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Late summer, 1810
The coyote's howl broke the predawn stillness that had startled Emily awake moments ago. Something was wrong. Terribly wrong. It was dark, the moon hidden behind a cover of gray clouds. Seeking warmth and reassurance, the terrified girl had turned to her companion.
But he was gone, leaving only a cold empty spot where she'd fallen asleep wrapped snugly in his arms. She rose to her knees and peered into the darkness.
Suddenly a small ray of light broke through the blanket of clouds and she spotted a familiar figure moving farther into the gray shadows.
"Wait!" she cried. Jumping to her feet, heedless of the rocks and branches stabbing the bare soles, she stumbled after the departing warrior.
Emily grabbed his arm, dimly aware of the weapons slung across his shoulders and animal-skin pouches of personal items hanging from a throng around his waist.
His nostrils flared with emotion. Eyes as brown as earth refused to meet her questioning gaze.
She stepped close and found herself caught by strong muscular arms and held against his bronzed chest. She threw her arms around his neck and clung fiercely, her head burrowing under his chin.
Rough hands covered hers, forcing her arms down to her sides. Strong hands traveled up her bare arms and feathered over her shoulders to frame her small oval face.
Emily closed her eyes as his head lowered. His lips were firm and warm, yet she sensed his desperation as he gently led her back to the spot where they'd spent the night.
She found herself sitting on a fallen pine tree watching the warrior bend over to pick up a water pouch made from the stomach lining of a buffalo and a bulging parfleche filled with meat, berries and greens. He held them out to her.
Emily took the precious pouches that she'd refilled just yesterday and laid them in her lap, wondering why he was preparing to leave so early this day.
He held out a wooden object. Reaching for it, Emily twisted sideways on the decaying log to let beams of moonlight fall on his offering.
A thick piece of bark formed the top of the crudely carved box. Lifting it, she peered inside. Soft brown rabbit fur lined the interior. Curled on the silky fur lay a necklace.
Emily lifted it out and held it up. She gasped at the beauty of the rabbit claws, feathers and even a prized eagle claw strung on a learner thong. She was honored. But as she turned, her cry of pleasure died. She scanned the area but she was alone.
Looking at the gifts, one dangling from the tips of her fingers, the other resting on her palm, she knew she would not find him this time. He'd said goodbye.
Tears slid from her watery blue eyes, spiking long blond lashes as they pooled and flowed in rivulets down smooth ivory skin.
Her head moved slowly from side to side as she refused to believe her protector, friend and lover had disappeared behind nature's wall of greenery.
High overhead, the stillness was broken as birds chirped and fluttered, waking to greet the light of a new day.
Emily heard none of it. She sat perfectly still. This couldn't be happening! Hadn't she suffered already? Hadn't losing her family in that gruesome massacre been enough?
A rustling from the bushes behind Emily caused her to jump off the log, the precious water pouch falling to the ground, creating a puddle at her feet. Her heart raced. She clutched his gift to her chest. Rounding the large green bush, she scanned the area, sure that he'd come back.
Instead a doe, startled by her sudden presence, flicked her white tail and bounded into the concealing darkness of the woods.