The Clan of the Wolf by Karen Kay Book Tour and Giveaway :)
The Princess and the Wolf
The Clan of the Wolf Book 1
by Karen Kay
Genre: Historical Romance
TWO HEARTS BETRAYED
Refusing to believe the rumors that the European prince she was forced to marry had died in a far-off land, the princess, Sierra, sets sail to America, bent on revenge and determined to learn the truth. Because she will require a scout to guide her through the wilderness, she calls in a favor from the man who had betrayed her long ago, the man she had once loved deeply and had hoped to wed, the noble Cheyenne scout, High Wolf.
Many years before, a European prince had invited High Wolf to travel an ocean and as a brother, to live as a member of the royal family. There High Wolf had fallen in love with the princess, Sierra. But instead of an engagement and the planned wedding, the princess had treacherously married his friend, the prince. Betrayed and broken-hearted, High Wolf sailed back to America, determined to forget the princess. But a promise given to her years earlier brings her back into his life, igniting a desire he must resist, for to surrender to her again is unthinkable.
Forced into one another’s company, with the threat of life or death around every corner, overcoming their prejudice might be their only means of survival. But can either of them trust in a love, once betrayed? Or will their past force them apart again, this time forever?...
This book has been previously published.
Warning: A sensuous romance that might fan the flames of desire. Be warned. You might fall in love all over again.
“The housekeeper tells that ’ tis well known the prince would divorce her, were he here,” said the kitchen maid.
“Aye, that he would,” replied the housemaid. “And good riddance, says I. It was she that drove him away. That she did.”
Gossip between servants at
Prince Alathom’s Castle
“Do you wish anything else before we go ashore?”
“No, Maria,” answered Princess Sierra, watching from her perch high above the dock, as Governor Clark stepped from the carriage, accompanied by an Indian maiden. “I do not require anything else at the moment. You’ve done quite well, my friend, despite the demanding conditions of this vessel.” She gave Maria a brief smile. “Would you please find Mr. Dominic and inform him that I am ready to leave this ship?”
“Yes, Your Highness. At once. Do we go to greet Governor Clark, then?”
“I believe so,” said the princess. “And for this task, I will have need of you both to accompany me.”
“Yes, Your Highness,” Maria said, curtsying before she turned to do as bid.
Sierra smoothed a white-gloved hand over the blue and white muslin of her very full skirt, pulling the lace that bordered her walking dress into place. Straightening her shoulders, she settled her blue and white-lace mantle over the double bouffant of her sleeves, buttoning the mantle’s closure at the neck. Briefly, she touched her wide belt, which was made of the same light blue color as her dress, pulling it a little more tightly around her waist so as to accentuate its most tiny aspect. A white straw bonnet, adorned with ribbons of blue and tied at the neck, completed the image of the fashionable royal that she was.
Opening her blue and white parasol, Sierra narrowed her eyes, placing a hand gently over her forehead as though it were an extra shield from the sun. She frowned.
From her view of it, there seemed to be no sign of the man she had instructed Governor Clark to hire. Had she needlessly tortured herself over this first meeting with High Wolf?
Perhaps he hadn’t yet arrived.
Or maybe, she thought on a grimmer note, he wasn’t coming. Had he mayhap learned that it was she behind the request?
For a moment, she worried over the possibility. As absurd as it might appear, such a thing was possible: He might know of her coming. He’d always seemed to have ways of gleaning information about things—ways that she had never understood. Perhaps he had discovered her scheme well ahead of the fact.
At that thought, Sierra tried to swallow her disappointment.
It wasn’t that she was looking forward to seeing him again. No. It was only that he, and he alone, could lead her to Prince Alathom, and it was Prince Alathom she needed to find and challenge, Prince Alathom whom she would repay in kind...if need be...
Squaring her shoulders and setting her features into as delightful a smile as she could, Princess Sierra pulled unconsciously at her mantle, noticing as she did so that her fingers shook with the effort.
It was then that she caught sight of something in her peripheral vision...something familiar. She turned her head carefully to the left, her eyes colliding with and staring hard at a pair of dark eyes looking directly back at her.
Her stomach flipped over twice before it at last performed a dive toward her toes. She inhaled swiftly to try to quell the reaction.
It was he, High Wolf. He had come, after all.
As impossible as it might seem, she stared back at a face that she had once thought never to see again. Yet, there he was; there, across a very short distance.
And unable to curtail it, she was suddenly awash in nearly palpable relief.
Relief? Nonsense. It was probably more to the point to say that she was glad that her scheme now contained the element of possibility, the possibility of success.
But if he were to be caught looking up at her, she would be staring back down at him as well, almost as though she were hungry for the sight of him…although she corrected herself, this last thought was ridiculous.
Again, she reminded herself that he, as well as the prince, had betrayed her. In different ways, perhaps. But betrayal was certain treachery after all, regardless of the circumstances. And faith, once lost, could never be restored.
Still, despite the intervening years, an all too familiar pain shot through her, and without her conscious will, she found herself scrutinizing the man she had once thought herself to be in love with...a man who had left her for no more than three hundred gold dukaten.
He looked much the same as he had ten years ago, yet different. Whereas High Wolf had been little more than a boy then, he was now very much a man, and he looked bigger somehow, though he was still extraordinarily slim. Perhaps it was because his chest was wider, larger...or perhaps he was more muscular.
He looked...better, more handsome, more virile.
Sierra grimaced at her thoughts and decided to scrutinize something else less potent...his manner of dress, for instance...
Gone were the fashionable trousers and high leather boots that she remembered him wearing in the past; in their place were buckskin leggings, breechcloth and moccasins. Gone also were the carefully stitched linen shirt and cravat so precisely tied, supplanted now with a long buckskin shirt, fringed, with the bottom of it hanging down almost past his breechcloth. An ornament of what looked to be a concatenation of beads and bone, in the shape of a breastplate, hung down over his chest. It was a sight she had never beheld until this moment.
Instead of a hat, however, he now wore feathers on his head—or at least there was one feather sticking straight up behind him. And his hair...
Relegated to the past was the fashionable haircut she recalled so well, displaced now by long, black hair that hung well past his shoulders.
He looked...Indian, alien from all she had ever known and loved. Yet his countenance was, contrarily, as familiar to her as a well-rehearsed play.
And she wondered: Despite their past, would he help her?
Not if he knew her purpose.
Only too well, she recalled that High Wolf considered the prince to be more than a friend. To him, and perhaps rightly so, Prince Alathom was a brother, a brother in fact as well as in deed. Besides, High Wolf would hardly condone her murderous plan...a scheme she fully intended to execute if the prince refused to return to the Continent, whereupon he would take up his responsibilities.
Indeed, she would be satisfied.
Those at home thought she knew nothing of their wagging tongues; they believed their whispered insults were discreet. But Sierra did know. She did care. And he would pay.
Oh, yes, he would pay.
Which meant, she realized, that the real reason for her journey must remain a well-guarded secret; from Governor Clark, from her guides and especially from High Wolf.
She only wondered if she could successfully hide her motives from High Wolf. After all, as she had already surmised, High Wolf was an extremely perceptive man. Might he guess?
Well, it was up to her to keep her secret well hidden. She only hoped she was up to the task.
He stared at her as though he had come face-to-face with his worst nightmare—or maybe his best fantasy. Princess Sierra? Here? Now?
His heart skipped a beat, then picked up its pace, pounding onward in triple speed. High Wolf caught his breath before forcing himself to breathe in and out. In a daze, he stared up at her, feeling as though he were caught in an illusion.
Had she come for him? Had she traveled all this distance to reach out to him, realizing after all this time that she could not live without him, as she had once proclaimed?
Or was she a mere mirage, the same sort of image that haunted his dreams?
Without warning, the desire to run to her, to take her in his arms and embrace her, was almost more real than the solidness of the ground beneath him. Of its own will, the memory of the taste of her, the scent of her, the sweetness of her embrace, overwhelmed him.
And he knew he needed, he wanted to kiss her. Now. In truth, so strong was the desire, he had taken a few steps toward her before he became once more fully aware of himself, and stopped.
The prince. How could he have forgotten the prince—as well as her duplicity—so easily? Where was the prince?
Odd, he thought, how the mind could forget the pain, the anguish, the loss. For a moment, all had been gone, replaced by the simple joy of seeing her again. Odd, too, how his body was even now reacting, that most manly part of him pulsing with every pounding of his heart, remembering, anticipating...what could never be.
He groaned. He had to bring himself, his thoughts, his body under control, quickly.
Concentrate on her faithlessness, he cautioned himself. Hers and Prince Alathom’s.
He glanced to the side of her and all around her. Where was the prince?
And then, as though it came through the fog cluttering his mind, a thought came to him. Governor Clark had hired him, had told High Wolf that he was to escort and protect a royal party, one that was coming to the Americas for a wild-game hunt.
It was the prince and princess . It had to be.
Had the two of them asked for him, personally? For old time’s sake? Was that why Clark had sent for him?
Or was this mere coincidence?
Coincidence? He sneered. High Wolf knew there was no such thing.
Had the two of them no compassion? No pity?
Surely they were aware of what the mere act of seeing them again—together—would do to him.
Or did they think that they could renew friendship? That he would have forgotten?
Well, he had not forgotten; he could not.
Breathing in deeply, High Wolf calmed himself. He was letting his emotions take control of his mind, even of his body. It was possible, he conceded, that he was not thinking clearly, putting elements together that did not necessarily go together.
Besides, he didn’t have to take the job at hand. He had not pledged his word.
And it wouldn’t be as if he were deserting the prince and princess, either. After all, there were these two disreputable trappers that Clark had hired as well.
Wearily, High Wolf glanced at the two shabbily dressed men. Yes, let them have the assignment...while he, High Wolf, quietly disappeared...
Surely, that would be best. For indeed, if this were his initial reaction to the princess—and at this great a distance from her—what would be his fate if he were to witness her beauty closer to hand?
At that thought, a rush of desire swept through him that was as uncontrollable as it was unwelcome. In truth, so swift was his reaction, he rocked back on his feet.
The response shocked him as much as it excited him. And High Wolf knew he had best renew his intention to leave—quickly...
Yet he didn’t budge so much as an inch. In faith, he could not have turned away from her now had he been a saint. Not yet.
Contrarily, another part of him reasoned that little harm could come from feasting his sights upon her for a while longer. Perhaps the image gained could serve to fuel the fiber of his imagination in the lonely nights ahead of him.
Make no mistake, Princess Sierra had always been the most beautiful creature he had ever seen, and it appeared she had changed little, except to have blossomed. More curves, more womanly features.
As he stared, his heart warmed to his subject. Dark curls bounced around her face while her bonnet hid the rest of her coiffure. Oval face, high cheekbones, eyes that he knew were as green as a prairie in spring. Even from this distance, he could attest that her skin still glowed with health and vitality. It was one of the features he remembered most about her. Her skin had been luminous, clear; had shone with a radiance even under cover of darkness, as though she might be lit by a fire within.
How he had loved to run his hands over her face, her neck, those curves...
Cease this, he cautioned himself, letting out his breath.
Yet the mind was often a mysterious thing, and despite himself, his thoughts rambled on. At five foot four, she had always been a slender little thing. He recalled that he had once spanned her waist within the outstretched grip of both his hands. They had laughed about it. All three of them. Himself, Prince Alathom and the princess.
Odd, how close the three of them had once been, so close they had shared most everything.
High Wolf sighed.
Perhaps it was the way of the world that some things—even good things—were destined to end. Maybe that was why one should reach out for all the happiness he could have, while it still lay within his grasp.
Taking a few steps away, High Wolf at last turned his back on the sight of her. Best to disappear now, as quickly as possible. For of one matter he was entirely certain: He would not escort the princess and the prince. Not now. Not ever.
He took a few steps away.
His insides plummeted at the sound of her voice. Yet he remained steadfast in his decision and kept walking, ignoring the call.
“High Wolf, don’t go!”
Don’t listen to her, he counseled himself. Go now, before she has a chance to weave her spell around you. Go at once .
But even as he thought it, an odd music, a rhythm perchance, began to pound through his mind, reminding him of other places, other times...
Brave Wolf and the Lady
The Clan of the Wolf Book 2
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?
She awoke slowly, and to the scent of the fresh, wet dew that had settled over the entire landscape. The cloud-like moisture that hung over everything made for a gray morning, yet there was something comforting about it, all the same. In the distance, the sound of many different bird songs filled the air with music, and she wished that she could distinguish one song from the other. But she couldn’t, and she sighed at her inability.
Soon a deep, masculine voice, raised in song, drifted to her on the breeze. Of course, the voice had to belong to Mr. Lakota. What time was it? Where was he? He sounded far away.
Already the low-to-the-ground moisture was giving way to the new day. Was that really a pinkish-orange sun showing through the scattering of the steel gray mist and light-colored blue clouds? Obviously it was morning, and soon they would be back upon the trail. Shame. She would have liked to linger here if only to “catch her breath.”
She started to rise, but winced when her muscles refused to obey her. Fair enough, she thought, and she lay back down, only to find herself staring straight up. Dawn crept into the sky slowly today, but even still, faint colors of orange and pink were settling into the gray-blackened sky. The feel of the wet mist touched her everywhere, bringing with it the scents of mud, grass and prairie flowers.
Below her the ground was soft and giving, encompassing her weight with ease. The blanket that he had laid beneath her was warm, and for a moment, she experienced a feeling of well-being.
But the awareness was quickly gone, replaced instead by the utter realization of her loss. The tears, which were never far away, blurred her vision. She sobbed, then she checked it. She didn’t want him to know she was awake. Why she felt this way, she didn’t understand. She only knew that these few moments alone felt important to her well-being.
Luckily, he appeared to not notice her at all, for his singing continued, his voice deep and baritone. In many ways it was soothing to listen to him, but after a while she began to wonder what he was doing, and why he was singing at such an early hour of the morning, and to whom was he paying tribute?
Turning silently onto her side, she saw him at last, and despite herself, she found the sight of him inspiring. He was facing east, his arms outstretched, as though he welcomed the misty warmth of sun into them. Perhaps he was.
She watched him for the spread of a few more moments, admiring the muscles in his broad shoulders. The two lengths of his hair-braids fell down over his back, a back which narrowed in a V-shape into his breechcloth. An eagle’s feather waved back and forth in the ever-present wind, and she was reminded that there was a beauty to this moment that even she didn’t understand.
That’s when she realized it.
He was praying.
She sat up smoothly, so as not to distract him. Was she wrong about that? No.
He was standing, his legs apart, his arms open. And he sang and he sang.
There was a wonderment to the moment that reached out to her, but rather than such pleasure bringing her relief, her appreciation brought on more tears, which fell gently onto her bosom. That’s when it struck her: she hadn’t talked to the Lord since she had laid Jeffrey in the ground. Perhaps there was reason for that lack, for she couldn’t understand why God had taken a person so precious from her.
Watching Mr. Lakota carefully, she discovered a need in her to do the same. Perhaps a talk with the Lord might help her to understand her loss.
She rose up to a sitting position, and from there she came to her knees, and then onto her feet. She took up her rifle, placing it in the crook of her arm, as she stepped toward him, and reaching him, she fell to her knees. With head bowed, she brought her free hand to his, taking his in her own.
It gave her comfort to know he was there, to know that he, too, was praying. Perhaps between the two of them, God might smile more favorably on her...on them both, and perhaps He might forgive her the anger, the absolute horror, that even now stirred in her soul...
Her hand squeezed his, and he realized its gentle pressure brought him pleasure. It wasn’t that he was surprised by her appearance by his side, for he’d known when she had awakened, and he’d heard her footfalls, quiet though they had been. But her action in touching him created a flood of feeling within him that he was not prepared to understand. It was the first time she had reached out toward him, and he was surprised that he liked it.
Leaving his hand held tightly within hers, he glanced down at her as she knelt by his side. Her hair, tousled from sleep, shone with a wild, reddish hue, here beneath the grandiose of the pink and golden sky. Her eyes were shut and her head was bent toward the ground.
He understood. She had come here to pray with him and to give thanks to the Creator for a new day. After a while, he gazed away from her, turning his attention back toward the early morning sun, as the misty world around them exploded with a mirage of colors, steel gray of the sky, orange, pink and blue rays of the morning light.
“Onsimala ye. Omakiyi ye.
“Cante’was’teya o’ciciyin kte.”
“Onsimala ye. Omakiyi ye.
“Cante’was’teya o’ciciyin kte.”
“Onsimala ye. Omakiyi ye.
“Cante’was’teya o’ciciyin kte.”
He finished the song, yet he didn’t relinquish her hand. They stood thusly, each seemingly reluctant to bring the moment to a close. It was as though time itself had ceased to be, and though slow to acknowledge his feelings, he felt a part of him draw closer to her. From out the corner of his eye, he saw her make the sign of a cross over her head and chest, and he realized her prayer had come to an end.
At last she looked up at him, and he turned his gaze on her entirely. Her eyes looked like large, doe-colored jewels in her heart-shaped face; they appeared to question him, and he held that look, until at last, she gazed away. At length, she struggled to her feet and he took her weight upon him easily as he helped her up.
Neither of them spoke. There seemed to be no need. At last she voiced, “Thank you.”
He nodded briefly.
She let go of his hand then, and he surprised himself by the bereft feeling he experienced at its loss.
He said, “Custom...it is to...welcome day...by giving thanks to...Creator. You...may...be here with...me every...morning...if you...like.” His voice, he noted, was husky, and he was stunned by that fact.
“I would like that,” she murmured in a tone that sounded as throaty as his. She glanced toward the ground. “I would like that very much.”
“Waste, good,” he voiced with a quick motion of his hand away from his chest. “It...good. Now...we must...prepare. Long...trek we have...this day.”
“Yes, yes, of course,” she spoke quickly, glancing away from him before she turned to take the necessary steps back to the place where she had slept. He watched her momentarily as she picked up the blanket that had buffered her from the ground during the night. He saw her fold it and place it in one of his bags.
That’s when he realized that she would be wanting a bath. All creatures needed the cleanliness of the water, but women in particular seemed to enjoy these necessities excessively, even when on the move. It would be his duty to locate a secluded place, free from the danger of enemy eyes, where she could freshen herself.
Idly he realized she would require freedom from his wandering glance as well. It was not a comforting thought to realize that an image of her body, completely naked, entered into his imaginings. With force of will, he refused to think that thought again...
He astonished her. Before they set out upon their journey this day, he produced a pouch full of water, and handing her a sprig of grass that smelled like mint, he showed her how to use the plant to clean her teeth. Next, he set out a small piece of buckskin on the ground, and made the signs for wetting it and washing the face.
“Yes, thank you,” she told him. “I understand. These are for me to wash and prepare myself for the day.”
“Hau, hau,” he said.
“But where did you find the water?”
“A buffalo wallow? What is that?”
“Place where...buffalo bulls fight...”
“A place where buffalo bulls fight? You mean those muddy holes I’ve seen across the prairie – where the bulls lock horns and go round and round? This water must be dirty.”
“Water...clean enough to...wash face.”
“Yes, well, that might be a matter of opinion, but it doesn’t matter. I am not in the comfort of my home, and I am certainly in no position to be picky. I thank you.”
He surprised her again when he produced a brush. It was crudely cut, a wooden stick carved so as to mimic a comb, but in case she didn’t realize its use, he used it in the pretense of combing his hair. When finished, he laid the “brush” out for her use.
“I...this is very kind of you, Mr. Lakota.”
He nodded, and leaving these things in her possession, he rose up to his full height and trod away from her. She starred at his departing figure, noticing idly that his masculine gait blew his breechcloth back and forth in the wind. At once she was contrite for the observation, and she felt more than a little disrespectful to Jeffrey’s memory.
Still, she hadn’t thought to bring such items. When they had first set out upon the trail, her attention had been so introspective that to even consider what toiletries she might need had been beyond her ability. But he had thought to pack them...for her? Perhaps.
Whether for her, or for some other reason, she was thankful that he’d had the foresight to remember them. Slowly, with some apprehension, she picked up the “comb” and began the long process of chasing the knots from her hair.
Awhile later, Mr. Lakota returned to her, and squatting in front of her, he produced a kit from another one of those numerous bags he carried. Opening it, he pulled out some “paint,” and placed a red dot on the crease between her eyes.
When she looked at him questioningly, he explained, “Hot sun...protect against...”
She nodded, and gazing a little ways up at him, she again compared him to a walking arsenal. A rather handsome and human one, true, but he looked prepared for battle. He wore many of their bags around his shoulders as well as his bow and quiver full of arrows. Resting on his thighs were two rifles, and there were rounds of ammunition strapped around his waist.
He uttered, “We...go now.”
“Yes,” she murmured, her tone of voice guttural, which caused her to introspect. What was wrong with her?
He was still squatting in front of her when he replaced the red paint in a pouch, and produced similar pots of white and black paint. With a firm hand, he dabbed the colors on his own face, making a pattern that reminded her of how he had appeared the first time she had seen him.
She shivered. She would rather have not recalled that memory.
“Why do you use that paint on your face?” she asked quietly, perhaps with the hope that talking might distract her from her own thoughts.
“Stop sun...from burning...and...look...fierce...if meet...enemy.”
She gasped. “Do you think we’ll be coming into contact with an enemy?”
He shrugged. “Perhaps. Come,” he said as he came up onto his feet. “We leave...now. Long...walk.” And with this short and to-the-point explanation, he turned away from her, his gait swift.
“Wait!” she called as she jumped to her feet and followed him. “May I carry one of those bags?”
He turned back toward her, a frown marring his countenance. Quickly his gaze scanned her from the top of her head to the tips of her toes.
“We...walk far. Bag could...be...heavy for...one not used to...travel...by foot…one who…grieving…”
“Yes, it could,” she replied. “And if it does become so, I will let you know so that you might help me.”
He nodded, although he did give her a strange, searching stare. Nevertheless, he released one of the pouches from around his shoulders, took a step toward her and placed it gently over her head. However, he appeared to take much too much care to avoid touching her hair or her shoulders, or any part of her at all. For her comfort? For his? All in all, she supposed she appreciated his care.
For the pulse of a swift moment, he stood back looking at her with an appreciative glance. Was he admiring his handiwork, she wondered, or was he approving of her?
Briefly, she smiled, and was surprised to see that his gaze lingered over her lips. But the look was quickly gone, and as he turned away, she asked herself again whether that glint of admiration was for her.
No. Probably, she thought, the sun had got into his eye...
She hobbled a little to try to catch up with him. He turned back toward her, squinting at her.
“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 ordered, “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 thought, 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 locate the bottom of my shoe stuck in the mud somewhere. The tall grass alone makes it hard to see the ground clearly, and 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... 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 tonwe’ya, 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 a foot, for it was in a muddy patch of ground where I lost my shoe’s sole.”
“Waste, good. Ito’ 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 a 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... She sighed.
Frankly, she was fascinated by him. Too fascinated.
She rocked back, and let her aching calf muscles relax as a feeling of peace 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 something would have to be done about it, 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 know 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 something...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 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, she thought, 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...and 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, having been treated to the delights shared by a married couple, was flustered by the presence of this man? And that it was her body’s reaction to him, not her own?
Ah, she sighed deeply. This was more than likely the truth, she reasoned. 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, she concluded, 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, she thought...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 leaned back in her seating 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 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. What mean...finer things?”
“They are items made by the white-man’s hand -- like needle and thread – stuff...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.”
“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 passion she wished she didn’t feel. As the bodily excitement swept over her nerve-endings, she became aware of a stirring of sensation within her.
Surprise shot through her. And so upset was she, even though her body’s reaction was involuntary, she could barely speak. Gulping hard, she knew she had to speak up, 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.
“Waste, good,” he acknowledged, echoing the word with a motion of his hand out and away from his chest.
“Does that gesture that you make 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. Ho’piye unya’npi 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, she thought, he seemed oblivious to her stirrings. She bit her lip, wishing that she were blind to it, as well. Unhappily, it simply was not to be..
Writing under the pen names of Karen Kay and Gen Bailey, Karen is a multi-published author of Native American historical romances. She has been praised by reviewers and fans alike for bringing the historic American Indian culture to life, and she has been nominated for several different awards. Karen's great-grandmother was Choctaw Indian, and because of this, she is honored to be able to write stories that depict the Native American point of view.
All of her books concern the Native American culture, and says Karen, "With the power and passion of romance, I hope to bring about an awareness of the vital forces that helped shape the American Indian culture. There are some things that should never be forgotten."
Follow the tour HERE for exclusive excerpts and a giveaway!