RECKLESS EMBRACE

Book 4
Some folks said they were just two kids who should never have
met-a girl from the wrong side of town and a half-breed who was
determined to make his mark on the world. Their families had fought on
opposite sides at the Little Big Horn; there could be no future for them
in a little Western town where time passed slowly and memories were
long.

Previously published by Leisure Books

But when Black Owl looked at Joey he saw not a pretty tomboy in
faded denim, but the most beautiful girl in the world. And when she
pressed her lips to his, she wasn't making the biggest mistake of her
life, as her gran claimed; she was finding her way home. In each
other's arms, they found a safe haven from a world where hatred and
ugliness could only be conquered by the deep, abiding power of
courageous love.

Chapter 1

Bear Valley
Summer, 1908


I sat in the shade of the front porch watching my seven year-old son, Daniel Blue Hawk, put a pretty little black and white Appaloosa filly through its paces while my husband looked on. He was a handsome boy, my Daniel, with his father’s thick black hair and my gray eyes. He had inherited the same natural affinity for horses that was so strong in his father and older brothers, and seemed to be inherent in all Cheyenne males. Like his two older brothers, Blue Hawk had a strong sense of pride in his Indian heritage and because of that, he preferred we call him by his Indian name.
Shadow had promised the filly to Blue Hawk and my son spent most of his waking hours working with the little mare. He had named her Patches and she followed him around like a puppy. Blue Hawk could hardly wait for the day when the filly would be old enough for him to ride for more than a few minutes at a time. Surprisingly, Blue Hawk liked writing almost as much as riding, and when he wasn’t outside with the filly, he was usually in his room making up stories about brave knights and fire-breathing dragons.

As much as I enjoyed watching my son, my gaze kept straying toward his father. Two Hawks Flying, known as Shadow to his loved ones, was easily the most handsome man I had ever known. Though Shadow was no longer a young warrior, he was still tall and straight, and strong enough to out-wrestle our two grown sons. Though he had long ago traded his breechclout and feathers for Levi’s and a Stetson, he steadfastly refused to wear shoes or boots. His feet were encased in a pair of moccasins I had recently made for him.

Shadow. My whole life was filled with memories of Shadow. I remembered the first time I had seen him. I had been nine years old; he had been twelve, handsome and arrogant even then. In time, we had become friends. He taught me how to hunt and fish and how to skin a deer. They were not pursuits I had cared for, but Shadow thought that girl things were foolish and a waste of time and he refused to do anything he considered silly or undignified, which was just about everything I wanted to do.

I recalled the day of my sixteenth birthday. It was a turning point in our lives and our relationship. I had not seen Shadow for three years or so, not since he had gone away to concentrate on becoming a warrior, which was the goal of all Cheyenne males.

We met by the river that day and Shadow was been even more handsome than I recalled. He wore only moccasins and the briefest of deerskin clouts, and I had not been able to take my eyes off him. His legs were long and well muscled from years of riding bareback; his belly was as hard and flat as it was today, ridged with muscle. Two livid scars marred his chest, proof that he had participated in the sacred Medicine Lodge ceremony of his people. A third scar zigzagged down his right shoulder. Like a bird hypnotized by a snake, I was unable to tear my gaze away. I could only stare at him, awed by his proud carriage, completely mesmerized by his appearance. He had truly become a warrior. There was no doubt of that.

We had not said much that day, nor had we spent a great deal of time together, yet I had known that our lives would be intertwined from that day forward. And I had never regretted a day of it. In spite of all the hardship and turmoil we had faced during the early part of our lives together, I would have done it all again. I had a wonderful husband and four children who loved me, and I counted myself a lucky woman.

From time to time I glanced down the road leading up to the house. Our second son, Samuel Black Owl, was due home from the East any day now. We had only seen Blackie once since he’d gone away to college to study veterinary medicine just over three years ago. It had been many years since I had been to the East. It was a place that held few happy memories for me. But we had enjoyed our stay with Blackie, though it had been shorter than I would have liked.

I had been counting the days ever since then until Blackie would be home once more. I was glad that the rest of my family lived nearby. Our oldest son, True Hawk, and his wife, Victoria, had four sons and two daughters. Hawk had been elected sheriff two years ago when Bill Lancaster retired. Considering that there was still a lot of prejudice in the area against Indians, I considered Hawk’s election, if you’ll excuse the expression, quite a coup. He had hired Joe Finch as his deputy.

Mary was our second child and our only daughter. She lived with her husband, Cloud Walker, on a horse ranch with their six sons. Mary and Victoria were both pregnant again. After six sons, Mary was hoping for a daughter.
Blue Hawk was our youngest, and spoiled by one and all.

I smiled, thinking of my children and grandchildren. They were all healthy, all beautiful, and all bore the unmistakable stamp of Shadow’s Cheyenne blood.
Blue Hawk rode the mare around the corral one last time, then dismounted.
He spoke to his father, nodded solemnly as he listened to his father’s reply, and then led the filly out of the corral toward the barn.

Shadow stared after Blue Hawk for a few moments, then turned and walked toward me. Once again, every other thought fled my mind as I watched him. He moved effortlessly, like a cougar stalking its prey, the habits of a lifetime ingrained too deeply to change now.

The sunlight moved over him like a lover’s caress, casting blue highlights in his waist-length hair, which was still thick, and as black as a raven’s wing. On this day, he was shirtless. His skin was the color of warm copper. The scars on his chest and shoulder had faded to faint silvery lines that were barely visible now.

“Hannah.” He lifted one brow, a half smile playing over his lips as he climbed the stairs, his movements slow and sensual.

I stood and moved into his embrace, my fingertips moving over the powerful muscles in his arms, sliding up to measure the width of his shoulders.

“Do you like what you see, woman?” he asked, a faint note of supremely male arrogance evident in his voice.

“I always have,” I replied tartly. And he knew it.

Going up on my tiptoes, I kissed him, then rested my head on his shoulder, happy to spend a few quiet moments in his arms.

And that was how Blackie found us when he rode up a few minutes later.

“I guess some things never change,” he drawled.

Startled, I looked up at the sound of the familiar deep male voice. “Blackie!” I exclaimed, and fairly flew down the steps. “You’re early. We were supposed to meet you tomorrow morning.”

“I know. I got lucky and caught an earlier train.”

Dismounting, he wrapped his arms around me. For a moment, I stood there, blinking back my tears, marveling at how much he had filled out since I’d seen him last. Giving him a squeeze, I backed up a little so I could get a good look at him.

He was tall, Blackie was, taller, even, than his father. And just as handsome. His hair, still worn long, was tied back at the nape of his neck. His skin was a shade lighter than Shadow’s, his eyes were a brown so dark as to be almost black. He had broad shoulders, a trim waist, and long, long legs.

I felt the tears trickle down my cheeks as my son turned to embrace his father. They were so alike, it was hard to believe I had once agonized over whether or not Shadow was Blackie’s father. I recalled the day Blackie was born.

I had been alone in the house when my labor began. After several hours had passed, I knew something was wrong. No matter how hard I pushed, I could not expel him from my womb. Lying there, I imagined Death all around me. I saw Him watching me through the window, lurking in the corners, waiting, and I was certain I was going to die. And then Shadow came home. Shadow, the other half of my heart, the other half of my soul. His voice stilled my fears and he delivered our son as competently as any doctor could have done. Our eyes met as Shadow held our son in his arms. Unspoken between us hung the question of who was the father, Shadow, or Joshua Berdeen. At the time, there had been no way to be certain. But seeing Blackie and Shadow together now, there could be no doubt that Shadow was indeed Blackie’s father. Joshua Berdeen could never have sired this son of mine.

I met Shadow’s gaze. Was he was also remembering the day Blackie had been born? Did he also remember the words he had spoken? I heard them now as clearly as I had heard them that day twenty-three years ago. It does not matter who fathered the child, Shadow had said as he placed the infant in my arms. From this day forward, he will be my son, and I will be his father.

Other images flashed through my mind: Blackie learning how to ride a horse, his little legs clinging to the sides of one of our old mares, his chubby little hands grasping the reins as Shadow led the mare around the corral; Shadow teaching our son to hunt, to fish, to read the signs of the seasons, to speak Cheyenne. Blackie had been two years old the day he brought home the first in a long line of injured birds and animals. He had brought a sparrow home that day. Together, we had splinted its broken wing. Blackie had fed it and cared for it and been overjoyed when the bird was able to fly away.

I remembered when Blackie had had diphtheria and how close we had come to losing him. I had prayed as never before, begging the Lord to spare my child. Shadow had added his prayers to mine. Even now, I could see him clearly in my mind’s eye, standing outside our house, naked save for a loincloth and moccasins. A single white eagle feather had been tied in his hair. There had been streaks of black paint on his face and chest. His arms, bronze and thick with muscle, had been lifted toward the sky in supplication. A small fire had burned at his feet and as I watched, he had sprinkled a handful of sacred yellow pollen into the flames, and then raised his arms over his head once again. I knew he was praying to Man Above in the old and ancient way, and I had felt a shiver run down my spine as he called upon the gods of the Cheyenne. His voice, deep and filled with pleading, had drifted through the half-open window.

Hear me, Man Above, accept my offering and heal my son. He had sprinkled another handful of pollen into the fire and this time the flames exploded upward like many colored tongues licking at the sky. And then with great deliberation, Shadow had taken a knife and raked the blade across his chest. A thin ribbon of red had oozed from the shallow gash in his flesh.

Hear me, Man Above, he had cried again. Accept my pain and heal my son.

A wordless cry had erupted from Shadow’s lips as he again raised his arms toward heaven, and at that moment, the sun had climbed over the distant mountains, splashing the clear skies with all the colors of the rainbow.

Blackie’s fever began to drop that very day and by the following afternoon, it was almost normal.

And now our son was home again, a man grown.

Blue Hawk came running out of the barn, yelling his brother’s name at the top of his lungs.

“Blackie! Blackie!”

“There you are, little brother,” Blackie said, and lifting Blue Hawk off his feet, he swung him around in a circle.

Blue Hawk’s laughter mingled with Blackie’s, bringing joy to my heart.
Closing my eyes, I offered a quick prayer of thanks to all the gods, both red and white, for bringing my son safely home.