Beth Garrison is the top hostage negotiator in Rocky Ridge, Texas. She’s called to serve on a task force to investigate a killing that is a copycat of her first bust as a rookie.
Tate McCade has a reputation for steamrolling anyone who gets in his way and he’s had a run-in with Beth and her oversized ego before. He’s got a bruise on his face to prove it.
They have to work together and sparks are flying that aren’t all about the job.
Two more to go but we take a break in releasing them now because next month I’ve got book #2 of the High Sierra Sweethearts series, The Reluctant Warrior.
The Reluctant Warrior
Union army officer Cameron Scott is used to being obeyed, but nothing about this
journey to Lake Tahoe has gone as expected. He’s come to fetch his daughter and nephew, and seek revenge on the people who killed his brother. Instead he finds himself trapped by a blizzard with two children who are terrified of him and stubborn but beautiful Gwen Harkness, who he worries may be trying to keep the children.
When danger descends on the cabin where they’re huddled, Cam is hurt trying to
protect everyone and now finds Gwen caring for him too. He soon realizes why the kids love her so much and wonders if it might be best for him to move on without them. When she sees his broken heart, Gwen decides to help him win back their affection–and in the process he might just win her heart as well.
Connealy’s Latest Filled with a Blend of Humor, History, and Cowboys
• “Connealy crafts relatable characters who will inspire readers with their love,
loyalty, and fortitude.”—
• Bestselling author Connealy reaches her fans regularly on popular book
• In 1860s Lake Tahoe, a band of high mountain cowboys must overcome a
The fun thing about my two books is one is contemporary, one is historical. They are both, I think, romantic comedy with cowboys. Although my contemporary ‘cowboy’ is a cop. But they hero and heroine are both from Texas and they go home to the family ranch for the happily ever after.
Today, let’s talk contemporary romance vs historical romance. Why do you like one or the other. Westerns, more than most other genres, can span historical and contemporary, as many modern day western romances as historical.
Which is your favorite. No right or wrong answers, just a fun conversation. Leave a comment to get your name in a drawing for an ebook copy of Loving the Texas Negotiator.
When courting a woman don’t ask advice of a bachelor.
-Cowboy Charm School
I’m excited that my next book Cowboy Charm School will be published September 4th (but can be ordered now.) I played with the idea for four or five years before I actually got around to writing the book. Book ideas generally come to me in scenes. I’ll suddenly visualize someone atop a runaway stagecoach or scrambling over a roof and then have to figure out who, what, and why.
The scene that popped into my head for Cowboy Charm School was a wedding scene with a handsome stranger running down the church aisle yelling, “Stop the Wedding!”
It took me awhile to figure out that the man was Texas Ranger Brett Tucker, who thinks he’s saving the bride, Kate Denver, from marrying an outlaw. He’s mistaken, of course, but the groom jealously jumps to all the wrong conclusions and the couple breaks-up.
Brett feels terrible for what’s he’s done and is determined to set things right. Since the hapless groom hasn’t a clue as to how to win Kate back, it’s up to Brett to give him a few pointers–and that’s when the real trouble begins.
For a chance to win a copy of the book, tell us the best or worse advice anyone ever gave you. (Contest guidelines apply.)
For those of us living in the Midwest, we are hopelessly landlocked. No oceans within easy reach for us. We do, however, have some breathtaking lakes, and among some of the most beautiful are in northeast Iowa–West Okoboji, East Okoboji and Spirit Lake in the Great Lakes Region.
This summer, my family–all 19 of us–had a memorable vacation in Okoboji. We stayed in Arnold’s Park, specifically Fillenwarth Beach. Honestly, if you have a chance to go there and stay for even a few days, GO! It’s the perfect family getaway.
While there, my husband and I went on a History Cruise, narrated by the widowed husband of Julie Fillenwarth, whose grandparents developed the resort in 1918. (Yes, this year is Fillenwarth Beach’s 100th birthday.) On the cruise, the narrator told of a museum within walking distance of the beach–an 1850s cabin that belonged to a family that had been massacred by Sioux Indians.
He explained how bitter cold winters forced bands of Sioux to find food and warmth. On March 8, 1857, they attacked pioneer settlers who were trying hard to survive, just like they were. In all, 33 settlers were killed and four females kidnapped, three of them married women and the youngest, a girl barely fourteen.
That girl was Abbie Gardner. After her family’s murder, she endured 84 days with the Sioux where she witnessed the murders of two of the women until finally, she was ransomed and freed. She married shortly thereafter at the (shockingly) young age of 14. Though she struggled with what we now know is PTSD, she went on to live a relatively happy life with her husband and three children. During that time, she wrote a book of her ordeal, The Spirit Lake Massacre and Captivity of Abbie Gardner. The book earned seven printings and Abbie enough money to return to Spirit Lake and buy back the cabin her father built. For many years, she worked at the cabin museum, selling her book and sharing her story.
I could not put this book down, it was so riveting.
There was even a movie made of her experience in 1927.
Abbie’s story reminded me of my newest book–without the massacre of course. My first contemporary western romance will be released in January, 2019, by Tule Publishing. Ava Howell comes to the Blackstone Ranch to develop a resort on the Paxton family’s ranch. The resort has a beautiful lake, too, and a hero, Beau Paxton, who resists her efforts but can’t fight the love that grows between them.
I’ll tell you more about Ava and Beau’s story as details are finalized. We’re working on the cover now–and Tule has some of the best! Can’t wait!
Until then, tell me about your favorite family vacations! Do they include a beach, too, like mine do?
Although the title doesn’t say it, I will be giving away a free e-book of BRAVE WOLF AND THE LADY, so read our guidelines for giveaways — off to the right here — and leave a comment.
So…steamboats — for all practical purposes, they opened up the West. Starting with the first Steamboat, The Yellow Stone, they traveled up and down the Missouri and the Mississippi Rivers, bringing people back and forth, and carrying on a business in terms of trade and furs and many, many other items. George Catlin traveled on the first steamboat, The Yellow Stone, in 1834. In his book, Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and conditions of NORTH AMERICAN INDIANS, Catlin word paints the time and place, as well as the details of travel upon the Steamboat at that time. He makes it come alive.
In my newest book, BRAVE WOLF AND THE LADY, as well as the book, THE PRINCESS AND THE WOLF, there are scenes aboard a steamboat at that particular time and place. Both scenes go into some detail on the very real danger of travel aboard these boats. Another of my books that involves a steamboat is WHITE EAGLE’S TOUCH. The Commerce of a growing Nation flowed over these rivers during this time period, and these boats provide a rich look at a by-gone river culture.
So I thought I’d post an excerpt that takes place aboard the steamboat, Effie Deans. Enjoy!
BRAVE WOLF AND THE LADY
The scent of fishy, muddy water overwhelmed all other odors in this place, Mia thought as she climbed the necessary stairway that allowed her to gain access to the highest point on the steamship. Every day, as had become her routine with Brave Wolf, she arose early so that she might welcome in the new day with prayer. Ascending to the upper deck of the boat, she took up a position that looked eastward, toward the light, silver sky. Briefly, she said her prayer, then shifted her position, strolling toward the starboard side of the boat, gazing out westward. It was here on most every day that she hoped to see Brave Wolf, always wondering if he might still be out there, following the boat. Today was no different.
The day was only beginning, yet already the warmth of the early morning sun beat down upon the top of her bare head, for she wore no hat. However, its heat did not bother her; the gentle wind that was created by the forward motion of the boat blew into her face, causing the loose tendrils of her hair to fall back behind her ears. It was a cooling breeze and it seemed kindly, animated, as if it endeavored to cleanse her spirit.
But such friendliness was wasted on her. Her life had forever changed. Too much had happened in this last month to allow the naivety of her former life to regain a foothold over her again.
Was such a shift of personality for the good, or was it bad? She couldn’t be certain.
Where was Brave Wolf, she wondered. Then she answered her own question. He would be setting a trail for his home; he would be hastening back to the arms of another woman….
Would Walks-in-sunshine welcome him home with love in her heart? She would do so if she were wise. Trustworthy, honorable men like Brave Wolf didn’t happen along every day.
“Ma’am,” hailed the captain, a Mr. Wentworth. He raised his hat to her as he stepped by her.
Jerked back to the present moment, Mia smiled, hoping that the gesture covered her surprise. She had been so lost in her own thoughts, she hadn’t noticed the captain’s approach.
“Ye look so sad, ma’am. But don’t ye fret. We’re only a couple of weeks out from Leavenworth. We’ll make it thar all safe and sound, don’t ye worry.”
“Yes,” she replied, as she forced herself to look happy. “I believe that we shall.”
“How did ye get yerself all stranded in this part of the country, ma’am, if’n ye don’t mind me askin’?”
“I…my husband and I were part of a wagon train heading for the Oregon Territory when our party was attacked by—”
“No, sir, although I did think so at first. But the butchers turned out to be men dressed up as Indians. They killed my husband. Indeed, I fear that they murdered all the people on that train except me. I don’t believe that they saw me at first.”
“But they did discover yerself?”
“Undoubtedly, they did.”
“Pardon, ma’am, but then how did ye escape? Did ye play dead until they left?”
“No, sir. Real Indians came to my rescue.”
“Real Injuns? Ma’am?” He grabbed his hat from his head and whacked it against his knee. “We’s at war with them Injuns in these here parts. Cain’t imagine one of ’em rescuing ye.”
“I know. Yet, what I tell you is true. The man who bought that ticket from you is the same one who not only rescued me, but who brought me here so that I might return home.” She paused for a moment, then added, “I think, sir, that you might have cheated him regarding the cost of that ticket.”
The accusation, though softly spoken, was met with silence, and she let the complaint stand without further explanation. Captain Wentworth seemed honestly surprised; however, at last he uttered, “I’m right sorry about that, ma’am. But I’m under orders t’ charge high enough fees so that them Injuns don’t beg an easy ride. I’ll return the full two hundred dollars to ye, ma’am.”
“That would be most appreciated,” replied Mia, “for I lost all of my possessions at the wagon train fight. But, although I appreciate your kindness, please ease your mind. It is unnecessary. I have enough food to sustain me until we reach Fort Leavenworth, and my clothing washes well. Besides, once we arrive at Fort Leavenworth, I can send word to my father, who will ensure that I am taken care of and escorted home safely. Keep your money.”
“No, ma’am. Couldna live with myself if’n I was to do that,” he said. “Wait here, ma’am, while I get yer two hundred dollars.”
Mia nodded and watched Captain Wentworth’s departing figure as he disappeared down the stairs, taking two of them at a time. She breathed in deeply, and was about to lean out over the railing, when two incidents happened at once.
A wet, nearly nude, but achingly familiar body knocked her to the deck at the same time a bullet whizzed by her. The whir of that discharge, and its ugly blast splintered the wood at the exact place where she’d been standing, its impact showering her and her rescuer with the sharp fragments.
“Stay down!” ordered Brave Wolf. She could do little more than that, for he lay over her, using his body to protect her. Only a single instant passed before another deadly shot shrieked past them, this one aimed lower than the first.
Then came another round of gunfire, followed by a slight pause, then more of the same. On and on it roared, the howl of the noise and the racket going on for so many minutes that Mia felt as though the entire world were engulfed by the barrage. Suddenly, as quickly as it had started, it stopped. No shots. No backfire. Nothing.
“He…reloading. Quick, follow me!”
Brave Wolf plopped off of her, scooting onto the deck. Lying flat on his stomach, he used elbows and hips to inch forward; Mia followed, using the same manner of crawling, and could see an open cabin door ahead of them. This must have been his destination. But what followed next precluded all attempts to attain safety.
A huge man, who might have been twice the size of Brave Wolf, fell upon her. She screamed, then again, and she kept on shrieking as he raised a knife. Even while she yelled out, “No,” she felt certain that this moment spelled the end of her life. It might have been true, too, but for an arm that came up to block that blow.
“Go! Move! Run to cabin!” shouted Brave Wolf.
But she couldn’t get away from the monster, for he held her down; he was probably three times her weight. She squirmed, she tried to get away, but she couldn’t shake him off her.
What followed could only be an act of God, for it was humanly impossible. Yet, as she watched the events unfold, she saw Brave Wolf rise up as though with super-human strength; he picked up the man as though this two-hundred-and-fifty-pound bully weighed little more than a feather. Instantly, she was free, but it wasn’t over. Brave Wolf hurled the monster across the deck. The fiend’s weapon, his knife, fell to the deck, but not so the beast’s gun.
As quick as an instant, the would-be assassin slid his pistol from his holster. He pointed it straight at her head, for she had not run away.
In a fraction of a second, Brave Wolf executed a quick, high leap, landing on the assassin and pushing him down, forcing him into a sitting position. Taking hold of the man’s pistol-carrying arm, and forcing it high into the air, Brave Wolf ensured the bullet shot harmlessly into the sky. The two men wrestled with that gun, their muscles straining under the assault, and the struggle that waged between the two of them outlined every muscle in Brave Wolf’s body.
Boom! Crash! Blast!
What was that? It sounded as if it were an explosion on the below decks of the boat? Was it? Was the boat, itself, under attack?
What could she do? How could she help? She couldn’t leave Brave Wolf to fight this monstrosity all on his own. Or should she?
Was she in the way? Should she leave here as quickly as possible?
But no. She couldn’t leave him, even though he had told her to. As she had often said to herself: whatever Brave Wolf’s fate might be, so too would be her own.
This decided, she darted into action, and, sprinting toward the wrestling figures, she jumped up into a flying leap, and added her weight against the bully’s arm. The momentum of her fall caused the beastie’s grip to come apart and loosen. The pistol flew out of his grasp, but the firearm was cocked, and it fired as it hit the deck…
…Away from them.
In a show of power and brute force, the monster flung Brave Wolf off, and Brave Wolf rolled as he landed, coming up onto his feet, unsheathing his only weapon, his knife. Then, without even a fraction of a second passing, Brave Wolf hurled himself forward, attaching himself to the fiend’s backside, his knife at the bully’s throat. But the monster threw off Brave Wolf’s grip, and the knife fell harmlessly to the deck.
It wasn’t finished, and what followed, Mia could hardly believe. Weaponless, Brave Wolf used feet, hands, fingers, teeth and his jaw as weapons. He spit, clawed, bit, scratched and threw his arms around the assassin’s neck while his nails bit into the brute’s face. Though the beast tried to shake him off, he couldn’t budge Brave Wolf.
Mia watched, shocked, as Brave Wolf bested the man who was as big as a bear. Like a weasel, he scratched the swine, bit him, choked him and kicked him as he wrestled him to the ground. The bully couldn’t throw a punch; in fact, it looked as though he could hardly breathe. Already, his face was turning bright red, then it was blue.
All at once, it was over. The monster drew his last breath. He flopped to the deck and lay there unmoving. Brave Wolf, however, didn’t wait to examine the result of this struggle for life or death. He grabbed up both his own, and the bully’s knife, seized her by the hand and sprinted toward the ship’s railing, dragging her with him as he fled port-side.
Mia ran as fast as she could, though she was stunned, having never witnessed such a bare-handed, tooth-and-claw fight against such uneven odds. Brave Wolf was easily the smaller of the two men by a hundred or so pounds, yet he had won and…what was probably most astounding, she was still alive.
Boom! Crash! Blast! Crack!
Another explosion from the below decks shook the boat, and she realized the craft was blowing out from within. Huge bits of wood flew everywhere, the shower of deadly and heavy splintered logs a real threat. Worse, a massive fire licked to life only a few feet away from them; it was swiftly consuming the deck on which they stood. The floor was going to give.
“Oh!” Mia gasped. Had Brave Wolf won the struggle, only to lose the war? If the floor beneath them gave, they would be swept below as it crumbled; they’d be impaled and crushed beneath fallen rubble and knife-like timber.
Frightened into immobility, Mia could only stare. But not so Brave Wolf. He swept her up into his arms and sprinted around a corner, ignoring the deck crashing about them. He endured the burning heat, and somehow he kept ahead of the ever-rushing fire, veering toward the port side of the boat, the side away from the paddle wheel. Still holding her in his arms, he scrambled up onto the railing, and without hesitation, he knifed feet first into the river, taking her with him.
Down, down they shot into the mildly cool and welcoming, but muddy water. Brave Wolf didn’t wait to touch bottom. Kicking out, he swam down deep underwater, heading north, away from the boat. A deadly tow pulled at him, yet he evaded it, and dove down deeper only to have a whirlpool tug at them, threatening to drown them. Yet it didn’t happen. Brave Wolf forded the underwater death trap with what appeared to be so much ease that one might have thought he were part merman. He held her by the waist now and pulled her along with him. Once he surfaced for air and she gasped in the needed oxygen; a bombardment of bullets met them from the shoreline, and he dove down, down deep, deeper, kicking out in a stroke that propelled them to the bottom of the river, swimming as fast as the water would allow him. She felt the path of a bullet as it nicked him, for it was to that arm where he held her. Although the shot didn’t draw blood, it must have stung him. But if it did, he showed no signs of feeling it.
Faster they swam, she kicking out now to help him. North and east they fled, away from the deadly assassin bullets. But how long could she hold her breath? She felt as though she were turning blue, and she tapped Brave Wolf on the shoulder to indicate that she needed air. Once again, although this time more cautiously, he came up for breath, but he allowed her only a second to suck in that air before he dove back under the surface, knifing toward the very bottom of the river once again.
Surprisingly no one appeared to be following them beneath the waves, and she was reminded of the danger of the deadly whirlpools, currents and underwater tows beneath the surface of the Big Muddy River. It had claimed many a man’s life. It had tried to take theirs. Was this why no one was giving chase?
Those deadly traps confronted Brave Wolf over and over. She felt their pull, was certain she and Brave Wolf would never survive this. Yet, they did. How he managed to use these dangers to his advantage, she might never know, for he swam through the tows as though he danced a jig with them. They pushed onward, Mia having to remind Brave Wolf on more than one occasion that she needed to breathe air, not water.
It felt as though hours had passed as they shot through these muddy depths, although it was probably not longer than minutes. Always it seemed to her that they headed north and, she hoped, out of range of those assassin’s bullets. She was aware that Brave Wolf could hold his breath longer than she could, and he seemed to forget that she was not part fish; many more times than she could count, she had to tap him on the shoulder as a reminder. At last, when they surfaced for air, it appeared that they had put enough distance between themselves, the shoreline and the steamship, for nothing met them but the smoke of a boat that would never sail the Missouri waters again.
They both looked on at the wreckage, which was even now still afire.
“Why did the boat explode?” she asked softly, more to herself than to Brave Wolf.
But he answered her quickly, saying, “Man who try kill you use fire to blow up boat.”
Shock caused Mia to remain silent, and, when she didn’t answer at once, Brave Wolf calmly dove again beneath the waves.
Some ranches have the strangest names but probably all mean something personal to the owner. The ones I put in my stories all reflect the owner’s state of mind or what they value. Some that I see when I drive down the road leave me scratching my head though. Like the Dime Box and Hoof Prints ranches.
In the anthology Give Me a Texas Cowboy, Jack’s Bluff was the name of the ranch in mine and Phyliss Miranda’s stories. Jack, one of Tempest LeDoux’s many husbands, won the ranch after buffing in a card game. I thought it was perfect.
Here are others I’ve used:
Sullivan – A Texas Christmas
Long Odds – Texas Mail Order Bride
Last Hope – Twice a Texas Bride
Wild Horse – Forever His Texas Bride
Lone Star – Men of Legend series
Aces ’n Eights – Knight on the Texas Plains and To Catch a Texas Star
Each one tells a lot about the owner. Duel McClain in Knight on the Texas Plains and To Catch a Texas Star named his ranch for the poker hand he won Marley Rose with and he doesn’t ever want to forget the miracle of how she changed his life.
To Catch a Texas Star is a story of hope, forgiveness, self-discovery, and vanquishing evil. Marley Rose is on her way into town when she finds a man bleeding and unconscious by the side of the road. Roan Penny has seen the worst of humanity, but Marley and the McClain family restores his faith. As he recovers he falls in love with the dark beauty he calls his Texas Star and longs to make a life with her. But evil from the past finds them. Will it destroy the happiness Roan and Marley have found?
The book released on July 3 and is available everywhere in bookstores and online.
Here are a few of the old Texas ranches still in operation not far from me:
Tongue River Ranch
Matador Land and Cattle
Yellow House Ranch
How about you? Can you name a ranch either in books/TV shows/movies, or that you’ve seen or heard about? I’m giving away one copy (winner’s choice of format.) Comment to enter the drawing to be held on Saturday, August 4. Giveaway Guidelines.
My first Harlequin Heartwarming–HER MONTANA COWBOY–will be released on August 1st and I’m very excited. I’m also excited by the fact that the cowboy on my cover looks very much like Prince Harry!
HER MONTANA COWBOY is a city-girl country-guy story and was a lot of fun to write. Here’s an excerpt from a scene where Gus helps Lillie Jean get her car out of a mud hole in the long driveway leading to the ranch. It opens with them riding in the tractor:
Lillie Jean smelled like lilacs, a scent Gus knew well, due to the thick hedge near the ranch house that burst into blossom each spring, filling the air with perfume and sending old Sal’s allergies into high gear.
He hated that he noticed that Lillie Jean smelled good. Hated the way the delicate floral scent made him feel like leaning closer and taking a deeper breath. In fact, it was really annoying to find himself feeling that way, so he was very glad to finally arrive at the car.
Lillie Jean put her hand on the door handle before he’d rolled to a stop, and he automatically reached past her to keep her from opening the door. She shot him a startled look, which he met with a frown, once again doing his best to ignore the lilacs and the incredible color of her eyes.
“Never open the door until the tractor is out of gear.” He made a show of moving the gear lever. “Big tires,” he said in a clipped voice. “Very unforgiving.”
“Is it okay now?” Lillie Jean asked as she eyed the giant rear wheels.
“Yeah.” He put on the hand brake and set a hand on the back of her seat to maneuver himself out of the cab. Lillie Jean took the hint and climbed down the stairs and jumped to the ground, quickly moving out of range of those big tires. Gus followed her and then reached up to drag the chain off the floorboards under the seat.
The mud was deep and water soaked into his jeans as he crouched down to attach the chain to the frame of the big car. Once done, he motioned for Lillie Jean to get into the driver’s seat.
“What do I do?”
“You start the engine and steer. Do not step on the gas.”
“Because it’ll annoy me if you ram that big car into the tractor.”
“Oh.” She moistened her lips—a mistake in the cool weather—and then said, “You don’t have much faith in my driving ability.”
All he did was point a finger at the car in the mud then turn and walk back to the tractor. “Just put it in neutral,” he said, “and let me do the rest.”
“Why even start it?”
“So that the steering wheel works.
From the way her jaw muscles tightened, Gus deduced that she was starting to hate him a little.
“I knew that.” She abruptly turned and headed toward the car, mincing her way across the lumpy half-frozen mud next to the door.
Gus climbed into the cab and, once Lillie Jean was situated behind the wheel, he gently eased the tractor back until the chain was taut. He continued inching backward until the car jerked, then moved forward. Lillie Jean kept the wheels straight until finally the car was free, and he swore he could see her biting her full bottom lip as she concentrated, even though they were separated by twenty feet and two windshields. Once he was certain Lillie Jean wasn’t going to throw the car in gear or anything unexpected, he moved the tractor forward so that the chain sagged.
“There are no more puddles between here and the ranch house, so you should be okay,” he said as he unhooked the chain. “You should be equally okay when you leave, which will be in short order, right?”
Lillie Jean propped a hand on her hip and stuck her chin out. “Enough, okay?”
He stowed the chain back in the cab of the tractor and then turned to her. “Enough what?”
“Enough passive-aggressive stuff. And enough insinuating that I’m not who I say I am, and that I’m here to try to take advantage of your uncle. I’m not.”
“I have no way of knowing that.”
“And you have nothing to do with this situation. It’s between me and Thaddeus.”
“Thaddeus is getting up there in years. I’m his nephew, his ranch manager.”
He gave her a small, not particularly friendly smile. “Meaning that, until Thad tells me otherwise, it’ll be you and Thaddeus and me.”
HER MONTANA COWBOY is available for pre-order right now and will be officially available on August 1st.
Welcome to another terrific Tuesday. Did I mention that the new book — Brave Wolf and the Lady — is also available in paperback? The cover is so gorgeous, that it’s thrilling to see it in a book that reminds me of the olden days when one held the book in your hand.
Thought I’d post another excerpt from the book today. This excerpt happens early in the story and is the first time the hero and heroine interact. The hero has in fact saved the heroine from a fate that would have taken her life, but they don’t really interact then, and she’s not even sure that he’s the one who saved her from a gang of nasty murderers.
The pictures below are from Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show and were pictures taken about 10 years apart from this story. Thought you might like to see them.
BRAVE WOLF AND THE LADY, an excerpt
Hunger caused Mia to return to the world of the living. She breathed in deeply, if only to ensure she was still alive. As the sweet taste of oxygen filled her lungs, she realized that it was not in her destiny to die here today. Was she happy with that fact?
She wasn’t certain. Perhaps there was merit in dying alongside her husband, yet the welcome scent of oxygen taken into her body made her glad for a reason she could not quite define.
Was that wrong? Truth was, had death come to her this day, she knew she would have welcomed it. And yet…
She sat up as her stomach growled. Being alive meant she would require food to eat, and there should be provision enough in her wagon. But on the tail end of this thought came another: such nourishment would require a fire, and the good Lord help her, she didn’t have the energy or the will to start one right now.
But there would be water in the wagon. That would have to be enough, she decided, at least for the time being.
Apparently she was alone, for there was little more than the stirring of the wind in the trees to hear. Rising up, she glanced down at her dress. The fact that the material was blood-soaked didn’t bother her. It was Jeffrey’s blood, and therefore, sacred to her. Indeed, she might never wash this dress. But she would change out of it. It smelled bad.
As she quickly surveyed the valley around her, the gradual stench of the dead was starting to permeate the air. She put her hands over her nose, as if the action might make the smell go away. But it didn’t work.
Perhaps she possessed a scarf that she might tie around her face. It was either that or suffer it, since her only option was to stay here and await the other wagon train, which, if she remembered correctly, would be coming here soon.
She stepped toward her wagon.
Mia stopped deadly still. Someone had spoken. She wasn’t imagining it. She knew she wasn’t. Was it Jeffrey? Was he alive after all?
Slowly, she turned around. It was dusk, which made it difficult to see clearly.
“Hau. Yahíacipe manke.” A man rose up from his position atop a rock.
“Wan ka wan! Yahíacipe manke.” The man stepped toward her, his hands outstretched as if he were speaking with his hands alone. In broken English, he said, “I…no harm…mean you.”
It was that Indian! The young one with white and black paint over his eyes and a red band tied around his head! She screamed again, and, spinning around, fled to her wagon.
She clambered into the back of it, toward the spot where she and Jeffrey had kept their weapons. There it was. A rifle. Was it loaded? Quickly she checked it.
It wasn’t. With trembling fingers, she put a cartridge into it, and, clicking it closed, she pushed its muzzle through a bullet crack in the white canvas tarp. She breathed in deeply.
No! This wasn’t right. The Indian might come through the back, or even use the front of the wagon to get at her. Worse, he was probably a better shot than she was.
Not knowing what to do, she sat back on her heels and cried. Had she lived through the worst of the day only to have to endure more? Was her future to be torture at the hands of Indians? Rape?
At last, not knowing what else to do, she called out, “I have a gun and I know how to use it. Don’t come any closer.”
“Don’t come any closer to me.”
“You stay there. I’ll stay here.”
“Hau, hau. Yes.”
His voice sounded as if it came from a distance farther away. Had she frightened him?
Not likely. Well, she thought, there was nothing else for it. She would have to stay here on guard the night through. Drat! The water was in a keg outside the wagon.
Biting down hard on her lip, she sat back against her legs, shifting her body into a position that she might be able to defend, regardless of what direction he might choose to stage his attack. And an attack was brewing. She was certain of it.
But she would catch him before he could harm her. This she promised herself.
The smell of food awakened her. Mia jerked herself into alertness. Oh, dear Lord, she had slept! How could she? And why was she still alive?
The aroma from outside the wagon smelled wonderful, though. She recognized the scents of bacon and eggs and her stomach growled. Did Indians eat bacon and eggs? She had heard that they subsisted on nothing but buffalo.
Her stomach spoke to her again, this time with hunger pangs. Guardedly, she sat forward so that she could look out through the crack in the wagon’s canvas. There he was! That Indian. His countenance around his eyes was still painted in a mask-like design, as though he were adorning himself for war, but at least he had laid his weapons far away from him. They weren’t even within easy reach for him. Had he done this in order to tell her without words that it was safe for her to come out?
No, she couldn’t go out there. He might kill her.
Ah, but the scent of those bacon and eggs… Her mouth watered.
The Indian suddenly glanced up toward the wagon, as though he could see her through the crack. Could he?
He didn’t say a word, however. Instead, he smiled and gestured toward her where she kept watch in the wagon. Then using his hands, he indicated a spot next to him. He held out a cup of water toward her.
His actions spoke for themselves, and Mia gulped. Could she trust him?
However, she reasoned, he hadn’t attacked her last night, when she had been at her most vulnerable. Slowly, with rifle clutched firmly in front of her, she stood to her feet and stepped out from under the canvas covering.
As she glanced toward him, the wind wafted toward her, bringing with it that fragrance of the bacon. Perhaps it was this which was her undoing, and she found herself speaking up, saying to him, “Do you have any extra food?”
Again, he smiled at her. “Hau. U wo.” Then in English. “Come…sit…eat. I have…plenty.”
Mia swallowed hard. She glanced toward his weapons that still remained far away from him, then at the fire and the food cooking. Her stomach rumbled.
That decided it.
Slowly, with the rifle held in a ready position, she climbed down from the wagon, keeping the Indian always within her view. Looking downward, she grimaced at the bloodstains on her dress, for she had been unable to change out of it.
But he did nothing more than grin at her, and, despite her misgivings, she noted that he was handsome in a savage sort of way—at least she thought he might be beneath all that white and black paint, as well as that red headband he wore. And he was young, perhaps only a little older than she was.
The observation gave her a sense of ease…at least a little. She said, “I would like a bit of that, if you have some to spare.”
He nodded, and again motioned toward her, picking up the cup of water and holding it out to her. One slow step followed upon another until she stood within a few feet of him. With her right hand, she held the rifle, not pointed at him, but in an ever-ready position. With her left, she reached toward the water.
She didn’t wish to appear greedy, but as soon as the liquid came close to her lips, instinct took over, and she gulped down every last drop of it. Glancing up, she returned the cup to him, then wiped her mouth. Glancing up, she saw that he was studying her.
Once more he nodded, and he looked amusedly at her.
“It’s good,” she said, and not knowing what else to do, she returned his smile. There was a plate filled with bacon and eggs, and he gestured toward her, obviously asking her to sit. She wouldn’t. She didn’t dare.
But when he held the plate out to her, she found her hand stretching forward toward it. However, she couldn’t hold the plate, eat and keep her weapon in a position where she could use it, if that were to become necessary.
He solved the problem by holding the plate for her. Tentatively at first, she reached for a piece of bacon. It took no more than bringing it close to her face for her to practically stuff the food in her mouth.
She didn’t stop at one piece. She ate everything on the plate, including the eggs. Her body thanked her for her wisdom in not refusing the food. And, prayer-like, Mia silently thanked this young man.
Only when she had appeased her appetite did she see that he withdrew the plate. Then he offered her the water again.
Gladly, she accepted. “Thank you.”
He started to rise. Alarmed, she stepped back and held up the rifle.
Holding up his hands, he brought himself into a position on his knees before he stood to his feet. He was a tall man, she noted once again, tall and slim with the firm muscles of an athlete. He wore no shirt this morning, she observed reluctantly, and her gaze lingered on the beaded necklace that hung down over his chest. A large claw hung there, and she could only surmise that it might be the claw from some huge beast. A bear?
She had once seen a bear at her home back in Virginia. The incident had so frightened her that she had never again ventured into the heavy woods that surrounded her home. Had this boy/man killed a bear?
The thought had her setting her rifle in a ready position, but he simply reached out away from her, to grab hold of another slab of bacon, whereupon he placed it on the skillet that sat atop a smoke-less fire. As soon as he had accomplished the task, he sat down again and looked up at her.
Pointing at himself, he said, “Lak??”. Then he motioned toward her.
“That is your name? Lakota?”
“Hiyá, no. Lak??…my…” He frowned and muttered, “Oyáte…tribe.”
“Oh. Then what is your name?”
“I…,” he pointed to himself, “speak it…cannot. Manners…bad.”
“I see. Well then, since I don’t wish to cause you bad manners, I suppose I’ll have to address you as Mr. Lakota.”
When he didn’t speak or protest in any other way, she bowed her head slightly in acknowledgement, and said, “But I should tell you my name so you’ll know what to call me. Mia. My name is Mia.”
He nodded. “Hau, Mi-a.”
“Hau? Does that mean hello.”
“Hau, hello. Also means…yes,” he affirmed, then he gestured around their camp. “Your…husband…die?”
“Yes,” she nodded. “Yes. He died.” She swallowed back the gulp in her voice.
“Why? Why would you help me?”
“Woman…” he gestured toward her, “…die…” He frowned as he obviously searched his memory for the right word. “…Die,” he continued, “…if…if no help.”
She came down onto her haunches and sat, her calves pulled into a position under her. She laid the rifle on her lap. “I think I understand what you’re trying to say. That I might die if you don’t help me.”
“It is kind of you to be concerned about me,” she said, “but there is another wagon train coming this way—it is behind us. I can wait here for them.”
He frowned. Then training his gaze on her, he replied, “No…sea…of…white…” He shook his head. “None. Wagons…no.”
“Perhaps you didn’t see it. The guide said it was a few days behind us.”
Again, the young man shook his head. “Wagon…train…none. Not…behind. Not…in front.”
Mia furrowed her brow. Surely this wasn’t right. Hadn’t that trail guide told them that there was a wagon at their rear? It was the only reason they’d stopped here.
Then another thought crossed her mind. Had the man been lying? She blinked a few times. Then she looked up at Mr. Lakota. She asked, “Are you telling me the truth? That there is no wagon train near here? None at all?”
“Hau. Train…none.” He nodded.
“I can’t believe that. Why…” It came to her then. The scout—the man they had all trusted—might have been one of the murderers. He had left their small party to return to his own wagon train. But if there were no train, if he had done this only to—
She caught her breath. If he had been one of their attackers, then he would be here amongst the dead, dressed in Indian garb like the rest of his fellows. She hated to do it, to search over the dead, but she would have to do it. If that man were here, it meant that she and this small wagon train had been utterly betrayed.
She didn’t say a word. Instead, she rose up to her feet, and turning her back on the Indian, she stepped out amongst the dead. She found the man after some little search. He was, indeed, dressed as an Indian, but he was also easily recognized.
She swayed. The truth was a hard matter to come face-to-face with.
That man had utterly deceived them. But why? Had someone in their midst cheated one of these murderers? Cheated all of them? Try as she might, Mia could think of no reasonable explanation for the slaughter, outside of— What was that they’d said about a woman with red hair? She couldn’t quite recall what had been said now, but it seemed to her that it might have something to do with her.
Perhaps it was her lack of understanding of the motives involved in this slaughter, or maybe it was fear or anger that caused her to teeter on her feet. She felt oddly weak. She ran a hand over her eyes, realizing she was going to be sick to her stomach. Her knees buckled under her, and despite her best efforts, she fell to the ground at the same time that the contents of her stomach spilled up. But she didn’t reach the ground.
Sturdy arms came around her to catch hold of her, and she was brought up firmly against the chest of her rescuer. Oddly, before she lost consciousness altogether, she was aware that his arms felt good around her.
What an unusual thought, she decided before the all-consuming blackness of unconsciousness engulfed her once again.
Well that’s all for now. Did I mention that I’ll be giving away a free e-book of this story. So do come on in and leave a comment.
Can a Widow in the Wild West …find wedded bliss again?
When Cassandra Stewart fulfills her husband’s dying wish by visiting the ranch he loved, she plans to sell it. But then she meets his best friend. As aloof, ruggedly handsome Wolf shows Cassandra the value of life in the prairies, tenderness begins to grow from their shared pain into something more… Maybe theres a future for her at the Rocking S Ranch after all…
The hero in this story captured my heart. I have a soft spot for the competent, yet brooding type and Wolf is all that. What characteristics say “hero” to you?
I also wanted to share a short book trailer…
And an excerpt from Chapter One ~
Alexandria, Virginia ~ 1879
Cassandra Stewart slipped her had through the crook in her father’s arm and leaned on him for support as she descended the grand staircase of her parent’s estate. At the bottom of the stairs, her mother stood beside their housemaid. “I don’t like this, Cassandra. Not one bit. Are you sure that you want to do this today?”
“No. I’m not sure, but I’ve put it off for far too long. It’s been ten months since Douglas has been gone.”
“You are still weak. Just the work of dressing has taxed your strength.”
She smoothed the wide silk belt at her waist. It matched the dress she had donned. How she hated the color black. “The attorney said it was necessary as soon as I was feeling well enough. Today is a good day. I feel stronger. Besides, Mr. Edelman went out of his way to travel all the way from the city to take care of things. It is time.”
Father patted her forearm—his way of showing support, both physically and emotionally. He was ready for, as he stated, “the entire disaster of her marriage” to be over and done with. He wanted his little girl back and for life to return to the way it once had been before she ever met Douglas Stewart Jr. Father simply wanted to protect her—his only child—and this was his way to do it. He had no idea that she could never go back to life as it once was. Not after all that had transpired. Douglas had changed everything in her life. So had the loss of their baby.
The house echoed with the whispers of her two great-aunts. While she’d been confined to her bed, they’d discussed her in the hallway just beyond her bedroom door. A wayward woman—tainted—they’d called her, speculating whether the death of her husband was a punishment from above because she’d blatantly gone against her parents’ wishes and the mores of decent society to marry so quickly. Most couples were engaged a year before the wedding ceremony.
Cassandra consoled herself with the knowledge that their own marriages had been long and lonely, as their husbands both sought to escape their daily harping and criticism. Her own marriage, although only a few short months, had been a wonder, and she would be forever grateful to have had that time with Douglas. Yet her great-aunts’ harsh judgment stung her conscience. She had never been good enough to suit them. A disappointment—that’s what she was.
As she walked slowly down the hallway, a chill coursed through her. She pulled her tatted shawl tighter around her shoulders with her free hand. Despite the heavy heat of the midsummer afternoon, she was still cold. The meeting shouldn’t take long. All she had to do was sign the official papers, and her late husband’s land would then be ready to sell. She might have sold it long before this, releasing the burden of a property she’d never seen, if not for Mr. Edelman’s insistence that he make sure that no will existed.
And then there had been her daughter. Cassandra had held out hope that the property would be a legacy to pass on, but her daughter had come early—much too early. Her chest tightened at the memory. She didn’t want to dwell on it yet couldn’t help herself. Hope had become despair. And a mad fury had overtaken her. Douglas had been reckless to participate in that boat race. He’d thought himself invincible in all things. The very quality that had drawn her to him had also been the death of him.
Well, today would be one more snip in the rope that tethered him to her. A rope that she both loved and hated at the same time. Her heart had ached for so very long—nearly a year now. Her hopes and dreams had all been dashed the moment the boat he’d crewed with his friends had collided with another.
As she entered the library, Mr. Edelman turned from the floor-to-ceiling window that overlooked the lawn and the Potomac River. He was a short, round man, with light gray hair and eyes to match. “Good afternoon, Mrs. Stewart.”
At the sound of her married name, her father’s grip tightened on her hand. After all this time, it still bothered him.
“Thank you, Father.” She released his arm and sat down in the chair he held out for her on one side of the massive oak table.
“Mr. Edelman. Thank you for making the journey today. Please take a seat.”
Her mother and father took seats on each side of her at the long table as if to bolster her for what might be coming.
“Indeed, it is no imposition. It is always a treat to get away from the city for a short break in routine, especially in the oppressive heat of summer.” He cleared his throat and took a seat across from her. “I prepared the paperwork several months ago and simply set it aside, awaiting this moment when you would be ready. All that is needed is your signature in several places.”
He set his leather satchel on the table and withdrew a stack of papers. “Most of your late husband’s finances are tied up in the property. Since he left no will, as his wife, you inherit everything. Once the ranch sells, you should have enough money to choose where you want to live and live there quite comfortably.”
Mother gave her a quick side hug. “You will stay here. As you have since the…incident.”
It wasn’t an incident…it was a marriage. But the courtship and wedding had happened so fast, and then the marriage had been over just as fast. No one’s fault, the captain had written in his report of the boating accident. If not for the months of morning sickness that followed and the lingering ache in her belly, Cassandra might have wondered if the marriage had happened at all.
Mr. Edelman placed the first paper in front of her along with a pen.
Something he’d said gave her pause. “You must be exaggerating the extent of his holdings. Douglas said it was a very small farm. He only had a few cows. Certainly not sufficient enough to keep me for more than a year.”
She picked both papers up and started to read. Halfway down the page she realized she hadn’t understood anything and started over. The inked letters swam before her, the words meaningless.
Mother leaned toward her. “I’m sure Mr. Edelman has everything in order, dear. He’s very reputable, and your father has already looked over everything.”
Cassandra stared at the line where she was to put her signature. It was all so very final—putting her mark there. She should simply sign it and let it go. There was already a potential buyer in Denver waiting for word from her. But all that she could think of was the last time she’d seen Douglas. He’d been in so much pain toward the end, but he’d asked her to do one last thing for him.
Mother leaned toward her. “Sign the paper, dear. Mr. Edelman is waiting.”
Cassandra looked up and caught the worried glance her mother sent her father. Another chill slithered through her. Why did she feel so torn about this? Had she procrastinated, not because of her health, but because of the promise she had made to Doug? Was that the real reason she had put off this moment?
“Before I sign this, I have one question.”
“Yes?” Mr. Edelman said.
“Will I be able to stay on the property after these papers are signed?”
He looked momentarily surprised. “Well…no. Any further contact with the property would be handled by Mayor Melbourne in Oak Grove. He is the attorney there. He has agreed to handle the sale upon receipt of these papers. There would be no need for you to travel there yourself.”
“But…what if I choose to?”
Father shook his head. “We’ve been through all this. You are not strong enough to go.”
“But I will be. Not tomorrow, or even next week. But someday.”
Mr. Edelman leaned back in his chair and laced his fingers together over his girth. “I didn’t realize that you had reservations about selling your land. Perhaps you should explain.”
Your land. How could it be hers if she’d never seen it? Never walked upon it? “You see…after his accident and just before he…he passed, my husband asked me to go to the farm. He wanted me to live there—to stay for an entire month. I’m sure he hoped I would come to love it and stay, but of course, that is not possible. I would not want to be there without him.”
“Your parents didn’t mention any of this when they retained my services.”
Of course, they hadn’t. Discussing it in front of Mr. Edelman was their ploy to make sure she felt even more pressure to bend to their wishes.
“It would be sensible if the property were nearby, but to travel all the way to Kansas…” her father interjected.
“Yes, yes,” Mr. Edelman said. “Highly irregular for a young woman of means. Not a good idea to travel on your own. There are ruffians and scallywags out West.”
Cassandra nearly smiled at the exact same words her parents had used when trying to stop her from marrying Douglas. Surely the great Wild West held all sorts of people, not just the social miscreants mentioned time and again by her family and close friends.
“Douglas spoke of the place only a few times,” she said. “He looked forward to showing it to me, but then the boating accident happened.”
“It really is for the best, Cassie,” Mother said. “You belong here. Not halfway across the country stuck on a cow farm with a bunch of rough men.”
Her mother’s words left little uncertainty as to her true feelings. Cassandra glanced up at Mr. Edelman. No doubt he’d heard of her situation, bantered up and down the seaboard by gossipy society matrons. Mother’s inference did not help the slightly tarnished, although completely undeserved, reputation that she’d acquired by marrying Douglas so rapidly.
She suddenly realized that her fingers were clenched around the pen and her teeth were clamped together. Even her chest was tight. She had loved Douglas honorably. It wasn’t fair for others to judge her otherwise.
With that thought, something in the cold ashes of her core sparked. A wisp of the determination she’d once possessed began to glow inside her. Douglas’s memory didn’t deserve to be brushed aside and forgotten as if he’d never existed, as if he were an “unfortunate incident.” Their marriage had happened no matter how hard Mother and Father tried to sweep it under the rug…and push her to forget it.
She was angry that he’d left her alone and reeling from the consequences of his careless behavior, but she still loved him. Their short marriage had been wonderful. Maybe she should do as he asked. A promise, after all, was still a promise, even after death.
She set the pen down, her movement slow and deliberate. “I want to see the grave and make sure that my husband’s interment—” how she hated that word “—was handled appropriately. I believe I will make the journey after all.”
The silence that followed her announcement reverberated like the last gong of a bell.
“Well then,” Mr. Edelman said after a moment, glancing from her to her parents. He gathered the papers together in front of him. “If you are sure that is what you want, I’ll get these in the post to the attorney in Oak Grove. They’ll be waiting there for your signature after you have fulfilled your promise to your late husband.”
“Why can’t I carry them with me?”
He looked unsure. “It’s irregular.”
“It seems sensible to me. They are, after all, my papers.”
“Very well. When you arrive in town, simply leave them with Josiah Melbourne.” He started to close his satchel when he stopped. “Oh, yes. Here’s one more item.” He withdrew a small box and handed it to her.
The crude wooden box was the size of a small rectangle jewelry case and without any decoration. She turned it over. Her husband’s initials—DLS—were burned into the bottom. “Where did this come from?”
“Mayor Melbourne said it was found among your late husband’s papers.”
She frowned. “Why am I only seeing it now?”
“We thought it an oddity,” Mother said quickly. “It’s just an ugly box. Nothing of consequence.”
“But it was important enough to Douglas that he kept it with his legal papers.” Cassandra smoothed her fingertips over the letters. The box was an amateur attempt at woodworking. Was it Douglas’s first attempt? She knew so little of that part of his life. Now, she guessed it made scant difference.
“I took the liberty of opening it, thinking it might hold something of import regarding your late husband’s estate,” the attorney said, indicating she should go ahead and open the box. “As you will see that was not the case.”
She opened the lid.
A folded piece of paper lay on top of a few small assorted items—a lock of auburn hair tied with a bow, a bullet and a leather thong with a small turquoise stone. On the very bottom was a feather. Mementos, she supposed. She wished Doug were here to explain their meaning.
She opened the paper and found a note in her husband’s script, written with a steady, strong hand.
Wáse’ekhaar’a— You will know what to do. Wira’a
“This isn’t for me,” she murmured, confused. They certainly were strange names.
“We could put it in the post,” Mother suggested. “There is no reason for you to hand-carry it all the way to Kansas. You belong here.”
Cassandra closed her eyes. “Mother. Please. I will simply take it with me. Someone there will surely know what it is all about.” She turned to the attorney. “I’m sorry to have brought you all this way only to stop short at the last moment.”
“Quite all right.” He leaned toward her, his gray eyes kind. “Your mother and father do have your best interests at heart. You are obviously still recovering from your illness, and it is an arduous journey to travel so far.” He stuffed the papers and the box carefully back in the satchel. “If you change your mind and end up staying here, then send me word and we will talk again.”
“Thank you, Mr. Edelman.”
He stood, as did her parents. At the library door, he stopped. “Please consider, Mrs. Stewart. A promise made to a man on his deathbed isn’t legally binding. God would not hold you accountable for trying to ease the last few hours of your husband’s life. Good day.” He turned and headed down the hall, followed by her mother and father.
They would, as a matter of course, hold a whispered conversation out of her hearing, trying desperately to figure out a way to keep her here. Whatever plan they hatched would come to naught. She was getting stronger. She had to do what she thought was best.
“God might not hold me accountable,” she whispered into the empty room. “But I do.”
How exciting! A new book out and just put up in paperback on Amazon. Will be giving away a free copy of the e-book to one of you bloggers, so do come on in and leave a comment. We’ll start with the blurb so that you know the general story line of the book, and then the blurb.
Hope you enjoy!
BRAVE WOLF AND THE LADY
Book 2, The Clan of the Wolf Series
He saved her life, then stole her heart….
To escape an arranged marriage, Mia Carlson, daughter of a U.S. senator, instead elopes with the man she loves. As they are escaping from her Virginia home, heading west, their wagon train is brutally attacked, leaving Mia alone and in grave danger. Rescue comes from a most unlikely source, a passing Lakota scouting party, led by the darkly handsome Indian, Brave Wolf.
Although Brave Wolf has consented to guide Mia to the nearest trading post, he holds himself apart from her, for his commitments lie elsewhere. But long days on the trail lead to a deep connection with the red-haired beauty. Yet, he can’t stop wondering why death and danger stalk this beautiful woman, forcing him to rescue her time and again. Who is doing this, and why?
One thing is clear, however: Amid the flurry of dodging assassin bullets, Brave Wolf and Mia come into possession of a powerful love. But is it all for naught? Will Brave Wolf’s obligations and Mia’s secret enemy from the past finally succeed in the sinister plot to destroy their love forever?
Warning: Sensuous romance and cameo appearances of Tahiska and Kristina from the book, Lakota Surrender, might cause a happily-ever-after to warm your heart.
Brave Wolf and the Lady
She hobbled a little to try to catch up with him. He turned back toward her, squinting at her.
“You…find…leather of shoe?”
“I…I did not. I searched for it everywhere. But…”
He stepped back toward her, retracing his path. As he came up level with her, he commanded, “You…stay…”
“I am no dog, sir, to be told to sit, stay or roll over.”
He grinned at her. “I not…confused about that.”
She crossed her arms over her chest. “I looked and looked for the sole of my shoe, but I couldn’t find it.”
“I will…find it. You…here…stay.”
“No. I’m afraid to be left alone.”
His fleeting look at her was enough to cause Mia to realize that her defiance frustrated him. After four days of travel with this man, she had become used to witnessing the tiny nuances that told of this young man’s emotional moods. Years from now, she reasoned, he would most likely master those miniscule flickers of concern.
For now, she was glad to have acquired some means to recognize his frame of mind. She said, “Please don’t be upset with me. The pea vines and other prickly bushes are constantly stinging me and tearing at my dress. It’s so much easier to find a piece of my clothing hanging from a bush, than it is to find the bottom of my shoe stuck in the mud somewhere. The tall grass alone makes it hard to find, for when I bend to look to try to find it, I get pricked.”
He nodded. “You speak…true. This…why I go…find it. Easier for me. You…stay…here.”
“I can’t. I can’t be without you.”
For a moment, she caught a surprised light in his eye as he regarded her.
“Don’t you see?” she went on to explain. “What if something happened to you? What if you didn’t return? I would rather be with you and face what you face, even if that be death, than to stay here on my own, unknowing. Without you, I would die here in this world of grass and vines.”
The curious look was gone, and in its place was a glimpse of what? Was that admiration?
He said, “Understood. Will try to…teach you way…of prairie. Then not be…afraid.”
“Good,” she acknowledged. “I would appreciate that, but that’s in the future. For now, I must go with you.”
He drew his brows together in a frown as he stepped toward her. Nevertheless, he uttered, “Then walk…low to ground. Like this…” He bent over double.
“All right, I will. But why must we spend so much time trying to find this? What difference does the bottom of a shoe make? Truly, who’s to see it in this environment of dirt and grass?”
“Land full…” he waved his hands out and away from him, “…of Indian to?wéya, scouts. If find shoe…they follow…our…trail. Us they kill…maybe.”
“Oh,” she frowned. “I see. Is that why you’ve had me go back over the trail so many times to find the pieces of my dress when I’ve torn it on the bushes?”
“It is so.”
She sighed. “Then I had better help you, I suppose, and be more careful where I step, for it was in a muddy patch of ground where I lost my shoe’s sole.”
“Wašté, good. Itó, come.”
Mimicking him, she grappled with the rifle to find a comfortable position, then she bent over at the waist, following him as they made a slow progress back over their tracks. Amazingly, she had no doubt that he would find that stray piece of leather, and he did not disappoint. Within a relatively short time, he held the wayward sole of her boot in his hand.
She limped toward him, and reached out for it, but he did not immediately give it to her. Instead, he made a sign to her, and, turning away, he indicated that she should follow him again, traveling once more in that bent-over position.
Shutting her eyes on deep sigh, she realized she had little choice but to do as he asked.
The deeply colored green grass waved above them in the prairie’s ever-constant breeze, while a hawk circled above them, as if curious about the goings-on below. Crows flew here and there, their caw-cawing echoing loudly in the warm breath of the wind. Everywhere about them was the scent of mixed grasses, mud and sweet earth. The sun felt hot, since it was now in its zenith, but the surrounding shrubs and grass provided some shelter from its direct heat. Only moments ago, they had stopped on a piece of ground where a few large rocks littered the terrain. He sat on one of those slabs now; she resided on another, facing him. He held her boot in one hand and the sole of that shoe in another, and he examined the footwear and its missing bottom from every possible angle.
As she watched, she basked in the relief of simply sitting. Sadly, she’d left her bonnet behind in her wagon, and, in consequence, the sun glared down on her bare head, while the wind whisked locks of her hair into her eyes. With an impatient hand, she pushed those strands behind her ears.
She gazed away from him, not focusing on anything in particular. Simply, it seemed a better option than looking at him. Something about his hands, something about the delicate way he handled her shoes was devastating to her peace of mind. She sighed.
Frankly, she was fascinated by him. Too fascinated.
She rocked back, and let her aching calf muscles relax as a feeling of tranquility settled over her. It was the first time since Jeffrey’s demise that she wasn’t constantly reminded of that loss, and for a moment, if a moment only, the hurt subsided, but only a little.
It had been earlier in the day when she’d lost the sole of her shoe. At first, she had said nothing about it to Mr. Lakota. But, after discovering that blood had covered her hosiery and the sole of her foot, she’d at last confessed her problem to him.
She’d expected his anger, for it meant that the object would have to be found, which would only serve to slow down their progress. But he’d shown none of that. Instead, he’d calmly asked her to go and retrieve it. It had seemed a simple request, for she was accustomed to backtracking to retrieve bits of her dress after the material had caught and torn on a branch or vine. But this was different; she had delayed telling him about it, and the underside of her shoe might be as far back as a mile.
He might not fully realize it, but she would never go so far away from him. Not even during the day. It frightened her to be alone in this vast expanse of prairie.
Her thoughts caused her to stir uneasily, and she brought her gaze back onto him. At last, he looked up at her and muttered, “Cannot fix.”
Her heart sank. What did that mean? That she was doomed to walk over this muddy, sticky and stone-littered ground in her blood-soaked, stocking feet?
All she said to him, however, was, “Oh.”
“Better I make…moccasins…for you…walk in.”
“Moccasins? You could make them? Here? That would be superb, indeed, if you could. But how is that possible?”
“Cannot fix…this. So…put together moccasins…for you.”
“But to make them?”
“Hau, hau. You…cannot walk…prairie without moccasins to…protect feet.”
“That’s true. But I suppose what I don’t understand is how is it possible that here on the prairie you could assemble moccasins? Do you have the proper materials?”
“Hau. Hold out foot.”
When she didn’t comply at once, he stated again, a little more softly, “Hold out foot.”
Still, she hesitated. Was it unseemly to raise her skirt so that she could extend her foot toward him? Perhaps it was, but the rights and wrongs of such behavior seemed the lesser of two evils. With a shrug, as if she were releasing a weight from her bosom, she did as he asked. At once, she realized her mistake, for as he took hold of her by her ankle, placing it on his lap, her heart skipped a beat.
What was this sensation of delight? This craving for more of his touch? No, oh, no. This mustn’t be happening to her. Yet, if she were to be honest with herself, she would have to confess to a frenzy of excitement that was even now cascading over her nerve endings.
No! Please no, she cried to herself. This was all wrong.
What was the matter with her? She should feel embarrassed because he was touching her, not elated. She gathered her skirt around her legs in an effort to minimize the exposure of the rest of her calf muscle from his view. But it was a wasted effort; he showed no interest in looking at her there.
Taking one of the bags from around his shoulder, he brought out a moccasin and placed it up against the bottom of her foot. She gasped a little, for as soon as he touched her toes, tiny sparks of fire shot over her, from the tip of that foot to the top of her head.
Luckily, it appeared that he didn’t notice her strange behavior, and he explained, “These moccasins…made for me…by Walks-in-sunshine. On journey…like this, need…many moccasins. I…cut this for you.”
Mia, who was more than a little upset with the waywardness of her conduct, glanced away from him, speculating as best she could on what could possibly be the cause of her body’s rapture. Truth was, she’d barely registered what he’d said.
Instead, her attention centered inward as she admonished herself. Perhaps Mr. Lakota reminded her of Jeffrey. Could this be the reason for her misguided reaction to him?
Yes, yes. That was it; it had to be, for she was in love with Jeffrey, would always be in love with Jeffrey.
Still, cautioned an inner voice, this man didn’t look at all like her deceased husband; he acted nothing like him, and she wasn’t at all confused about who was who.
Or was she?
Wasn’t it possible that some deep and uninspected part of her was a little muddled? After all, Mr. Lakota was a young man, and she had been a newly married woman. Plus, Mr. Lakota had rescued her from what would have been a gruesome death. It was only natural, wasn’t it, that she might place her emotions for Jeffrey onto this other man?
Yes. It had to be.
Yet, she countered her own thoughts; she was more than aware that her reaction to Mr. Lakota was not simply emotional. It was sensuous, perhaps a little wanton in nature. Was it possible that her body was simply flustered by the presence of this man? And that it was her body’s reaction to him, not her own?
She sighed deeply. This was more than likely the truth. What she was experiencing was little more than a physical reaction.
Yet, again that inner voice cautioned, if it were no more than physical, if it were purely platonic, why was it that she was experiencing the joy of his touch?
Enough! Her thoughts on the matter were more troubling than the action of his touch.
Still, she wondered, what should she do? Should she withdraw into herself? Mentally lock herself away from this man’s influence?
Nice thought, but hardly practical. Given their situation, and seeing that her life depended on this man’s ability to get the two of them safely across the prairie, such introversion would hardly be possible.
All at once, he placed her foot back on the ground, ending their physical contact. Relieved, she breathed out slowly, expecting that the lack of his touch would improve her problem.
But it hardly mattered. Her body still tingled from the contact. Modestly, she shook her skirt free to place it over her ankles, hoping against hope that the action would settle her.
But it didn’t.
Only the quickness of a moment passed, however, before he reached out toward her again, and said, “Need…other foot.”
“Oh,” she articulated. “Of course.” She gulped.
She lifted her skirt up again, and guardedly placed her other foot in his hand. Abruptly, a similar thrill of excitement raced over her nerve endings.
She swallowed. Hard.
She needed a distraction, she decided. Perhaps conversation might prove to divert her attention. It was worth an attempt, she reasoned, and so she asked, “Did you say that someone called Walks-in-sunshine made these moccasins for you?”
“Oh. Is she somebody special to you?”
Mia’s stomach dropped, and she felt as if those words had delivered her a blow. So, this man was spoken for. Of course he would be, she reckoned as her thoughts raced ahead. He was young, he was kind and he was also handsome. What female worth her weight wouldn’t do all she could to make this man hers?
She sat back as she asked, “Could you tell me about—what was her name? Walks-in-sunshine?”
He paused, and, as he glanced up to survey her, she thought his look might be wary. Nevertheless, after his initial hesitation, such watchfulness seemed to disappear from his countenance, and he said, “She…beautiful. Wait for me. We.promise to…marry.”
“To marry?” Mia almost choked on the words. She glanced away from him. She felt…jealous.
Was he aware of her reaction to this news? How embarrassing it would be if he were.
But he was continuing to speak, and he said, “She…I…love since we…children.”
“I see,” Mia responded. “Then what will she think if you cut up these moccasins for me? They are so beautifully made, and were especially sewn for you. Might that not upset her?”
Would she? Mia couldn’t help but speculate that Mr. Lakota might be wrong about that. If this man were her own, she would care.
He was continuing to speak, however, and he uttered, “She…not understand…if leave…someone…hurt when could…fix. Give me other…boot.”
“We…cache these.” He held up her boots.
“Bury them. Leave no…trace of us here.”
He had set himself to work over the leather, and she felt odd as she sat before him, watching him cut the moccasins down with a knife and a sure hand. His fingers were strong, long and handsome, and she wondered how they might feel upon–
Abruptly, she pulled up her thoughts, and she asked, “Might I help?”
“Know how use…taka?, sinew and…bone?”
“Sinew? Bone? Have you no thread and needle?”
“One not…find needle…thread in nature.”
“Oh,” was all she said. Then, “You have none of the finer things in your tribe? Since your mother is white, I had thought perhaps she might keep something of the European culture around her.”
“Mother…white, but…Indian through marriage. What mean…finer things?”
“They are items made by the white man’s hand—like needle and thread—things that make life a little easier. I see you punching holes there in the moccasin and then threading the hole with the sinew. It looks to me to be slow and painstaking work. A sharp needle with thread would make your work easier and less time consuming.”
“No…need for…finer things, when have…nature all around.”
“Yes, I suppose I can understand that viewpoint. But think for a moment of a woman’s joy over acquiring a new gown in a silken fabric that shimmers with each step she takes—gowns are clothing, by the way.”
“What need of…gowns…when have soft animal skins?”
“Perhaps this is only a feminine reaction; a pleasure that only a woman would understand: To wear something that she knows makes her look pretty.”
“Walks-in-sunshine already pretty.”
“I’m certain she is. And it is kind of you to say so. But there are other goods that might be considered ‘finer things’. For instance, a sewing machine could make this work fly by.”
Without raising his eyes to hers, Mr. Lakota jerked his chin to the left, and said, “This slow…because I…little time…spent doing it. Walks-in-sunshine…quick.”
“Yes,” agreed Mia. “I’m sure that she is.”
“Give me foot…again.”
She hesitated, yet she did as he requested. However, instead of gazing at him directly, she looked up above his head. The tall grasses bent and waved in the warm, summer breeze, as though all of nature were performing a dance. She tried to concentrate on that.
Yet, as he touched her foot, the warmth of his fingers produced again that recognition of a thrill she wished she didn’t feel. Suddenly, he produced a piece of buckskin from one of his bags, and, wetting it, he proceeded to wash the bloody bottoms of her feet.
Oh, my. The sensation produced by this act of kindness was exquisite, and as excitement swept over her nerve-endings, she became aware of a stirring of awareness within her.
Surprise shot through her. And so upset was she over her reaction to him, she could barely speak. Gulping hard, she knew she had to talk again, if only to try to dispel the guilt she felt. Changing the subject, she asked, “Why is the wind so constant here?”
“No thing to…stop it.”
“But no trees. No…hills…mountains. Nothing to…block it.”
“At home, we of course experience the wind. But never so on-going as what the prairie offers. Here, it is always blowing.”
She noticed that he had come down on his knees before her, as he fit a moccasin to first one foot and then to the other. It reminded her that Jeffrey had proposed to her from a similar position. But before she could explore that thought, he gazed up at her, and with one eyebrow cocked, he asked, “Have trees?”
“Have hills or…mountains?”
“That why. Stand now.”
She was only too happy to do as he asked, and she rose up to her feet. As she did so, he pressed a finger over where her big toe hit the moccasin, then, as though he found fault with the shoe, he adjusted the back of it, his fingers tickling her there, creating havoc within her.
She swallowed grimly, for she almost answered him with the honesty of her wayward emotions. “They are perfect,” she replied in a voice barely over a whisper.
“Wašté, good,” he acknowledged, echoing the word with a motion of his hand out and away from his chest.
“Does that gesture of your hand mean something?” she asked.
“Mean good. It good.” He rose up to his feet, and came to tower over her. He said, “Take few…steps.”
He had positioned himself dangerously close to her, and she could barely control the impulse to throw herself against him. She took a few steps away from him instead.
“Why?” she queried, although she did as he requested, and spun around in a circle.
“Moccasins must be…comfortable,” he explained. “Still feel good?”
He nodded. “Then we…continue. Must find…shelter for night. Hópiye unyánpi kta!”
“What did you just say?” she asked as she glanced up at him.
“Said… ‘all right, let’s go’.”
“Yes. Yes, that would be good. We should keep moving along.”
He smiled at her then, and seeing it, as well as his so-obvious approval of her, she almost swooned. But she didn’t. Instead, her thoughts turned inward once more, and she admonished herself. Briefly, she wondered why her sense of moral right and wrong was not standing her in good stead against this man.
At least he seemed oblivious to what was happening to her. She bit her lip, wishing that she were blind to it, as well. Unhappily, it simply was not to be.
BRAVE WOLF AND THE LADY
Well, that’s all for today. Come on in, leave a message and I’ll leave a link to the book here.
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