Marco and the Devil's Bargain
Spanish Brand #2
The year is 1782. Marco Mondragón, brand inspector in Spanish New Mexico, and his wife Paloma Vega have settled happily into married life on the Double Cross. And yet Paloma is convinced their joy will not be complete until she has a child. She longs to give her husband a baby to soothe his grief over the death from cholera of his first wife and twin sons.
Marco's land grant stands at the edge of the most dangerous region in the Southwest: Comanchería. Both Paloma and Marco have suffered at the hands of the fierce Comanche, losing beloved family members in raids.
Despite their fear and mistrust of the Comanche, one lives among them. Paloma rescued Toshua from slavery and near death. As much as she respects the man now, Paloma wishes he would return to the Staked Plains, Comanche stronghold to the east in Texas. No one knows why Toshua remains at the Double Cross. Is it because his own tribe shunned him, or is he genuinely attached to its owners?
Now a new enemy threatens the Mondragóns' domestic bliss: the Dark Wind--la viruela, smallpox--barreling down on the defenseless royal colony from Comanchería. A mysterious and arrogant English physician named Anthony Gill offers their one hope at salvation... but only if Marco agrees to his Devil's Bargain.
Book Two in the Spanish Brand series, which began with The Double Cross.
Read Editorial Reviews
Marco and the Devil's Bargain is Book Two of the "Spanish Brand" series, but it stands alone well. The time period is 1782 on the Spanish frontier of New Mexico, and Marco Mondragon has settled in on his land grant with his new wife Paloma Vega. All seems well, until the Dark Wind, smallpox, comes barreling down on them from the Comancheria. The Indians got it from the white man, who is busy sorting out the results of the American Revolution. A fascinating and different premise, with an arrogant English physician as the antagonist, and Comanches as surprising allies - a romance in the middle of a really good Western novel. -- Linda Jacobs (Roundup Magazine, Western Writers of America)
When I first got my hands on Marco and the Devil's Bargain, I was a little let down. I hadn't realized it was the second in a series, and more importantly, that it followed the same couple that had already fallen in love and gotten married in the first book. In the past, I've read other stories like this, and it seems to me that the sequel is rarely as good as the original. As a result, I put off reading this one for a little while, worried that it would fall into that same trap.
Silly me. I should have trusted Carla Kelly to write a wonderful book.
Marco and Paloma Mondragón are happily settled in Spanish New Mexico at the beginning of 1782. Marco is the juez de campo in Valle del Sol, the town where they live. His ranch, the Double Cross, is prosperous, and the people of Valle del Sol are peaceful and law-abiding for the most part. If he and Paloma long for children, well, that's only a little bit of sadness to balance the many other blessings they have.
Unfortunately, this peaceful state of affairs is soon to be upset. News comes to Marco that smallpox has been sweeping through Texas, and is likely soon to reach Valle del Sol. Although Marco has been vaccinated, his beloved Paloma has not. Poor Marco lost his first wife and twin sons to cholera, and now he very much fears that he will lose his second wife to another disease.
As luck would have it, Dr. Anthony Gill finds himself in Valle del Sol soon after Marco learns that smallpox will be coming. Anthony, who recently traveled with a group of traders through Texas, has collected scabs from the diseased and is prepared to inoculate Marco's family and friends. However, his aid comes at a price-Anthony's daughter, Pia Maria, was taken by a group of Indians and sold to the Comanches, who live in a hidden canyon somewhat near Valle del Sol. Anthony declares that he will only help Marco if Marco will agree to take him to the Comanches after he finishes inoculating the people of Valle del Sol. Reluctantly, Marco agrees.
Paloma, of course, will not let her husband travel across the Llano Estacado to the Comanches without her, and so it is that Anthony, Paloma, Marco, and Toshua, the Comanche companion of Paloma and Marco, find themselves trekking together across snowy plains into the middle of dangerous Comanche territory.
To begin with, Marco and Paloma are a wonderful couple. They know each other very well, and in spite of not reading the first book, in which their characters were initially developed, I came to know them well too. Paloma is a strong, sweet woman, perfectly suited to her honorable, Spanish husband. They are both at their best when they're together-not because they get outrageously maudlin when apart, but rather because they work as a team when they're together, supporting each other as all good couples do.
However, if Marco and Paloma were the only two characters I loved, this book would only make it to B+ territory for me. What made Marco and the Devil's Bargain a DIK for me was the cast of secondary characters. Every single one of them, from Anthony Gill down to the Comanches Marco and Paloma met, was amazingly complex and realistic. I cannot think of the last time secondary characters seemed so vivid to me.
There are some series which need to be read in order if they are to be understood. Carla Kelly's Spanish Brand series is not one of these. Although I didn't read The Double Cross first, as I should have, I still managed to fall head over heels for Marco and Paloma. To me, that is a good testament to Ms. Kelly's amazing writing. I can't wait to get my hands on another one of her books. -- Alexandra Anderson, Desert Isle Keeper Review
In 1782 in Spanish New Mexico, Marco Mondragon, brand inspector for the government, and his wife, Paloma Vega, live on a ranch called the Double Cross. Always threatened by the Comanche, they are now faced with a new enemy: smallpox. Told that the disease is heading their way, they take on a stranger to the territory, the mysterious doctor Anthony Gil, to help inoculate the inhabitants of the local town and surrounding ranches. In order to obtain Gil's help in this endeavor, Marco must agree to help him search for his missing daughter in Comanche territory: a devil's bargain.
This book is the second in a series titled The Spanish Brand. Although it would be helpful to follow the character development from the first book, I feel that this novel can stand on its own. Known for her romances, Kelly has also been awarded two Spur Awards for her westerns. I found this book a pleasure to read, the characters well-formed and credible. Her knowledge and understanding of the era are excellent. I look forward to her next in the series. Highly recommended. -- Historical Novel Society
This second installment of Kelly's colonial-era Spanish Brand series picks up nearly 15 months after Marco and Paloma marry. Those who read the novel's predecessor will find this one fairly more intense and engaging given the couple's history as well as the historical accuracy of the time period and smallpox epidemic. While this novel may not hold well as a stand-alone read, fans of historical fiction will appreciate Kelly's attention to detail.
Having been married for 15 months, Don Marco Mondragon and his wife Paloma Vega are eager to have a child, convinced they won't be happy until Paloma becomes pregnant. Meanwhile, smallpox has swept across the nearby Comancheria region and taken many lives, and threatens to soon affect those at the Double Cross ranch. An English doctor with a mysterious past, Anthony Gill, arrives seeking Marco and is willing to help, but only if Marco joins him on an important mission. -- Sarah Eisenbraun, RT Book Reviews
In Kelly's dramatic second Spanish Brand historical (after The Double Cross), Marco Mondragón, a genial lawman on the New Mexican frontier in 1782, fears that his young wife, Paloma, will be stricken by the approaching smallpox epidemic. When their Comanche friend, Toshua, rescues Anthony Gill, a white physician, from the desert, they strike the titular bargain: Anthony will inoculate Paloma and their neighbors, and Marco and Toshua will escort Anthony to a Comanche hideaway that he suspects harbors his kidnapped daughter. Kelly brings historical verisimilitude to the setting, and her story brims with compassion for the human condition. The slightly saccharine cliché of natives adopting colonizers as family is mitigated by powerful themes of disease, infertility, strength in the face of loss, and kindness between individuals whose cultures are at war. Though la viruela is, in some ways, the story's main character, the love between Marco and Paloma, equal parts strong attachment and mutual high regard, takes emotional center stage, a satisfying oasis of beauty in the midst of stark harshness. -- Publishers Weekly (Jul)
[The Double Cross] 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. -- Heather Stanton, All About Romance
Read an Excerpt
He must have noticed her hesitation, because he calmed himself, even as she watched. He took her hand and it trembled in hers.
"What, my love? Surely there is nothing worse that Señor Gil could have told you than what we already know is coming our way."
Alert now, wary even, she watched his expression change into precisely that look of false good will that she had been thinking of practicing on him. This would never do. She grasped his hand and tugged him down the hall into Luisa Gutierrez's sala, which she knew was empty now, all the knitters gone. He did not resist as she towed him along, a little woman dragging a tall man who put up no resistance. Good thing the governor could not see his juez de campo now.
She closed the door behind them and sat down on the earthen bench that was part of the inner adobe wall. She patted the spot beside her. When he sat down, she took his hand and clutched it to her breast. "What is it, Marco?"
He tried to smile, then obviously gave it up as a bad business. She could almost see him thinking something through; she knew him that well.
"I have very good news, my love. That man"--he nearly spit out the word, then collected himself with great effort--"that man is a physician. He has the capacity to inoculate you, and he will."
Paloma closed her eyes and felt herself melt like butter, so great was her relief. "Gracias a Dios," she murmured, and touched her forehead to his shoulder. She opened her eyes and looked at him again, mystified by the expression of vast disquietude. Surely he should be happy at this news. True, inoculations themselves could be dangerous, but that was a chance everyone took. There must be more.
"What else?" she asked.
"Nothing else," he said too quickly. "We'll take him with us and see how many of our people, Toshua included, will agree to inoculation. We'll probably have to wait here a day while he inoculates my nephews, but then--"
She put her fingers to his lips, stopping the flow of words. "What else?" she asked again.
"Don't you dare lie to me!" She hadn't meant her words to come out with such force. He winced, and Paloma knew he had never heard that tone of voice from her before. Well, too bad. He was not telling her what was written so clearly in his eyes and in the way his hands still trembled. "Not to me, Marco. Not ever to me."
He leaned back against the wall, something he seldom did, this man who sat so straight, as though he were always in the saddle. He banged his head gently against the wall with increasing force until, horrified, she put her hand behind his head to cushion the blows. He stopped.
"What is he making you do?" she asked.
Don't Miss the first book of The Spanish Brand Series!