TWO MEN CLAIMED HER. ONLY ONE COULD TAME HER RECKLESS HEART.
Joshua Berdeen was the cavalry soldier who had traveled the country in search of lovely Hannah Kincaid. Josh offered her a life of ease in New York City, and all the finer things.
Two Hawks Flying was the Cheyenne warrior who had branded her body with his searing desire. Outlawed by the civilized world, he could offer her only the burning ecstasy of his love. But she wanted no soft words of courtship when his hard lips took her to the edge of rapture ... and beyond.
It was summer in the valley once more, the time of year the Indians called Many Leaves. The trees were green and full, the sky was a warm, vibrant blue, the berry bushes were thick with dark purple fruit. Animal life abounded in the wooded hills and valleys, and I smiled as I saw a deer and her twin fawns glide soundlessly through the underbrush across the deep, fast-moving river that ran through the middle of the valley. Blue jays called to one another from high in the leafy treetops, gray squirrels scampered back and forth between the pines, while beady-eyed lizards sunned themselves on the rocks scattered along the riverbank. Now and then a speckled fish jumped after a fly.
Sitting in the shade of an ancient oak, I was happily content. My three-and-a-half-year-old daughter, Mary, named for my mother, slept peacefully on the blanket next to me. My son, Heecha, now four and a half and tall for his age, was out hunting with his father. Our only neighbors and best friends, Calf Running and Flower Woman, had taken their three-year old, Nachi, for a walk in the woods to pick blackberries.
We had lived in the valley since the winter of ‘78 and life had been good. The winters had been mild; we had never wanted for food or shelter. Truly, we had been blessed by Maheo, the Great Spirit of the Cheyenne, and by Usen, the god of the Apache. Almost, it was as if we were the only seven people on the face of the earth, so isolated were we from the rest of the world.
It had taken a lot of hard work to establish our residence in the valley. Shadow and Calf Running had spent many long hours hunting so that we might have enough hides to cover our lodges, make clothing, and feed our children. Once, Shadow had raided a homestead many miles to the south, stealing seed so that we might have a garden. Flower Woman and I had put in long, backbreaking hours planting and hoeing and weeding, but our efforts had been amply rewarded. Our vegetables were growing beautifully in the rich brown earth; we had corn, beans, pumpkins, squash, beets and tomatoes. The surrounding hills were thick with game, deer, turkeys, quail, rabbits, and an occasional elk. The river provided fish. Calf Running and his family would not eat the fish, however, for the Apache believed the fish was related to the snake and was therefore cursed and unfit to eat.
We had wild plums and berries, honey and sage, wild onions and squaw cabbage, as well as many other herbs and roots, some of which we used for food and seasoning and others which were used for medicinal purposes.
Sometimes, when I had a few leisure moments, as now, I missed living in a house surrounded by friends and neighbors who shared my background and heritage. I missed shopping in a store and being able to attend church on Sunday. But only sometimes. Still, there were times when I could not help wondering what was going on in the rest of the world. Who was president? What were the latest fashions like? Had the Army finally subdued all the Indians? Occasionally, when Shadow and Heecha were away and Mary was asleep, I wished for a book to read. As a young girl, I had loved nothing more than to curl up before the fire with a good book and let it carry me away to distant lands.
Nothing in my life had turned out as I had planned, I mused, smiling faintly. Once I had dreamed of marrying a rich man, of living in a big house in Bear Valley where I had grown up. I had dreamed of having lots of children, of traveling to New York where my husband would buy me dozens of dresses, all silk and satin and lace. We would dine in the finest restaurants and go to the theater and ride around in an elegant carriage drawn by a team of matched black stallions. How frivolous those dreams seemed now.
I laughed softly as I looked at the hide lodge I shared with Shadow. It was not a big house, but it was home, and surprisingly comfortable. It was waterproof and windproof. In the summer, we left the lodge flap open and raised the sides and the air moved in and out, exiting through the smoke hole, cooling the lodge and its occupants. In wintertime, with the flap closed and a fire burning, the lodge stayed cozy and warm.
Pensive now, I fingered the hem of my skirt. It had been a long time since I had worn the cumbersome attire of a white woman. Gone were the petticoats and pantalets, the shoes and long stockings of my girlhood days. Now I wore a doeskin dress and moccasins and little else. My bed was a pile of soft robes, my home a lodge of skins, my stove an open fire, my bathtub the river beyond. We were not rich in material possessions, but I was rich in Shadow’s love, and that was enough for me. I did not have silks and satins and servants, but I had a wonderful husband, two happy, healthy children, and dear friends. I had never been happier in my life and my only wish was that all my tomorrows would bring the same joy as today.
Daily, I thanked God for a husband like Shadow. He was tall and strong and handsome. He was kind and tender and considerate. He was reliable and resourceful. Shadow. He had been a part of my life for almost as long as I could remember, and I smiled happily as I recalled the first time I had seen him …
I had been a skinny child of nine at the time; Shadow had been three years older. I had met him near the river crossing close to our homestead in Bear Valley. I had been frightened of him at first, expecting him to take my scalp because he was a Cheyenne and I was a white girl. Instead, we had become friends. Back then, my parents and I had been the only white people in the valley and Shadow had been my only playmate. Of course, Shadow did not really play. He thought “girl things” were foolish and a waste of time and refused to do anything he considered silly or undignified—which was practically everything I wanted to do. So he taught me to read trail sign and how to read the moon and the stars. He taught me how to skin a deer and tan the hide, and how to speak his language. Of course, Shadow was learning, too. His English grew less stilted, and he picked up some swear words from my father, but my mother was his best teacher. She taught him to read and write and how to behave at the dinner table. When Shadow turned fourteen, his visits to our place tapered off and then ceased altogether as he devoted himself to the task of becoming a Cheyenne warrior.
By then, other white families had moved into our valley and when I was fifteen, I fancied myself in love with Joshua Berdeen, a good-looking young man who lived nearby. It was in my mind to marry Josh when I turned sixteen, only Shadow entered my life again and turned my world upside down. Knowing my parents and neighbors would not approve of my friendship with an Indian, Shadow and I met in secret and as the days passed, we fell hopelessly in love. I yearned to marry Shadow, even though I knew my parents, and especially my father, would never approve and that my friends would shun me. I begged Shadow to take me away with him, but he was a man of honor and he refused to go against my father’s wishes. And so, quite shamelessly and deliberately, I seduced the man I loved, knowing that once he had taken my virginity, he would marry me, for honor’s sake. Shadow had been secretly pleased and amused by my obvious tactics.
“I suppose I shall have to marry you now,” he had lamented in mock resignation.
“That was your intent, wasn’t it? To tempt me into marriage with your irresistible woman’s body?”
I had happily admitted my guilt, and he had promised to return for me the next day. But Shadow did not appear the next day, or the next. Three days later, Shadow arrived at our place, badly wounded. He had been whipped and knifed by some of the men in Bear Valley. Feelings had been running high for several weeks. Homesteads had been burned, John Sanders had been killed, his six-year-old daughter, Kathy, had been kidnapped by the Sioux, and when the settlers had encountered Shadow riding toward our place, they had dragged him behind their horses, pistol-whipped him, slashed his leg, and left him for dead. That same week, Joshua’s homestead was attacked, his father, mother and brother killed. Josh stopped at our place on his way to Fort Lincoln. He was going to join the Army and fight Indians, he declared vehemently, and nothing we could say would change his mind.
When Shadow recovered from his wounds, he left our place to join his people in their fight against the increasing flock of whites moving west. I had been heartbroken to think Shadow’s loyalty to his people was stronger than his love for me. My father had stated it was for the best, and Mother agreed.
In the spring of 1876, the minor skirmishes between the Indians and the settlers turned into a full-fledged war. Our homestead was attacked. My mother was killed, and it seemed that all was lost when Shadow arrived on the scene. He bargained for my life with the chief of the attacking Indians and they agreed to let me go. I had not wanted to leave my father behind, but my father, who hated Indians with every fiber of his being, had pushed me out the door, insisting I go with Shadow if it would save my life. I had never seen my father again.
That night, I made the decision that had brought me to this place. Shadow had not tried to influence me. I can see him as he was that night, kneeling before me, his arms outstretched, his face impassive, as he waited for my decision. Would I go with him and live with his people? Or would I go to Steel’s Crossing and stay with Pa’s friends? That night, for the first time since I had fallen in love with Shadow, I saw him as an Indian. The hideous red paint on his face, the eagle feather in his long black hair, the wolfskin clout that covered his loins—all bespoke Cheyenne blood. How could I spend the rest of my life with this man, this stranger? How could I ever forget that he was an Indian, and that it was an Indian who had killed my mother? I thought of all the people in our little valley who were dead because of Indian hatred and Indian vengeance.
I gazed into Shadow’s eyes, but I saw nothing there—no trace of love to persuade me—and I knew that this was a decision I had to make on my own. Only Shadow’s outstretched arms betrayed his inner feelings.
For endless seconds, I did not move. My parents were dead, killed by Indians. My friends, everyone I had ever known, had been killed by Indians, and hate for the whole red race churned in my breast. But wrestling with that hatred was my love for Shadow, for love him I did, and I knew that no matter what happened, my love would remain unchanged. Our people might turn the sun-kissed grassland red with blood in their efforts to slaughter each other, but I knew our love for each other would survive. With a sigh, I had gone into Shadow’s waiting arms and from that night on Shadow was not an Indian and I was not white. We were simply two people desperately in love.
For a time, Shadow and I had lived with his people. I grew to love the Cheyenne, especially Shadow’s father, who was a kind, warmhearted man. But then, in the summer of that year, Custer came to the Greasy Grass. His defeat at the hands of the Sioux and the Cheyenne outraged whites everywhere and the Army began to hunt the Indians with a vengeance. Sitting Bull fled the Dakotas and took his people to Canada. But Shadow would not leave his homeland and when, after many battles, the Cheyenne decided to go to the reservation, Shadow refused to surrender. I can still remember standing alone on the prairie, just Shadow and me, watching his people begin the long journey to the reservation.
For a while, Shadow and I had lived alone near the river crossing in Bear Valley, but then, by some magical Indian method of communication, the word spread that Two Hawks Flying—that was Shadow’s warrior name—had not gone in. By twos and threes, warriors from various tribes came to Shadow, the last fighting chief on the plains, begging him to lead them in their fight against the whites. Calf Running was one of the first to find us. To my chagrin, Shadow had agreed to lead the rebellious warriors and so we went to war once more. I had fought at Shadow’s side until I grew heavy with his child. Even now I shuddered to remember those days, for they were filled with terror and bloodshed. We had been hunted by the Army day and night, driven ever westward until we crossed into the land of the Apache. At last, when there were only thirty warriors left in our band, Shadow said it was time to quit.
The last night we spent with the warriors had been a sad time. Shadow’s men, made up of warriors from many tribes, had developed a strong bond of love and respect for one another. Together, they had shared many hardships. There were no formal farewells that last night. The warriors left as they had come, in small groups of two or three or four until, at last, Shadow and I were alone again.
I put my memories aside as they began to grow more unpleasant and centered my thoughts on my husband instead. Shadow. He was an integral part of my life, the best part. He had been there to comfort me the day my mother was killed. He had been there when our first child was born dead, he had been at my side when Mary was born.
Shadow. I felt my heart flutter with excitement as I saw him striding toward me now, a deer slung over his broad shoulders. I had known this man most of my life and I marveled that he seemed to grow more handsome, more virile, with each passing day. Or did it only seem that way because my love for him daily grew stronger?
I gazed at his face, a face I knew as well as I knew my own. His forehead was unlined, his cheekbones high and proud, his nose as straight as a blade, his jaw firm and square. His thick black hair, parted in the middle, fell to his waist. He wore only a clout and moccasins, revealing a broad chest, skin that was a deep bronze, and arms and legs that were long and well-muscled. His flanks were lean, his stomach hard and flat. And his eyes—they were as black as ten feet down, shaded by sooty lashes that women would have died for. Just looking at him thrilled me down to my toes.
“Nahkoa, look!” Heecha cried, running toward me on strong, sturdy legs. “See what I caught?”
I smiled proudly at my son as he showed me the fat gray rabbit he had killed.
“You have done well, little warrior,” I said, beaming.
Heecha grinned from ear to ear as he held up the rabbit so I could see it better. My son was a handsome child, all Indian this day. He was dressed in buckskin pants and a buckskin vest. Moccasins hugged his feet, a beaded headband held his shoulder-length hair from his face.
Heecha gazed at the rabbit in his hands. “I set a trap to catch it,” he boasted. “My father taught me.”
“I am proud of you both,” I said solemnly. “I am the most fortunate of women, to have two fine hunters in my lodge.”
Heecha nodded gravely as he thrust the limp carcass into my hands. “Skinning and cooking are squaw work,” he declared with just a hint of male arrogance.
I stared into his darling face, choking back the laughter that bubbled in my throat. He sounded just like his father! I glanced up at Shadow and saw that he, too, was remembering the day he had spoken similar words to my mother.
“You shall have the rabbit for dinner this very night,” I told my son. “But now it is time for you to water your father’s horse.”
Heecha smiled as he ran toward the peeled pole corral located behind our lodge. Caring for Shadow’s spotted stallion was a chore our son dearly loved. Already, he could ride like a seasoned Cheyenne brave.
Scooping Mary into my arms, I walked back to our lodge beside Shadow. I went inside and placed Mary on her bed, then went back outside to skin Heecha’s rabbit while Shadow butchered the deer.
“The man will never learn,” lamented a male voice, and I turned to see Calf Running and Flower Woman approaching our lodge while their son, Nachi, ran off to join Heecha at the river.
Calf Running was a Chiricahua Apache. He was short and stocky, as were many of his race. He had dark skin and coarse black hair. A long scar, souvenir of a Comanche blade, ran the length of his left cheek. He had a deep and abiding hatred for white men, who had murdered his family in cold blood. Calf Running had been but a boy of twelve at the time, but he had tracked the men who slaughtered his family and killed them all while they slept. He was a proud warrior, a ruthless fighter, a kind and gentle husband and father.
“More and more I find him doing squaw work,” Calf Running went on. “I fear Hannah’s influence has weakened his manhood.”
Shadow scowled at his long-time friend as he sliced off a section of deer haunch and began to skin the hide from the meat.
“Look at him,” Calf Running continued, shaking his head in dismay. “He does not even have the decency to look ashamed.”
“I would welcome a man who was not afraid to lend a hand with the butchering and the skinning,” Flower Woman remarked. “I find it a fine quality in a husband.”
“Do you?” Calf Running accused with mock anger. “Perhaps I should sell you to Two Hawks Flying.”
“Perhaps you should!” Flower Woman retorted. Her words were harsh, but her eyes were filled with laughter.
Shadow stood up, wiping his bloody hands on the sides of his buckskin pants as he looked from Calf Running to Flower Woman. “I am very fond of you, Flower Woman,” he said gravely. “But one wife is all I can handle.”
Flower Woman nodded. She was a pretty woman, with a slender figure, long thick hair and luminous black eyes. “I understand,” she said with feigned regret, “but if you ever change your mind…”
She broke off, giggling, as Calf Running caught her to him, his good arm pulling her close. His left arm, shattered by a cavalryman’s bullet years ago, hung limp and useless at his side. It was, he had once told me, a small price to pay for freedom.
With a smile, Calf Running planted a kiss on Flower Woman’s cheek. “Never mind, woman,” he growled. “I have decided to keep you after all.”
“I think you are all mind-gone-far,” I said as I skewered Heecha’s rabbit and placed it over the fire to cook.
“I think you are right,” Calf Running agreed good-naturedly. “Come, woman, let us go to our own lodge. I am hungry.”
“He is always hungry,” Flower Woman remarked with an exaggerated sigh. “Some day he will be as big and fat as an old buffalo.”
I smiled as the two of them went off toward their own lodge, which was set up a short distance from ours. They were a happy couple and very much in love. I knew many white people thought the Indians incapable of love and laughter, but Calf Running’s lodge overflowed with both.
When they were out of sight, I turned to face Shadow, troubled by something Calf Running had said.
“Do you mind helping me with the butchering?” I asked, frowning. “Does it offend your manhood?”
Shadow grinned as he took me in his arms. “Do not make sounds like a foolish woman,” he chided, kissing my eyes and the tip of my nose. “I am a Cheyenne warrior. Skinning a deer cannot change that.”
“I love you,” I murmured as I lifted my face for his kiss.
“Do you, Hannah?” he asked, only half kidding. “Have you never regretted the kind of life we live? Have you never longed for your own people, your own customs?”
“Never,” I said firmly. “You are my people. I have never been sorry that I chose to live with you and follow your ways.”
Shadow’s smile warmed me through and through. It was so good to see him smile. There had been many times in the past when we had little to smile about. There had been the awful days when I had ridden the war trail at his side, the times when we had gone without food or shelter, times we had huddled together, shivering, in the rain and snow. Deep in my memory lingered the faces of the dead warriors we had left behind, the tiny, unmarked grave in Arizona where our first son was buried. A son I had never seen. Even now, six years later, I could remember how my arms had ached to hold my firstborn child, the tears I had shed when I stood at his tiny, unmarked grave. And yet, for all the misery of the past, I knew I would gladly live it all over again to be here now with the man I loved.
Shadow and I stood together for several moments, our bodies pressed close as we remembered the bad times that made the good times all the more sweet. Then Mary emerged from the lodge, clamoring for her father’s attention, pulling on his pant leg until he lifted her in his arms. Mary squealed with pleasure as Shadow swung her high in the air. She was a pretty little thing, with dark brown hair and fair skin. Her eyes were gray, like mine. No one, seeing Mary, would ever guess her father was an Indian. Not so Heecha. He was the spitting image of Shadow, with the same black hair, the same copper-hued skin, the same black eyes. No one, seeing my son, would guess he was anything but pure Cheyenne.
Shadow’s dark eyes glowed with pleasure as he tossed Mary in the air, then caught her safe in his arms, and I thought what a beautiful picture the two of them made.
Heecha returned shortly and demanded to be tossed in the air, too. He shrieked with delight as his father continued the game, tossing him higher and higher.
When Heecha and Mary tired of that game, they began to wrestle with Shadow, jumping on his back, pulling on his arms and legs in an effort to hold him down. Shadow’s deep laughter filled the air as he grabbed a child in each arm and lifted them off the ground. Heecha and Mary wriggled and kicked to no avail and finally declared Shadow the winner.
“Dinner’s ready,” I called, and Heecha slid out of his father’s grasp, eager to taste his first kill. Heecha generously shared a bite of the rabbit with each of us, and we all agreed it was the best rabbit we had ever eaten.
After dinner, Shadow played with Mary and Heecha while I washed the dishes and banked the fire for the night. While I put the children to bed, Shadow went outside for his evening walk.
I was changing into my sleeping gown when I heard it, the faint, melodical notes of a Cheyenne courting flute. I paused, everything else forgotten, as I listened to Shadow serenade me.
The Indians were a musical people. There were songs and chants for every occasion, religious songs, prayer songs, healing songs. There were songs of mourning and songs of bereavement. There were love songs and war songs. There were soft lullabies and rousing songs of joy. There were animal songs, some prayerful in nature, others a plea for good fortune. A particular song, known as the horse song, could be sung over a favored horse to make it strong and sound for a particular fight or journey. There was a morning song hummed by the men upon awakening. Often, it was the first sound heard in our lodge.
In my many years of living with Shadow, I had heard them all, yet none was more beautiful than the melancholy notes of Shadow’s flute. The music permeated our lodge, surrounding me like invisible arms, telling me that I was loved.
When Shadow entered our lodge, I was standing beside the fire, a red blanket draped around my shoulders. He had told me once that when a man was courting a woman, he would play his flute outside her lodge in the evening. Later, if the girl was interested in the man, she would stand outside her lodge wrapped in a big red courting blanket. If she looked with favor on the man, she would hold out her arms, inviting him to stand inside the blanket with her and they would stand close together, the blanket over their heads and bodies, lost in a warm red cocoon. Now, as Shadow walked toward me, I held out my arms. He smiled, the expression spreading to his eyes when he saw I was naked beneath the blanket.
I smiled up into his darkly handsome face as I wrapped the blanket around the two of us. “If we were courting, would you still offer my father many horses for my hand in marriage?”
“That is a silly question,” Shadow said, his hands caressing my back. “Surely you know the answer.”
“Yes, but sometimes a woman likes to hear the words.”
“I can offer you more than words as proof of my love,” Shadow said huskily. His hands cupped my buttocks, drawing my hips against his strongly muscled thighs.
“Shall I show you how much I love you?”
“Yes, please,” I murmured, and lifted my face for his kiss.
Shadow’s mouth closed over mine as he lifted me in his arms and carried me to our bed. He placed me gently on the soft robes, then stretched out beside me.
How wonderful to lie in Shadow’s arms, to know he loved me as deeply as I loved him, to know that tomorrow would bring the same happiness as today. Time had not dulled our joy in each other, or lessened the thrill that erupted in the center of my being whenever Shadow caressed me. Sometimes we made love tenderly, with Shadow caressing me with light and gentle hands, as if he were afraid I might shatter at the slightest touch. At those times, he made me feel as if I were the most cherished woman in all the world. He coaxed me and petted me, holding back his own release until he was certain my wants and needs had been satisfied.
At other times, he took me boldly, dominating me, exerting the strength and masculinity I so adored. He was masterful then, demanding, arrogant. His hands roamed my body, kneading my flesh, molding my shape to his as his tongue boldly raped my mouth, firing my blood until I thought I should explode or melt in his arms.
This night, I gloried in the subdued strength of his hands as he stroked my breasts and thighs. His lips and tongue traveled over my face and neck, nibbling, tasting, scorching my skin like a dancing finger of flame.
I moved restlessly beneath him, begging him to make me his, to satisfy the yearning he had created.
But he was in no hurry this night. Drawing back, he let his gleaming black eyes wander over my body, his long brown fingers following the same path as his eyes, until I was on fire for him.
Wanting him, eager for him to possess me, I rolled over on my side, my fingers stroking the hard wall of his chest, moving slowly, purposefully, toward his flat belly, down toward the thick nest of black hair between his thighs.
I grinned triumphantly as Shadow’s desire flared to match my own, his need as great now as mine.
Whispering my name, he covered my body with his. My hands moved restlessly up and down his back, reveling in the muscles bunching beneath my fingertips. I grasped his buttocks as he surged into me, drawing him closer, closer, knowing I could never get enough of him.
I closed my eyes as he moved inside me, lost in the wondrous pleasure of my husband’s embrace.
Shadow whispered love words in my ear, the phrases coming in a mixture of Cheyenne and English as he told me he loved me, needed me, wanted me. I was caught in the web of his voice, loving the sound of it, deep and husky with passion as he cried my name.
I returned his love with every fiber of my being, giving all I had to give, wanting to please him, to pleasure him in every way.
Later, wrapped in his arms, I drifted into a peaceful sleep, never dreaming that the future would hold anything but the same blissful contentment as today.