Davidson's western historical, about a hunted man and the half-Indian with whom he takes refuge, is a mixed bag. Davidson's lyrical, almost ethereal prose never quite fits the harsh western setting of 1888, in which racism has isolated Debra Nightsong from both her tribe and the world of white men. Tending to the Dakota territory farm where she lives alone, Debra is surprised one evening to find an armed man in her house: Ethan Tyler, a man on the run for reasons he won't reveal. Though he imposes himself on her household—making Debra a virtual prisoner—he proves charming, good-hearted and a valuable worker. Davidson is at her best chronicling the day-to-day of farm living, and her prominent supporting characters—including Debra's half-brother and the bounty hunter pursuing Ethan—give the story extra dimension. Unfortunately, those characters show little complexity, functioning more like saints than citizens of the Wild West. Frustrating matters further, Debra and Ethan are separated for a full third of the book, carrying on an epistolary romance that barely satisfies the characters, much less the reader. Though Ethan's everyman quality and the genuine caring he and Debra share hold promise, Davidson's muted storytelling and odd choices result in a lackluster tale. (May)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
Nightsongby Carolyn Davidson
On the run and in search of a hideout, Tyler had come to the isolated farmhouse expecting to find an older lady in need of a helping hand. Instead he found Debra Nightsong, an independent young woman whose exotic beauty mesmerized him. He'd vowed not to take advantage of the situation he'd placed her in, but soon found himself regretting his words
An outcast from her tribe, half-breed Debra Nightsong wanted nothing more than to be left alone to tend her farmuntil she was ambushed by a mysterious stranger. Tyler said he meant her no harm, yet he unnerved herespecially with his presence in her bed. He claimed it was only to keep her from escaping him, but Debra had never expected to find pleasure in the feel of a man's strong body against hers .
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Holly Hill, The Dakota Territory June 1888
Stealing a horse was guaranteed to give a man sleepless nights. And Ethan Tyler was no exception. Only the fact that the poor nag should have long since been put out to pasture aided his insomnia, but the fact that he'd taken another man's animal weighed heavily on his mind. He was tired of runningit was time to call a halt and make decisions.
Even as he rode the trail from Holly Hill to the small farm he sought, he thought of the man who was even now missing his nag and his conscience bothered him with the theft he'd committed. Sending the horse back to town would be a problem, but one he'd figure out one way or another.
With that settled, Tyler looked ahead toward the farmhouse he'd been told was just three miles from town, at the end of a long lane, shaded by tall trees. A woman lived there, alone and unprotected. A woman whose parentage was in question, some saying she had a native mother, an unknown father and was probably no better than she should be. Others said she was to be respected, a woman alone, no matter her heritage.
Whichever she was, Tyler knew he could prevail upon her to hide him, for how long he didn't know, but at least he would convince her that he needed a hiding place for a while, and his skills at working around a farm would pay her well for her help.
He rode as quickly as the nag he'd borrowed would allow, hoping against hope that his arrival would preface hers by at least an hour. He needed time to put his horse behind the barn, should there be one, break in to her house and then lie in wait for her to arrive. His senses told him he was being followed and it was time to go toground.
He would be gentle with her, for she was no doubt a crone, a woman of years who kept to herself and lived quietly. A grandmotherly sort, he imagined, a woman set in her ways, but perhaps thankful for a helping hand for a short while. Not a woman who would tempt him to abandon his celibate lifestyle for want of her charms.
He rode down the narrow lane toward her holdings, admiring the clean lines of her buildings, the neatly kept yard and the buildings surrounding it. There was a shed, less than a barn, but a sturdy structure, and a smoke house, side by side with another small structure, probably a milk house or corncrib.
The house was a typical farmhouse, with a wide porch and windows that looked out upon the backyard. Ridiculously simple to break in to, he thought, sliding a kitchen window upward without much nudging. He climbed within, relishing the scent of the bread she must have baked this morning. Before she went to town and left herself open to a scalawag such as he, a man who climbed through her window and into her house, awaiting her return.
The sun had set, painting the sky with soft colors, promising fair weather for tomorrow, and he waited, his patience long, his stomach well tended by the loaf of bread he found on the kitchen cabinet. Old or not, the woman could bake bread, he thought, and then tensed as he heard the sound of a horse, the soft whicker that sounded from the yard.
He rose and stood by the window.
The woman rode astride, defying the rules society back east had set down for a female on a horse. No saddle darkened the back of the golden mare she rode, only the flowing skirt that hung halfway down her legs, catching the breeze as she rode. Double saddlebags lay across the animal's rump, apparently balanced there, for they did not depend on a saddle to hold them in place.
As Tyler watched from the window in her house, she brought the horse to a halt there in the first light of the moon, never touching her reins. Only the pressure of her knees against the animal's sides caused the mare to slow her rapid pace and then stand, head lowered, next to the watering trough.
In a smooth motion, the rider slid to the ground, exposing a slender thigh as her dress pulled up, then she approached the horse's head, rubbing her knuckles against the mare's long nose, speaking to the animal as she removed the bit and bridle from the pale horse. The mare bent her long neck gracefully and drank from the trough, her rider waiting patiently. And then they were headed for the small stable that sat in utter darkness just beyond an enclosed chicken coop, the mare following her mistress as might a faith exposing moccasins beneath its hem.
The barn door was opened and the woman and her mare went inside. In less than five minutes, the slender female emerged, tossed her dark hair back and lifted her face to the skies. The glow of moonlight illuminated her and Tyler inhaled sharply.
She was lovely, and definitely not what he'd expected when he'd heard of an Indian woman living alone beyond the edge of town. She couldn't be more than eighteen or twenty years. Her dress clung to her form, and the black hair she'd flung over her shoulders formed a dark cape that hung past her waist. She carried two sacks, one in either hand, hefting them easily. Tyler felt a heaviness in his groin as he watched her approach the house, and fought it with a sense of scorn. He wasn't here to take advantage of a woman, but to find a sanctuary of sorts. At least for a week or so.
Her footsteps were silent as she walked across the porch and the sound of the door opening seemed magnified in the stillness of the night. He moved swiftly to stand behind the door as it opened!and waited.
DEBRA SLIPPED HER FEET from the moccasins she wore, kicking them to one side of the open kitchen door, then stepped inside and pushed the heavy portal closed behind her.
Without warning, a rough hand covered her mouth, forcing her head against a solid wall of muscle, and the burlap sacks of foodstuffs she'd been carrying landed on the floor beside her. A powerful arm circled her waist, and held her firmly.
From behind the door, where he'd apparently been lying in wait, a tall figure shadowed her. He'd hidden there, and now he had the advantage over her. She was, of necessity, silent, his hand not allowing her mouth to open. But she could fight soundlessly, and her hands reached back over her head, fingers curved and aimed at his face.
She felt a fingernail dig deeply into flesh, and the indrawn breath of the man who held her. With a quick move he captured both her hands and drew them behind her back, turning her in his arms to face him.
"Hold still, ma'am. I'm not going to hurt you. You'll be all right."
His voice was graveled, rough and deep. She'd never felt less secure in her life, and he had the nerve to tell her that all was well. She stiffened in his grip, her breath rasping in her lungs, as she forced her bruised lips to open.
"I doubt anyone could hear you shout or cry out," he said mockingly, looking down at her from dark eyes that were barely visible in the light of the moon and stars from the windows. "You've chosen to live alone, a mile from the nearest neighbor, and let me tell you, that isn't a safe choice for a woman by herself."
"I have no intention of calling for help, you bastard!" she whispered. "What do you want with me? Or is that a stupid question?" A vision of violence filled her mind, with herself as the victim, and she shivered as if a wintry chill had passed down her spine.
"I've already told you that I won't hurt you, if that's what you're worried about," he said quietly.
"You certainly weren't what I expected to find here. You're only a girl."
His voice rang with disgust, and he shook his head, as if denying his thoughts. "I just need a place to stay for a few days. You'll hardly know I'm here."
She laughed scornfully. "Somehow I find that hard to believe. You're too big to sweep under the rug, and I have nowhere to keep you. I only have one bed in the house. It belongs to me."
"Have you never heard of sharing?" A touch of humor, bordering on teasing, colored his voice, and he allowed his index finger the privilege of tracing a line down her cheek. She pulled away from the touch, shivering as the rough pad of his finger took stock of her smooth flesh.
"I don't share my bed with anyone," she said adamantly. "If you insist on sleeping in the bed, I'll take the floor. I spent a lot of years without a mattress beneath me. Another night won't hurt me."
"Ah, you're wrong there," he insisted firmly.
"You'll be where I can reach you. And I'll warn you right now, I'm a light sleeper. One move out of you and I'll be on you like a bear on a honey tree."
Somehow the picture that brought to mind lacked much, Debra decided. For a moment she wished fervently that she'd stayed in town with the storekeeper's daughter. The invitation had been given in an undertone, while Mr. Anderson was with a customer, and Debra had shaken her head, knowing that, if she were discovered in her friend's bedroom, there'd be hell to pay. And she'd be the one paying it.
A half-breed was tolerated in town, so long as she had enough money to pay for her purchases at the general store, but there could never be any friendships formed. Julia was the exception, having made it her business to drive her buggy out of town on the occasional Sunday afternoon, finding her way to Debra's small holding.
Now there was no choice, no friend to keep her company through the night, only this stranger who appeared even more menacing as he warned her of the night to come.
"Do you have anything to tend to before you go to bed?" he asked.
"The cow will need milking, the horses will need feeding, and my food must be put up. I ate in town and the chickens were fed this afternoon."
He bent and picked up the bundles beside her, and she took them from him, feeling the warmth of his hands against hers. "Who are you?" she asked, wanting the truth from him, but not expecting to hear it.
"My name is Tyler."
"Tyler as your first name or your last?" she asked.
"Just Tyler," he said with finality. "Now put away your foodstuffs."
"I'll light the lamp," she said, walking toward the table, over which hung her kerosene lantern.
"No light," he said quickly. "I'll warrant you can find a place to stash your food in the dark."
"There's no one around to see the light," she told him, aggravated at being a prisoner of this man. Whatever he planned, it boded no good for her, she'd already decided.
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In 1888 in the Dakota Territory, half-breed Debra Nightsong lives alone as neither her Indian progeny nor her white people accept her. She is okay with being somewhat a hermit especially when the winter freezes everything though deep down she knows she is lonely and expects one day to die without anyone coming to her funeral except perhaps her half-brother.-------------------- After a long day working hard on her farm, Debra returns to her home only to find Ethan Tyler inside holding a gun aimed at her. He is one the lam, but will not explain why she assumes he runs from the law though it could be a woman. Ethan makes Debra his hostage, but he surprises her even more with his hard work on the farm. As they fall in love, a bounty hunter is coming to bring Ethan back to face the law.-------------- NIGHTSONG is an entertaining western romance starring a woman who has given up on humanity (with few exceptions) due to facing bigotry all her life, and a mysterious seemingly kindhearted man on the run. The story line is at its best when this couple works the farm together. It loses some steam when the late suspense occurs with the arrival of the bounty hunter. Though no major villainous character shows up, Carolyn Davidson provides a strong look at the debilitating impact of racism in the late nineteenth century.------------- Harriet Klausner