** spoiler alert **
1866 - 1882 - Texas and Arizona... 6 lives intertwined...
Andre Bernard - brother, lazy, gambler, get rich quick schemes... and he sells his 14 year old sister to be a higher class prostititue in New Orleans to pay off his debt... years later they are reunited, to her he accepts her past, takes her in at the ranch he is partner in... but he steals a treasure map from his partner & turns his partner in for rustling, train robbery, & murder and takes his sister & Eli and Miriam, and after a year where they are homesteading a new ranch in Arizona, he takes their money to buy more cattle but buys prospecting gear and heads to the hills to locate the treasure - where he is confronted by Eli, falls down a cliff, and is unconscious when his sister finds him... they nurse him, but he is rarely lucid.
Eli - black man, educated, raised on east coast - father was an established boatmaker until the civil war when his warehouse was burned down and they lost everything. Somehow he had the treasure map, and wantered west to find the treasure... Eli joined the army, fought valiently; he joined the 10th calvary in the west after the war, but deserted when he didn't have a taste for killing any more an dto locate his father... he falls in with Andre, Tally, and Miriam and goes to Arizona where he is partner in the ranch. He is hardworking, loyal, and loves Miriam - finally proposing to her. He feels guilty about leaving Andre, but saw that Tally was on the way and figured if he could be saved, she would do it. When push comes to shove, he is unable to kill Caleb in spite of every reason to.
Miriam - black woman, exslave (freed after the civil war), values freedom, religious, compassionate, wise, was a maid in the madam's house and made friends with Tally, leaving with Tally.
Caleb - sheriff's son, sheriff ignored wife, beat son, spent money on his mistress, tolerated Caleb's mischief. Little regard for people, dreams of finding Aztec gold, easily moves into illegal lifestyle. In his youth and young adulthood is friends with Sim - they are blood brothers, and he feels a certain loyalty to Sim. He burned Eli's father's warehouse, stole the map, took and earned money where he could find it. Once jailed by Andre's betrayal, he sends Sim to locate the map. When he breaks out, he goes to the ranch to find Andre and/or Sim. By this time Sim is feeling a loyalty to Tally, and chases him off - though he still has full expectation of finding the map for him and the treasure - and he gets his agreement to leave their cows and people alone and wait for him. Caleb uses a neighbor teen girl with grander ideas as backup to make sure Sim & Tally do what he wants, but it fails. and he is frightened when he sees Sim change to wolf - then goes half crazy for the treasure - shooting Eli (after getting his copy of the map), killing Andre, and threatening Sim.
Sim - Simeon - a whore's son, raised in a whore house (they did teach him to read and to please a woman when he was old enough), both loved and hated his mother. His mother, when dying, told him the name of his father - a mean, local rancher. He goes to the ranch, and his almost beaten to death by his halfbrothers. He goes off with Caleb, but when Caleb gets a bit too callous about killing, they start to separate ways. and he meets Esperanza (hope) - a beautiful woman who can see the good in people, can see into people, and who is kind... he begins to have an idea of a different kind of life... he kisses her, and leaves - and when Caleb offers him half the treasure, he decides to help for the money so that he can marry Esperanza and buy his own ranch. Part of that is tracking Andre, and this is how he meets Tally - they are both in Temptation when she is looking for her brother, and he offers his services. Though Tal is dressed/disguised as a man, he knows she is a woman. She contracts for his tracking is she can go along with him. They keep their distance from one another, but the beginning of friendship and attraction are there. They find her brother, and he connives to return to the ranch and hire on for a few months (in spite of Eli's lack of trust) to stay near Andre to see if he'll talk. and here we learn that he is a werewolf, he can change to wolf, and he has an affinity with animals, and he 'meets' with the local wolf pack to gain their help in monitoring the property. He accepts this part of himself mostly, and doesn't hesitate to draw on it when it needs it. He works hard to keep his image of Esperanze in his mind, but dreams of Tally. Towards the end of summer, he finally locates the map (Andre hid it in a layer of his mother's wedding dress). But then Tally invites him to join her in Mexico to buy more cattle, and to keep her safe and to see Esperanza, he goes. he finds that experaza is considered a saint, healer, and angel by those in the town he left her in... and then they find her at the ranch where they have business, having healed the daughter of the ranch owner. Esperanza is gentle and accepting of him, but he realizes that she has no room in his life for him - she has a bigger mission... and Tally, watching out for him - talks with Esperanza (who tells her to tell him the whole truth)... and when he returns, and she realizes she, who never expected to want a man - loves and is attracted to him, and she goes to his room - to comfort him, to make love for the first time with a man (not just sex)... on they way home, he reveals himself to be a wolf to chase off Indians, and after a short bit of rationalization, she accepts it... and he gets absolution for his past from Esperanza, and now he;s not sure what his life will be... He goes to Tally's room once home, and she accepts him into her bed and into her life - and he finds that there is as much pleasure in just holding her as there is to making love with her... ahhhh... but he doesn't tell her of the treasure and she doesn't tell him of the prostitution... finally, once all truths are revealed, and after harsh, defensive words are spoken... and he is tempted to leave humaness behind and be wolf, he finds he cannot forget Tally, and goes home to her - to marry her asap.
Tally, Chantal - innocently went with the man her brother told her would marry her and give her a good life with money to send home to mom - and knowing no way out, becomes a high class prostitue - Champagne something... until a man wants something from her she cannot do - and in saying no to one, realizes she can say no - so she and Miriam make a new life for themselves. Her disguise as a man to the world in general is as much to protect her future and give her freedom as to protect her from the past.. and in her love for sim and some acceptance of the past she finally finds the strenghth to give it up... Though aware of her brother's duplicity in selling her, she knows her brother's faults, and tries very hard to think the best of him... As her attraction to Sim grows, and she must (as Miriam tells her) forgive herself the past, to fully realize that it isn't who she is... and she respects Sim's boundaries and feelings for Esperanza, and takes his actions over words.
and in the end, there is not treasure except a story to remind all that love is the most important... and Tally gives Sim his freedom, and welcomes him back when he comes... ahhhh