“You say you love my daughter. I forbid it! You have no right to interfere in her life as long as she is bound to another.”
So spoke the great Cheyenne warrior, Two Hawks Flying, and Cloud Walker knew his harsh words were only too true.
Serenely beautiful, sweetly tempting, Mary was tied to a man who despised her for her Indian heritage, but that gave Cloud Walker no right to claim her soft lips, to brand her yearning body with his savage love.
Yet try as he might, he found it impossible to deny their passion, impossible to escape the scandal, the sorrow, the soaring ecstasy of their reckless desire.
I felt the tears well in my eyes as I helped Mary pin her veil in place. My daughter, my only daughter, was getting married. Never had there been a more beautiful bride, of that I was certain. Our neighbor Ruth Tippitt had made Mary’s wedding dress, and it was exquisite. Simple yet elegant, the gown was fashioned of white satin and lace. The collar was high, the sleeves were long and fitted, the skirt bell-shaped. The gossamer veil fell in graceful folds to the floor.
My Mary. A bride. She wore her long, dark brown hair loose, pulled away from her face with ivory combs. A faint touch of rouge brightened her cheeks. She had always been a lovely girl, but on this day, her wedding day, she was beautiful. Her gray eyes glowed with happiness, her mouth curved in a sweet smile.
Where had the years gone? Only yesterday she had been a little girl, begging for a pony of her own, babbling cheerfully as she helped me dust the house, pouting because she couldn’t always have her own way, and now she was a grown woman, ready to place her heart and her future into the keeping of the man she loved.
Mary had always been a joy in my life. Sweet and even-tempered, fun-loving and cheerful, she had never caused me a moment’s trouble or worry. I had named my daughter after my mother, who had been the sweetest, kindest woman I had ever known. No cross word had ever left my mother’s lips. I never heard her voice raised in anger or haste. She had been kind to Shadow from the day I met him, showering him with love and affection because he had no mother of his own to care for him, understanding and accepting him for who and what he was. Mary was like that too. She never judged anyone, but simply accepted people for what they were. She was generous and soft-spoken, and had a genuine love for others.
There was a knock at the door and my father and Rebecca stepped into the room. Pa looked fine in a dark gray suit, white linen shirt, and shined-up black boots. Rebecca looked pretty enough to be a bride herself in a dress of pale pink silk.
“They’re ready to start if you are, Hannah,” Pa said. With a sniff, he took Mary in his arms and gave her a quick hug. “Be happy,” he said gruffly. “If things don’t work out, don’t be afraid to come home.”
“Thanks, Grandpa,” Mary said, kissing him on the cheek.
Rebecca took Mary’s hand in hers and gave it a squeeze. “You look beautiful, darling,” she said, her eyes misty. “Just beautiful.”
Mary nodded, and then we were alone again.
“Ready?” I asked.
“Ready,” Mary replied, taking a last look into the floor-length mirror. “Nervous, but ready. How do I look?”
We looked at each other for a moment, and then Mary gave me a hug. “I love you, nahkoa,” she said tremulously. “Thank you for everything.”
“I love you, too,” I murmured. “Be happy.”
“I will be,” Mary said, her smile radiant. “I love Frank and he loves me. What could possibly change that?”
“Nothing, darling.” I gave her a last, quick hug and left the room.
Blackie was waiting for me. My youngest son looked remarkably handsome in a dark suit and tie. His long black hair was neatly combed, his shoes were clean and polished. His eyes were a deep dark brown, his skin tanned from constant exposure to the sun. For a brief moment I studied his face, searching for some resemblance to Shadow, but except for the color of his skin, Blackie did not look like Shadow at all. And yet in my heart I knew that Blackie was Shadow’s son, knew it without a doubt. Joshua Berdeen could never have fathered a child such as this. Never in a million years.
“Ready, nahkoa?” Blackie asked. He moved his shoulders and I knew he was uncomfortable wearing a suit and tie, but to please Mary he had agreed to wear it without a murmur.
“Ready,” I answered.
Taking my arm, Blackie escorted me down the narrow aisle to the front pew. I sat down, smiling at my oldest son Hawk, my daughter-in-law Victoria, and my twin grandsons Jason and Jacob. The boys were seven months old now, and easily the most beautiful children ever born. They had black hair, dark blue eyes, tawny skin, and smiles to melt a grandmother’s heart.
It didn’t seem possible that I could be a grandmother. Grandmothers were elderly and frail, with gray hair, spectacles, and wrinkles. I didn’t fit into that category yet, but then, I was only thirty-nine years old, young for a grandmother.
I gazed around the church. A profusion of wild roses and daisies added a splash of color to the altar and filled the early-morning air with a sweet fragrance. A long white runner covered the center aisle, and large white satin bows had been tied to the pews.
I nodded to several of our friends and neighbors who had come to share this joyous occasion with us. Fred and Myrtle Brown were sitting a few rows back. Fred’s hair had turned completely gray now, but his green eyes were still jolly, and I saw that he was wearing his plaid vest, as usual. Myrtle had grown even plumper in the years I had known her. Her curly brown hair was touched with gray. Their son Jeremy sat between them. He was a handsome boy, more than a little vain about his blond good looks. Several of the young ladies in the church turned to stare at him from time to time, their eyes openly adoring.
Ruth Tippitt sat with Helen and Porter Sprague. Ruth’s husband, George, was not well and rarely left their house now. Helen nodded in my direction, and I smiled at her. We had not always been friends with Helen and Porter. Although they had been the first people we had met when we moved to Bear Valley in the summer of 1885, we had not hit it off too well. Their daughter Nelda had made a rather rude remark about Indians, and Pa had asked the Spragues to leave our house. After that, Helen and Porter had tried everything in their power to make sure we weren’t welcome in the valley, but then Shadow saved Nelda Sprague’s life, and after that nothing was too good for Shadow or his family.
Nelda had been a rather homely child, but she had developed into a pretty young woman. She had her mother’s red hair and her father’s brown eyes, and a lovely figure. She was sweet on Henry Smythe, but Henry had a crush on the blacksmith’s daughter Fancy. Young love, I mused, never ran smooth.
Glancing across the aisle, I saw Clancy Turner and his wife Nadine. They were sitting close together holding hands. Clancy and Nadine ran our local newspaper. It had started out as a one-page paper that carried only local news and recipes, but over the years it had expanded, and now Clancy ran a six-page newspaper that came out twice a week.
I saw Mary Crowley and her husband, Jed. Mary was pregnant again, and I wondered if she was ever going to stop having babies. She had nine children; the oldest was twelve, the youngest was two. Secretly, I envied Mary Crowley. I had always wanted a large family, but, unlike Mary, I had trouble getting pregnant, and now I was getting too old.
I felt a warm sense of home and belonging as I gazed at the people around me. How good of them to be here, I thought, to want to share this moment with us.
The measured strains of the Wedding March filled the air. Turning, I saw Mary walking down the aisle, her hand on her father’s arm. Like Blackie, Shadow wore a dark suit and tie. Like Blackie, he was uncomfortable. But he wore it for Mary. This was her day, and it must be perfect in every detail.
My heart fluttered as my gaze lingered on Shadow. He was so handsome, so dear. His hair was long and thick, as black as night. His skin was the color of old copper, still smooth and unlined though he was forty-two years old. He smiled at me, his ebony eyes warm with love, as he walked our only daughter down the aisle.
I didn’t hear the solemn words that made Mary and Frank husband and wife. Instead, I was remembering my own wedding day, hearing again the sweet, longed-for words that had made me Shadow’s wife. He had worn a dark suit and tie on that day, as well. Our wedding had been lovely, everything I had ever dreamed of. Shadow had promised that we would be wed in the white man’s way when I was free of Joshua Berdeen, and he had kept his promise. I had assumed we would have a quiet ceremony at home with just our family present, but we had been married in church. I had worn a white satin gown and matching slippers and a floor-length veil. There had been flowers and music and white satin bows on the pews.
Everyone in the valley had been invited. Hand in hand, Shadow and I had stood before the altar. Tears of joy had welled in my eyes as we said our vows, and then the Reverend Thorsen had spoken the solemn, beautiful words that made me Shadow’s lawfully wedded wife. No words had ever been sweeter or more welcome. I remembered how tenderly Shadow had made love to me that night, his hands and lips gentle, filled with promise and desire. How carefully he had aroused me, as though I were a tender virgin ignorant in the ways of men, until I was on fire for him.
Shadow took my hand in his as Frank kissed Mary. His dark eyes looked deep into mine, and I felt the force of his love wash over me, thrilling me down to my toes. Squeezing Shadow’s hand, I offered a silent prayer to Man Above, hoping that our Mary would find the same lasting happiness with Frank that I had found with the man at my side.
Pa took pictures after the wedding. He had sent away to Rochester, New York, and bought a Kodak camera for ten dollars. It was a remarkable invention, and Pa was as excited as a child with a new toy. He took numerous pictures, mostly of Mary and Frank and our family. Shadow refused to have his picture taken and no amount of coaxing could make him change his mind. I had never had my picture taken before, and I could hardly wait to see the results. Pa said the man at the drug store would develop the negatives in a special dark room he had built in the back of the store.
Later we had cake and punch at our house, and all the valley people came to help us celebrate Mary’s wedding day. Frank’s parents, Leland and Mattie Smythe, were old friends of ours. They had been one of the first families to move into Bear Valley. They had eight mighty handsome sons: Abel, Benjamin, Cabel, David, Ethan, Frank, Gene and Henry.
“Hannah, she’s a lovely bride,” Mattie Smythe said, giving my arm an affectionate squeeze. “Frank is lucky to get her.”
“They’re both lucky,” I said, smiling. “I’m sorry Abel and Ethan couldn’t be here.”
Mattie nodded. Abel had moved to San Francisco several years ago. Ethan was a lawyer back in St. Louis.
“Abel would have been here,” Mattie remarked, “but Carolyn is in the family way, you know. She’s too far along to make such a long trip, and Abel didn’t want to leave her home alone, this being their first child and all. Ethan is tied up on a case defending a man accused of murdering seven people. Ethan said he’s certain the man is as guilty as sin, but that he’s entitled to a fair trial just like everyone else.”
I nodded, then turned away as several of our other guests crowded around to offer their congratulations.
The reception was a huge success. Mary and Frank received many lovely gifts, as well as a tidy sum of money, and then, too soon, they were ready to leave. I gave my daughter a hug, trying not to cry. She was a woman now, married, with a life of her own to live. She was no longer my little girl. Frank was her life now. He would be the one to soothe her hurts and share her joys. He would be the one she would run to for comfort, the one who would hear her innermost hopes and dreams and fears.
I watched my new son-in-law as he said his goodbyes. He was a tall, handsome young man with dark brown hair and brown eyes. I had known Frank since he was a boy and he seemed like a fine man, steady and reliable. I was certain they would be happy together, but only time would tell.
Smiling through my tears, I stepped away from Mary so she could bid her father goodbye.
“Neyho,” Mary murmured, and then hurled herself into her father’s arms. She stood there for a long time, her arms tight around Shadow’s waist, her face buried in his shoulder, and then she stood on tiptoe and gave him a kiss on the cheek. “I love you,” she said, blinking back a tear. “Take good care of yourself and nahkoa.”
Shadow nodded. His emotions, always under control, were very near the surface today. Mary was his only daughter and he loved her dearly. He had always been protective of her, concerned for her health and happiness.
Shadow took my hand as Mary and Frank climbed into the buggy and drove away. They would take the buggy as far as Steel’s Crossing, then catch the train for Chicago. Frank had applied for a job at one of the banks there. Mary was excited by the prospect of living in the East, of dining in fine restaurants and going to the theater. She was eager to see what life was like away from Bear Valley, and I couldn’t blame her. It was only natural that she should want to see more of the world. Bear Valley was a thriving community. We had a telegraph office, a newspaper, a bank, a small restaurant, a saloon, a schoolhouse, two churches, a mercantile store, a blacksmith, a dentist, and a doctor. And yet we were still just a small Western town, crude and more than a little wild by Eastern standards.
I watched Mary until she was out of sight. Once I too had dreamed of living in the East, of wearing stylish clothes, of eating off fine china and crystal by candlelight in a fancy restaurant, of going to the theater and spending an evening on the town. But no more. I was where I belonged, and I had no regrets.
I glanced up as Shadow squeezed my hand. “Do you think she’ll be all right?” I asked. “She’s so young.”
“She is nineteen,” Shadow replied. “Old enough to know what she wants.”
“I hope he’ll be good to her.”
“He had better be,” Shadow said gravely.
The house seemed empty that evening as I moved from room to room tidying up. I lingered in Mary’s room, remembering the day she had been born.
I had gone into labor early that morning. Flower Woman had been there to help me, but I wanted only Shadow. He had been somewhat reluctant to help with the birth of our child. It was not something a warrior of the People was expected to do. Childbirth was best left to squaws and midwives. But when he saw how desperately I wanted him with me, how badly I needed his strength and love, he sat beside me, my hands clasped in his, through the long hours of labor. I had tried to be brave and strong like the Cheyenne women, but the pains had been so hard I could not hold back my tears. And then, cutting through the pain, came Shadow’s voice, deep and resonant and filled with compassion. He talked to me for hours, telling me things I had not known, things I had never suspected. He told me of his mother, Morning Dove, who had died when he was only six years old. His memories of her were vague images of a graceful woman with long black hair and warm black eyes, a voice that was low and soft, arms that had held him tight. She had died of smallpox, and he told me of how he had always felt a little left out because he had grown up without a mother to love him or scold him.
He told me of the thrill of the buffalo hunt, of riding alongside a herd on a fast pony with the dust churning and the cries of the other warriors rising above the thunder of many cloven hooves. He talked of riding to battle, heart pounding and blood running hot in your veins. You did not think of death once the battle began, Shadow had told me, his eyes bright with the memory, you thought only of defeating the enemy, of counting coup and gathering honors on the field of battle. He had told me of the time he killed his first man, a Pawnee warrior. He had felt sick at first, awed by the speed with which a man’s life could be snuffed out. And then he had been filled with exhilaration. He had killed an enemy of the People, and it was a cause for rejoicing and celebration, not a time for sorrow.
I had listened to Shadow’s voice, letting the sound surround me like loving arms as I grasped his hands, strong, capable hands that could take a man’s life—hands that had shown me nothing but kindness and tenderness and love. I had gazed into Shadow’s eyes, loving him with all my heart, as our daughter made her way into the world…and now she was grown and gone. How had the years gotten away so fast?
I left Mary’s room as I heard Blackie’s voice calling my name.
“Nahkoa, nahkoa!” He burst into the parlor, a wolf cub clutched in his arms. “Look, nahkoa,” he said, thrusting the cub toward me. “I found him near the river.”
I shook my head. Blackie was still wearing his good suit. This morning it had been clean, but now it was covered with grass stains and dirt. His shoes were muddy, his hands and face streaked with grime. It was in me to scold him, but the words wouldn’t come. He was my last child, my baby. How could I scold him when he was smiling up at me, his dark eyes alight with excitement as the cub licked his face?
“Better give him something to eat,” I said. “I’ll see if I can find a box to put him in.”
With a joyful nod, Blackie headed for the kitchen. I could hear him talking to the cub as he poured some milk into a bowl.
I stared after my son. Since the day he could walk, Blackie had been bringing stray animals home. Snakes and frogs, raccoons and possums, a skunk, a spotted fawn, countless birds and squirrels, a baby fox. And now a wolf cub. My Blackie, child of the woods and water. He seemed to have a natural affinity for all of God’s wild creatures.
Shadow was shaking his head in wonder when I went out to the barn to find a box.
“So,” I said, smiling, “you’ve seen the latest addition to our family.”
“Yes,” Shadow said wryly. “Perhaps we should open a zoo.”
I laughed, my spirits rising as Shadow pulled me into his arms. My body molded itself to his as I lifted my face for his kiss, and then I wasn’t laughing anymore, for Shadow’s mouth claimed mine in a kiss that took my breath away and left my knees weak and my legs rubbery.
“Hannah.” His voice, deep and husky, caressed me even as his hands kneaded my back, then slid down to cup my buttocks.
I nodded at the unspoken question in his eyes. Effortlessly Shadow lifted me in his arms and carried me up the wooden ladder to the loft and there, in a bed of sweet-smelling hay, we made love.
My desire for my husband had never dimmed, and as he undressed I marveled anew that the sight of his body still had the power to excite me, that I still found his lovemaking thrilling and wonderful. My gaze moved lovingly over his face and form and found no flaw. He was tall, dark-skinned, and handsome. My fingers traced the powerful muscles that rippled in his arms and legs as he stretched out beside me. His stomach was still hard and flat, his chest broad and strong.
Shadow gasped as my wandering hand traveled leisurely down his belly to settle on his inner thigh, and I laughed softly, pleased by his response to my touch. Straddling his thighs, I let my hands roam over his body, my fingers tracing the scars on his chest. I remembered the day of the Sun Dance, how he had stood beside Hawk while Eagle-That-Soars-in-the-Sky slashed their flesh and inserted the skewers under the skin. I had marveled that Shadow and Hawk could endure such pain without a murmur, that they had possessed the strength and courage to dance around the Sun Dance pole for hours without food or water to sustain them, until the skewers had torn free of their flesh, releasing them from the sacred pole. The Sun Dance ritual was the most sacred of the Cheyenne traditions, one that few white people ever really understood. Shadow had been the epitome of what a Cheyenne warrior should be that day—tall and strong, firm in his beliefs, brave, haughty, perhaps, because he was one of the People.
I was filled with tenderness as I leaned forward, my bare breasts brushing against his chest as I kissed him. Shadow’s arms went around me, drawing me closer still, until our bodies were one.
Shadow was not a young warrior anymore, but a man in his prime, and I gloried in his touch as he possessed me, satisfying my desire even as he satisfied my need to be a part of him. Now, for this moment, I was complete. I let out a long sigh as his life spilled into me, my whole body slowly relaxing as waves of pure pleasure engulfed me. How I loved him, this wonderful man who had been a part of my life for almost thirty years.