Harlequin Historical #1007
Out of print. Available as e-book.
HE CAPTURED HER BODY…
Being a prisoner of the Sioux Indians has scarred Lucie West inside and out. Just when she’s starting to overcome the demons of her past, Sky Fox, a former captive himself, takes her hostage. Determined to escape, Lucie is equally determined to deny her attraction to the rugged outcast.
SHE CAPTURED HIS HEART!
Sky needs Lucie’s help to save an innocent man from the hangman’s noose. Seeing past her scars to the brave beauty beneath, Sky is increasingly drawn to her. Can he endanger the woman he loves?
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Lucie West eyed the unusual man tying his horse at the hitching post before the blacksmith’s shop. His bearing struck her first because it seemed familiar in its supple grace. He did not stand or move like a soldier as he flipped the stirrup over the saddle and loosened the girth. She ran the length of him trying to understand why the sight of this stranger should stop her in her tracks. He was taller than most and broad…what?
Where was his hat? No white man rode in or out without one. Yet, here he stood bareheaded. His shaggy, shoulder-length hair was streaked with gold, bleached by the sun. His face was deeply tanned, but his light hair marked him as white. Perhaps he was one of the many born of both races.
His bare forearm flexed as he untied his saddlebags and effortlessly flipped the heavy sacks over one wide shoulder. Her gaze caressed his back and powerful legs, the menacing gun belt at his hip and then halted abruptly at his high moccasins. She recognized the style instantly having once labored to make similar ones, but never with such skill. Was that why she felt the vague sense of familiarity?
They could be a war trophy or trade goods, she told herself. Her objection did not sooth her growing anxiety.
Mrs. Fetterer, who was also a matron at the Sage River School for Indians, noticed Lucie had stopped and followed the direction of her gaze. The woman stood stiff as a starched collar and wide as the paddlewheelers on the Missouri River. Her frizzy hair was tamed in a conservative knot which made her head seem tiny by comparison.
“Ah,” she said. “The horse trader. I see he sold the lot.”
Lucie kept her eyes on the man. He straightened, his body now tense as if recognizing someone watched him. He turned in a slow circle until he found her and froze with one hand on the saddle pommel. He stared at her with piercing blue eyes, the color of the clear summer sky. Men often stared at her now, but this stare was different. Her breath caught at the connection and then she broke free, looking at the ground that separated them.
The tingling awareness lifted gooseflesh on her skin as she recognized that he was now studying her.
Mrs. Fetterer clasped Lucie’s arm and set them in motion.
“Look at the way he gawks at you. No manners at all and wild as the horses he chases.” She steered them across the yard. Lucie put one foot before the other, resisting the urge to turn-tail and run, which she would most certainly have done if her companion were not compelling her forward. Something about this man screamed a warning. The last time she felt this breathless with uncertainty she had been hiding from the attacking Sioux.
Mrs. Fetterer whispered as they passed the hitching posts before the blacksmiths. “He is a most dreadful man. My husband tells me that he barely utters a word to him, but will jabber in that gibberish to any Indian who wanders in.”
Lucie’s step faltered. If he spoke Sioux, it was a reasonable assumption that he understood the meaning of the marks on her chin.
“Is he an Indian trader?”
She swore she could feel the man’s eyes still boring into her back.
“I doubt he could receive the proper permits. And the Indians are forbidden to buy his horses. I can’t see why anyone would want one of those dreadful spotted ponies. If you ask me the cavalry was right to shoot the creatures along with the buffalo. It’s the only way to keep the Indians from their mischief.”
They reached the trading post and Lucie opened the door, holding it for the older woman and taking the opportunity to glance back.
The man now stood behind his horse, still staring fixedly at her. She hurried after Mrs. Fetterer. Once inside, she moved to the window to keep track of him as he removed his saddle and entered the smithy’s shop.
Mrs. Fetterer strolled along the tables, placing a can of peaches in her basket. “Of course my Oscar believes the man runs guns to the savages.”
“Who’s that now?” asked Mr. Bloom, the weathered trader that the Bureau of Indian Affairs did sanction. Lucie had to wonder at their choice, for he seemed to spend most of his time drinking half of each bottle of whiskey he purchased and then making up the difference with tea. As a result his eyes were watery and his nose had a fine collection of burst blood vessels making the protuberance swollen and crimson in color.
“That horse trader is back. What’s his name again?” asked Mrs. Fetterer.
“Oh, you talking about Skylar Fox? I heard he shot a man in Texas and is wanted for hanging.” Bloom moved to the window beside Lucie. “He sell that string of ponies?”
“It seems that he has,” said Mrs. Fetterer. “Do you have any good soap, Mr. Bloom? My skin is so fine, it requires quality.”
“Right here,” he lifted a box from behind his counter. “You got to admire a man that can catch them ponies solo. Wish I knew how he does it. Even the stallions. It just don’t make no sense.”
“I hope he catches each and every last one of them.” “Say what you like about them ponies. They’re fast and they don’t need no grain.”
“Exactly why we should be rid of them. What about talc powder, Mr. Bloom?”
“Gracious. I’ll have to write my sister again.” She chose a bar of soap from the crate and lowered it into her basket. “Do you know what the man did when my husband offered to geld his stallions? Well, he laughed, as if it were the funniest thing he’d ever heard.”
Lucie glanced back at Mrs. Fetterer as the chill ran down her spine. It bore out her suspicions that he was more than just familiar with the Sioux. No self-respecting warrior would ever ride an altered horse; only full stallions or fertile mares were chosen. Eagle Dancer used to laugh at the cavalry for having to snip off a stallion’s bullocks to control them.
“Maybe he’s like them wild ponies—just needs civilizing, same as your students.”
Mrs. Fetterer sniffed. “Him? He’s wild as a wolf, rather. You’d have to be a fool to try to tame that one.”
Bloom smiled at Mrs. Fetterer. “Someone for everyone, they say.”
She shook her head ruefully. “They also say there’s an exception to every rule.”
Lucie glanced out the window and was horrified to see the gun-running, murdering, wanted-for-hanging stranger was now heading her way. He stalked forward with his gaze set on the window. She fairly leapt backward and then had the irresistible urge to run out the back door, had there been one.
“Mrs. Fetterer, I’m feeling quite ill. Will you excuse me?”
“I’ll only be another minute.”
Lucie gritted her teeth, and then stepped behind the door as it swung open. Perhaps it was arrogant to think he came for her, but she had learned by hard experience to listen to the clenching of her belly and the warning shouted by her mind. He took two steps into the room. She slipped behind him, as agile as a weasel and then darted out into the yard.
She heard the door slam but did not slow as she dashed across the yard.
“Lucie. Lucie West,” he called.
How did he know her name?
“I have to speak to you.”
Not if she could help it, he didn’t.
She had no doubt he could run her down, judging from the length of his legs. But she was prepared to yell her head off if he touched her. And unlike the last time, she was not unarmed. Now she carried the skinning knife that Eagle Dancer had given her.
He did not run after her and she did not turn about until she was safely in her room with the door bolted.
The following was excessed from my novel, HIGH PLAINS BRIDE. It involves one of Lucie’s attempts to win her freedom from Eagle Dancer while she was a captive of the Sioux. It takes place during the time of her captivity, 1864, before the events occurring in the novel, HIS DAKOTA CAPTIVE (September 2010). Lucie was thirteen years old.
Lucie needed no urging to go to the river. It was one of the few places she could occasionally escape Shadow and Yellow Bird. Today, however, she did not have long to enjoy her privacy. Eagle Dancer arrived only moments later, finding her on her hands and knees washing her face.
“Come now,” he ordered.
His serious expression raised alarm bells in Lucy, who wondered if he was as nervous as she. Lucie had witnessed two wedding ceremonies. They were short with their own version of vows. God, of course, was in absence, as these people still lived in ignorance of him.
Lucie rose and only then discovered that her knees were clapping together. She wobbled along beside her groom feeling her stomach rolling the dried buffalo meat she had for breakfast. She felt she should gather flowers, at least and was sorry she had no fine dress or veil. What would her mother say about this man who was to be her husband?
She cast a glance at him and noted that he stared straight ahead as they made their way to the village. His profile showed he hooked nose and square chin more prominently. She did not find him handsome, but neither was he hard on the eye. His wide, bare chest fascinated her as did the muscles of his shoulders and back. He had shown her kindness, but not enough to let her go. Although he never mistreated her, he often left her with his mother.
Once she was a wife, would Yellow Bird continue to belittle and beat her? She did not wish to marry. But if she had no choice, she at least hoped her status as Eagle Dancer’s wife would afford her some peace.
She had much to learn. Gathering sticks and water, doing every foul task his mother could devise did not prepare her to keep house like an Indian.
“I’m not a very good cook yet,” she said.
He gazed down at her and smiled. “You will learn and I will keep your cooking pot full.”
She was glad she had washed her face, but wished she had time to braid her hair before he found her. He did not pause where she expected. All the weddings she had witnessed had taken place in the center of the loose grouping of teepees, with all members of a clan as witnesses. But they crossed with wide patch of earth and no one so much as glanced at them.
Confusion took Lucie. Was it because she was white? Perhaps Yellow Bird had made her objections known and no one would attend her wedding. Lucie could not explain why this saddened her, because she did not want to attend either.
They headed straight for the tent of Two Rivers, chief of the Sweetwater tribe. Lucie’s ears tingled. Something was wrong. Before she could ask Eagle Dancer, he called a greeting to the closed tent flap.
Lucie trembled outside they were bid enter. Eagle Dancer threw back the flap and ducked into the round hole first. Lucie followed, gripping the wood frame attached to the flap that held the door open. She did not rise once inside the teepee but fell to her knees beside the door in the place of lowest honor. A glance about told her that these were not wedding guests.
Two Rivers sat across from her with his black watery eyes fixed upon her. Beside him was Yellow Tomahawk, his eldest son, the tribes medicine man sat to his left. The rest were elders and warriors with many coup.
The chief motioned for her to come near. Yellow Tomahawk shifted to allow her enough room to wedge in beside him. She moved slowly, trying to resist the urge to flee. Only once had she met such a gathering and that was the day Fast Bear dragged Alice French away. Lucie remembered her friend’s despair when she realized that Lucie had foiled her attempt to trick the men into taking her to freedom.
Alice had run. Alice had died.
Lucie sat where she was told. She would give these men no cause to kill her.
Yellow Tomahawk pulled a letter from beneath the hide before him and held it out to Lucie.
“We find this tied to a stick with a piece of cloth near the wagon train.”
At the mention of a wagon trail, Lucie’s eyes widened as hope and fear mingled. A wagon train could mean her salvation. It might also mean a sudden attack and death for those poor innocents making their way West.
“Read the stick words.”
Remembering how she was tricked the last time Lucie was slow to accept the letter.
“Read!” barked Yellow Tomahawk and Lucie jumped.
She accepted the envelope and turned it so she could see the front but found it blank.
Withdrawing the folded sheet she stared at the tight even script she assumed to be that of a man. She read the words to herself first and then cleared her throat and read them as written.
October 2, 1864
This train of wagons is under military escort. We travel westward to the mountain region on order of the great war chief in Washington and have such men as necessary to defend it. We want no war with the Indians but will defend this train and make war as long as you choose to do so. We do not fear battle in the least. No Indians are permitted to approach this train.
Captain and A. Q. M. Commanding Expedition
They had Lucie read the letter a second time and explain about the Washington war chief. She did her best to describe the men and resources available in the east but could see they did not believe her.
“Could I see the cloth?”
“What?” asked Yellow Tomahawk.
“The cloth that was found with the letter.”
They presented her with a white handkerchief. The flag of truce. But should she tell them what this meant. Knowing their proclivity to use trickery to advantage, she decided not to.
“What does it mean?”
“This color means there is a letter or gift to the Indians. It means come to this safe spot, but not any closer.”
The men nodded. “What color should we use?”
Lucie was ushered out and told to wait. She spent the rest of the morning sitting before the tent, listening. When they called her back in, she had already devised a plan.
The supplied for writing lay there by the central fire. Two Rivers spoke to Yellow Tomahawk who spoke to Lucie.
“You will make the stick words.”
Lucie gathered the pen and dipped it into the black inkbottle. Then poised the wet tip over the page and waited.
“You will move on now. Two Rivers will not fight the wagons.”
Lucie wrote, ‘Dear Captain Redmon.’ Then she moved to create the next line and had time only to write, ‘The’ before the page was ripped from her fingers. “This is not the right words. This only three. He say twelve words.”
Yellow Tomahawk waved the page before her face like an incrimination.
Lucie bowed her head. “It is proper with my people to begin with a greeting. So I have written one.”
The men muttered and the chief lifted a hand.
“What does this say?”
Lucie read, “Dear Captain Redmon.”
Yellow Tomahawk shook his head. Two Rivers blinked at her as if trying to divine her trickery. As far as she knew there was no other who could read or write the stick words here. But that was just what Alice had believed only to be betrayed by Lucie’s ignorance.
To write other than what they instructed was a great risk. Lucie debated whether or not she dared take it.
Two Rivers pointed and a new page was delivered. Two Rivers retrieved the letter she had begun and threw it in the fire.
“You write only what we say.”
Lucie nodded. With trembling fingers she lifted the pen knowing they would count each word.
“You will move on now,” repeated Yellow Tomahawk.
With trembling fingers, Lucie put the nip to the page and wrote, ‘You will move on now I am captive.’
Yellow Tomahawk carefully counted the words and then continued. “Two Rivers, Chief of the Sweetwater people will not fight the wagons.”
Lucie counted carefully and wrote. ‘LucieWest, white captive, rescue me. They count my words and say they will not attack.’
“Ready this,” said Yellow Tomahawk.
In English Lucie repeated his words. Many of the men spoke English well enough to understand her and so she played no tricks here.
Two Rivers nodded.
“Write more,” said the chief’s son, returning the page. “You give us ten cows to eat and coffee, sugar, flour and gunpowder you may travel through our lands in peace. Do not stay here.”
Lucie wrote what they had instructed, joining words so she might add. ‘They want you to deliver goods, you know better than that.’
After counting her words again, the men seemed satisfied. Lucie was released. She did not know where to go, so she went to Shadow to retrieve the teepee. As she lay out the lodge poles she wondered what would come of her correspondence.
After the poles were raised she realized that should Captain Redmon not be very clever, he would reveal her trickery and her captors would certainly kill her. Even if he came, the Sioux would break camp and run, taking her along. If the army got near, the Indians’ first act would be to kill her. Fear washed over Lucie as she realized she had very likely written her own order of execution.