamstress to the bank president was there. Her chest tightened with pride for her brother. Alarmed about the surge in Mexican outlaws crossing over and cattle theft around El Paso, the whole town had come to hear Lloyd talk.

Excerpted from A RIVER TO CROSS © Copyright 2011 by Yvonne Harris. Reprinted with permission by Bethany House. All rights reserved.

A River to Cross
by by Yvonne Harris