Read an Excerpt
By Susan Edwards
Copyright © 2002
All right reserved.
Standing on the bank of a slow-moving tributary off the
Missouri River, John Cartier eyed the new day with hands
fisted on his hips. Rich golds surrounding wide ribbons of red
amber shot from the horizon in a wild splash of color.
Giving in to fanciful notions, John pictured the dawn as a
woman. The golds became long tresses of silky soft curls; the
reds, her soft, pouting lips; the paler shades of rose, the
blush of her cheeks; and the pale sky, her lovely eyes. The
greens of the leaves fluttering on the trees became the bodice
of her dress, and the wild array of the colors her skirt,
swirling around her as she danced across the sky.
This was Dawn at her womanly best, in his opinion. Some days
she greeted him with the shy blush of a virgin, and days like
today, it was the vibrant beauty of a well-loved woman. Either
way, mornings were his favorite time.
Inhaling the sweet air, John tipped his head back, taking a
moment to enjoy this bit of peace and quiet. "A gift of true
beauty." Realizing he'd spoken the words aloud, he sent a
rueful grin to Fang, who sat on his haunches, staring up at
his master. "Yeah, I know. I'm talking aloud again." The
animal shook his head, his great tongue lolling, then bounded
off into the brush.
John turned back to the lightening sky, wishinghe had someone
to share every sunrise with-a woman, not a wolf. He sighed.
The image of a perfect woman flashed before him, brought forth
from the heavens themselves: sky-blue eyes, hair of the sun,
and a richness of spirit to match the earth at his feet. Each
night he dreamed of her, and each dawn he waited for her-which
was ridiculous, as the only women out here were wives of other
trappers. They were mainly squaws or coarse women of
indeterminate age who led the lives of their husbands.
Wiggling his bare toes into the muddy bank, John heaved out a
long, slow breath, then shrugged off the silly notions that
seemed to grow stronger with each day, making him work harder,
pushing himself to exhaustion to keep the loneliness at bay.
Only in the early mornings did it creep up on him.
"You're a foolish man, John," he scolded himself. "Been alone
too long." His grandfather and cousin were long overdue to
return. He was starting to worry.
Rolling his shoulders, easing the kinks from a night spent on
the hard ground, he set about starting his day. He yanked his
buckskin shirt over his head and stepped out of his breeches,
leaving them in a heap near his rifle a short distance from
the bank. The caress of the gentle morning breeze played over
his body, now naked as the day he slid from his mother's womb.
Drawing in a deep breath, he stepped father into the cool
river, then dove in headfirst.
Surfacing, he shook his mane of dark hair, sending droplets of
water whirling around him. He washed quickly, lifting his
voice in a bawdy, off-key song. A low whine sounded from the
bank. John glanced at his wolf, who'd returned. He called:
"Need to hear a voice, Fang, even if it's only my own."
Like the otter and beaver he trapped, he drifted on his back
for a while, staring skyward, enjoying the coolness of the
morning. By afternoon, temperatures would climb as the sun
blazed over this dry land.
His wolf barked and whined. John glanced at the animal.
Normally Fang sat quietly or joined him in the water to play.
Today he seemed agitated. The beast hopped back and forth from
the bank to the path leading away from the shack. John stood,
letting water slough off him in sheets. "What is it, boy?" He
left the stream, dried off, and quickly dressed, then went to
scan the area.
The animal continued to whine and pace. When John picked up
his rifle, the wolf took off. John followed, alert to each
sound around him. Between Indians and other trappers who
roamed this land along the river, he trusted no one save a
handful of friends.
At last the wolf stopped, and John stopped as well. After a
pause, Fang continued at a much slower pace, the fur at his
neck standing on end. John lightened his steps and moved
cautiously through the thick band of trees. He knew where he
was, and when he reached the end of the trees, he hunkered
down. Beyond the tree line lay one of his favorite places-a
small, secluded meadow.
He glanced down at the wolf, who was staring intently at
something just beyond the trees. An injured animal? Or a
human? John frowned but didn't leave the concealing foliage.
At his side, Fang growled. "What is it, boy?" he asked softly,
his hand on his rifle tightening as he searched for movement.
Then he heard it: a muffled sound. A cry.
The wolf left the wall of trees and approached the fallen log
on the other side. John followed, sure that it was another
injured animal. Had it been another trapper or an Indian, Fang
would have stayed clear. The wolf approached the fallen log
with his head down, nose sniffing. Then he sat, cocked his
head, and let out a mournful whine. John stepped around the
log and stopped in shock when his searching gaze fell on a
She lay sleeping on her side, curled into a tight ball, her
bare arms held close to her body, fingers curled beneath her
chin. She wore a ragged and threadbare shift that did little
to hide her slim waist and rounded hips; but it was her
features, set into a small, perfect oval, that held him
spellbound, and made him wonder if he hadn't fallen and
knocked himself senseless. He'd never seen such delicate
beauty, such perfection.
Shades of browns and yellows dominated her coloring-from pale
blond hair the shade of spun silk and sunshine, to eyebrows
and lashes a shade darker. Skin the tone of rich honey became
the perfect backdrop for freckles as fine as gold dust and
evenly distributed across the gentle sweep of her nose. Her
lips, he noted with awe, were the rosy kiss of dawn.
His gaze slid down along the gentle line of her jaw and her
rounded chin. She mumbled something, her arm lifting, the back
of her hand pressing against her mouth in sleep. When she
rolled onto her back, the material of her torn shift pulled
taut across the generous swells of her breasts. The thin
fabric hid little of their size or shape. Even the pale tips
were visible. Feeling uncomfortable staring while she slept,
John forced his gaze back to her face, and the halo of golden
hair spread out beneath her.
"Lady Dawn," he whispered, stunned by the presence of this
woman. Just looking upon her fair beauty seemed to ease the
darkness creeping through his soul. She couldn't be real. Had
to be a dream. Maybe he'd drowned and died and had gone to
He wanted to reach out and touch her, see if she was real. But
if he'd truly gone crazy out here, he didn't want to break the
spell. He could look upon her for an eternity and never get
Fang made the decision for him. He bounded forward and sniffed
the woman's foot, his cold nose startling her awake. She
bolted upright, stared at the wolf, then screamed, startling
all of them. John jumped back, Fang ran, and the woman herself
watched him warily with eyes as blue as the sky above. She
scrambled to her knees, ready to bolt like a frightened doe.
John couldn't move if his life depended on it. He fell, long
and hard, into the liquid pools of her blue eyes. Fang's
muffled bark from behind the log jerked him back to reality.
This was real. She was real. The fear in her eyes made him
snap his jaw closed and remember his manners.
"Easy, miss. Name is John Cartier," he said. His voice was too
loud in his own ears. She flinched. He cringed and gentled his
tone to a lower, softer timbre. "I won't hurt you." Noticing
her gaze straying from him to Fang, he cleared his throat.
"That there is Fang. Had him since he was a pup. He won't harm
For a moment, she looked like she'd bolt like a rabbit.
Instead, all emotion drained from her face, leaving her pale,
her eyes lifeless, like an empty, unseeing shell. She lay back
down without speaking.
Confused and concerned, he moved slowly forward. "Who are
you?" Silence met his question. More important, how had she
come to be here? He glanced down at the fur she lay upon, then
noticed the bear claw around her neck and the leather pouches
lying near the log.
She'd been with an Indian. That much was clear. Was she a
captive? He glanced around uneasily. If so, where was the
warrior who'd claimed her? Bending down, he reached out to
touch her on the shoulder. She jumped but didn't look at him.
"Miss? I can help. I have a cabin-not much-but it's shelter.
You'll be safe there." With other trappers returning for the
coming winter trapping season, and the tribes of Indians who
roamed the area, it wasn't safe to leave a woman alone and
"Doesn't matter what happens to me." The girl's voice faded
and she drew herself tighter into a ball, clutching a wooden
Her grief reached out and snared him as surely as his traps
snared the prized beavers he hunted. She appeared to be in
shock, yet was unharmed-at least physically, from what he
could see. "It's not safe for you to stay out here," he added.
Her actions confused him. If she'd been a captive, she should
have been happy to see another white man, even one as
rough-looking as he. He ran a hand over his ragged beard, and
glanced at his filthy clothing. Perhaps not.
She spoke, almost as if talking to herself. "I wanted to
live." She laughed, a hollow, humorless sound. "God would have
done me a favor had He taken my life and let me die along with
my parents." Her voice, hoarse with tears and grief, rose
slightly. Horrified by her talk of dying, John moved closer
and reached out. He said, "Come on. I'll take care of you and
see that you're returned home." Wherever that was.
Of course, the thought of sending her away left John
protesting inside. For the first time he understood how the
Indians felt and thought when they found a woman and took her
captive. John wanted this woman. It didn't matter that he
didn't even know her name or her circumstances. Just her
presence filled that emptiness inside him, as if she'd been
made for him. As crazy as it seemed, he felt a connection to
her just from looking at her.
When he tried to scoop her into his arms, she came alive. "No!
I have to stay here. He'll be back. I know he'll come back for
me!" She fought his hold on her.
He? Trapper or Indian? "Who? Who left you here and why?" John
didn't want trouble, but in good conscience, he couldn't just
leave her alone without knowing more.
"Please," she beseeched, scooting away. "Leave." She shoved at
his hands. "My Indian warrior will return. He won't abandon
me." Gut-wrenching sobs shook her. "Not again. Oh, God, not
Her words didn't make sense to John except that she'd been
left by an Indian. The fact that she seemed to think she'd
been abandoned-though John couldn't imagine any man, white or
red, doing so-gave him the excuse to effortlessly lift her
into his arms. He stood, and she fought, but against his
strength she didn't have a chance.
"Calm down, miss. It'll be okay. I promise. We aren't going
far. Whoever you're waiting for will find you if you they come
back." He made his way across the meadow and into the deep
shade of the woods.
Most of the tribes knew John and his grandfather, and the two
of them were on good terms with those. Still, he worried over
any kind of confrontation with savages, especially if the
woman had been held against her will. She didn't act like
she'd been a captive, but John knew she might have gone crazy
in captivity. He'd worry about it later, though. Right now he
needed to get her to safety in case there was trouble.
The woman went limp in his arms, as if too exhausted to fight.
Cradling her close, John bent low to avoid the stinging slash
of a low branch. Once clear, he straightened and glanced down
at his burden.
She'd closed her eyes, shutting him out. Up close, he noted
the streaks from tears, her swollen eyelids, and her
vulnerable beauty. Her hair, nearly white and silky soft,
caressed his arm and hung down in waves to brush against this
thigh. A rush of tender protectiveness rose in him toward this
woman. Whatever her past-and whatever the future held-it
didn't matter. Right now she needed him. And he needed to help
her. Fate had sent him Lady Dawn.
For now, that was enough.
Excerpted from White Dawn
by Susan Edwards
Copyright © 2002 by Susan Edwards.
Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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