Running Wolf is a valiant Sioux warrior. During his first raid as war chief, he captures a surprising Crow enemy—a woman! This spirited fighter is unlike any he's ever met. Her beauty and audacity are entrancing, but threaten his iron resolve…
Snow Raven must focus on freeing herself, not on the man who keeps her captive. But as she falls deeper under Running Wolf's spell, she realizes he is her warrior—and she'll risk everything for him!
Excerpt from RUNNING WOLF
Running Wolf met the charge of the three mounted Crow warriors. The forth halted at the tree line, the dapple gray horse dancing with power and nervous energy. His gaze lingered a second. There was something amiss about the rider. He forced his attention back to the large Crow leading the charge on a big blue roan stallion. The feathers in his hair spoke of his opponent's bravery.
Running Wolf lifted his lance to strike. Today they did not carry the coup stick used to mark bravery, but weapons to kill for the Crow had invaded their territory. His opponent lifted his convex shield, made for the thickest part of the buffalo, the hump. Running Wolf saw the symbol of a red arrow emblazoned on the hard raw hide shield. It was good medicine, he thought as his opponent deflected his thrusting lance and he made his own thrust. Running Wolf twisted in his saddle to avoid the iron spear tip and lost some of his momentum. His spear did not pierce the shield or his enemy, but slid harmlessly away.
His men engaged the other three warriors with cries and blows. Running Wolf wheeled to have another chance at the leader but before he made the turn he saw the warrior on the roan horse leap forward. The Crow gave a high thready cry.
Running Wolf completed his turn and engaged the first man, again. This was the obvious leader. It was not difficult for one war chief to recognize another. His opponent shouted directions to the men on the ground who quickly fell back behind the horses.
Running Wolf lifted his lance and thrust again, and his enemy deflected, but not quite enough for the spear tip sliced deep into his opponent's shoulder muscle, cutting a gash in the Crow's shield arm as the horses had moved past each other again. The warrior threw his lance to the ground. It stuck upright and quivering as he yanked his tomahawk from his breechclout and swung at Running Wolf's head. Running Wolf flattened to his horse's back as the metal axe head whistled past him. He straightened and swung the pole of his lance like a club, striking his foe across the back with enough force to unseat him.
The Crow warrior did not stay down long but kept hold of his horse's mane as he fell then used the ground to vault back onto his moving horse. He and his men dropped back to stand between Running Wolf's men and their women still fleeing for cover. They took a defensive stance. Retreating, delaying, giving the women time to escape. Nearly all had disappeared into the woods. Even those carrying small children now darted like shadows beneath the mighty pines.
Only one old woman remained, limping along like a wounded elk before a pack of hungry wolves. Red Hawk pursued the old Crow but for what possible reason Running Wolf could not imagine.
Running Wolf had made his orders clear. Destroy this camp. Steal the horses and go. He recalled now Red Hawk asking about captives and he recalled his reply. Only if the taking would not slow their escape. But despite his orders, Red Hawk had left them to pursue captives and now lifted an old woman by the throat and dragged her beside his spotted horse, Blizzard.
A blur of movement drew Running Wolf's eye. The small warrior on the gray mare leapt from the galloping horse right at Red Hawk. The force of the collision carried Red Hawk sideways to the ground. Running Wolf wheeled towards the downed warrior and saw the flash of a small iron skinning knife. He frowned at the strange choice of weapon as the pieces fell into place. The small figure straddling Red Hawk was not an undersized warrior, but a woman.
A strangely dressed woman warrior.
She straddled her opponent as masterfully as she had straddled her mount just moments before, only now she lifted her blade. Beneath her, Red Hawk had lost his wind and writhed ineffectively still clutching the old woman's white beaded necklaces.
Running Wolf gave a cry that served its indented purpose. The woman hesitated, giving him time to reach them. He raised his lance as the warrior he had challenged gave a second war cry. Running Wolf was not distracted as he used the flat side of his lance to knocked the knife from the woman's hands. Then he reached down and hoisted her up onto his horse's withers, capturing his first prisoner. He gave a whoop and pulled his horse up until it balanced on his hind feet.
Red Hawk rolled to his hands and knees and vomited. The others reached them as the Crow warriors followed the women into the woods where the fighting would be difficult. All except the one who had fought Running Wolf. He remained, blood running from his arm down his mount's shoulder. Still he charged again, but this time he met eight of Running Wolf's men and was forced back. Was this the woman's husband? Was that why he made such a suicidal charge?
Yellow Blanket struck the man with his club and the warrior toppled from his horse, sprawling on the ground, limp as a tanned buckskin. Yellow Blanket captured the warrior's horse, giving a yell as he turned to go. It was a wonderful prize.
Running Wolf held the struggling woman down across his horse's withers as he glanced about the ruined camp. They had toppled the tipis, trampled the racks of drying fish and stolen their horses. The work was done. This tribe would not linger but must return to the nearest tribe for help, shelter and food.
Pursuing the fleeing tribe would only increase the chances of fatalities as his men no longer had the element of surprise and there were many places in the forest for the sneaking Crow to ambush them. He called a retreat.
Red Hawk stood and pointed to Running Wolf's prisoner.
"That one is mine. I took her."
"You took a handful of beads. This one is mine."
So he pointed at the blue roan.
"The horse is mine, then."
Yellow Blanket looked at the reins of his captured horse that now rested in his hand. Older and more experienced, he had only to lift a brow at Red Hawk before the man fell silent.
Yellow Blanket looked at the beads in Red Hawk's hand.
"Those are yours."
Red Hawk's face went scarlet but he held his tongue. Yellow Blanket had been war chief and his bravery was without question.
"Were you unclear on your war chief's instructions?" asked Yellow Blanket. Running Wolf appreciated the man's assistance. It was difficult to lead a man older than you, especially when he felt he should have been Yellow Blanket's successor. But he was not. The council had chosen Running Wolf.
Red Hawk shook his head.
"Then why are you chasing old women instead of driving away their horses as you were told?"
Red Hawk looked at the strings of broken beads in his hand. He stuffed them into a pouch at his waist. The woman's gray horse pawed the earth beside Red Hawk and then lifted his head to sniff his mistress.
Weasel brought Red Hawk his horse.
"Let's go," said Running Wolf. His prisoner wriggled and tried to lift her head, but he pushed her back down with one hand planted on her neck.
What kind of woman was this who fought like a man?
The party rode toward home, with great commotion. The woman spread across his thighs tried to throw herself headfirst off this lap, but he held her easily. She was small, even for a woman, making her act of unseating Red Hawk even more impressive.
He had never taken a captive but now wondered if he could keep this one. He liked the feel of her warm, firm body against his thighs and her clothing and behavior had him both troubled and intrigued. He did not understand why she acted as she had, but he did know that she had the heart of a warrior.
Still, keeping her was not entirely his decision. True, their chief, Iron Bear, was generous, often leaving the spoils of their efforts to each warrior to keep or distribute as they saw fit. Running Wolf found himself holding the wiggling woman more tightly and recognized with some shock that the thought of giving her up filled him with a selfish, grasping need. It was perhaps the best reason of all to give her away. She stirred dangerous emotions, ones that were not becoming a warrior. He straightened in his saddle, lifting to a stand in his stirrups as he was taken with the sudden urge to drop her on the prairie and ride on.
He heard her gasp as she slid from his lap to wedge into the gap between his legs and the saddle’s high horn. She pressed her hands against his horse's sides, to keep from tumbling headlong to the ground. Still fighting, he realized. Fighting for the old woman. Battling Red Hawk. Resisting capture and now struggling to survive. She was brave, this enemy warrior woman.
Did that mean she had earned her life or a swift death?
He pulled her up against him and settled back in his seat. She curled against him for just a moment and sagged as if in relief. He stared down at the curve of her bottom and the short dress that had hiked up. He cocked his head at another inconsistency. Was she wearing a loincloth? He had seen a woman wear leggings in winter, but never a loincloth.
He rested a hand across her lower back and felt her muscles stiffen in protest. But she did not struggle. Perhaps she waited for her chance to plunge his knife into his heart. He added patient to her list of attributes.
Running Wolf stifled his rising need, fighting that deep empty place in his heart. He struggled to resist the whisper of desire for this woman. No. His father had died at the hand of a Crow. They were his enemy and that included this small temptation. A man must behave a certain way. His duty was to his ancestors, his chief and his tribe.
He told himself that he would not covet a woman even as his hand tightened possessively about her.
©Jenna Kernan, Harlequin Historical, July 2015