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The moonlight streamed through the wide mullioned windows, crisscrossing slanted squares of white light on the intricately patterned red Persian carpet. The room was dark otherwise, except for the ruddy glow of firelight from the small stone fireplace built against one corner. Its flickering threw shadows around the walls, vaguely outlining the massive four-poster bed draped heavily with crimson velvet. Beneath the richly crushed fabric of the huge canopy, atop satin sheets, a woman writhed beneath the muscular embrace of a man. Her moaning was soft and distinct in the quiet room.
The man was very big, his immense shoulders covering her body completely. His smooth muscles rippled fluidly as her hands moved up his back to hook over his broad shoulders. Her fingers curved and clenched, digging into his flesh as her scarlet nails clawed his bare back. His hands were large and strong, and he had them both entangled in the woman's long, silky hair. Her moans grew louder. He lifted his head and stared down at her as he held her face immobile, watching her half-opened eyes and panting, kiss-swollen lips. The dim light reflected on the hard, cleanly chiseled lines of his face, the shadows carving hollows in his high cheekbones and square jaw. He was an extremely handsome man, whose looks proclaimed his confidence in his own masculine strength and capability. His eyes, a brilliant azure, glowed like blue flames as he looked down arrogantly into her passion-flushed face. His hair was a dark blond, sunstreaked almost white on top. It was long and shaggy and thick, and the woman brought one hand up toslide tapered fingers into it where it curled slightly at the back of his neck. His skin was dark, burned by the sun to a deep teak that contrasted sharply with the creamy whiteness of her shoulders and arms.
Everything about him exuded a sense of power. His hard biceps muscles tightened and flexed as he slid one arm under her shoulders and lifted her torso easily, sending her hair streaming down over his forearm in a coppery shimmer. He stilled his body as his eyes examined her writhing state of arousal with a self-assured, insolent gaze.
"Logan, don't torture me...."
He laughed softly, deep in his throat, at her gasping entreaty. He dropped his mouth to hers, muffling her cries, and let the tip of his tongue slowly trace her parted, trembling lips. He lingered tantalizingly in the corners until she groaned beneath his probing invasion. He felt her tongue enter his own mouth and met it, feeling her shudder beneath him. Her hands moved to the hard muscles at his narrow waist, then grasped his hips to urge them down upon hers. Finally, he began once more to move within her, ravaging her senses and bringing her burning body to a fever pitch of excitement.
He inched his warm lips slowly along her finely drawn cheekbone and pressed his hot mouth into the curve of her delicate ear, where his tongue darted and licked at her earlobe and the sensitive hollow beneath it. His blond head moved slowly against her white flesh, down her throat, as she arched her own head back, flinging her red-gold hair from side to side, her breathing hard and fast. At the base of her throat, her staccato pulse raced beneath his mouth. He was purposely prolonging her release as he watched her pant and squirm, well aware that she wanted it that way despite her moaning entreaties to the contrary. He knew her well. He had been involved in a sporadic affair with Isabel Holloway Whitcomb since she'd come to Denver during the gold rush of '59. But he'd met her many years before that at the glittering soirees and balls of the St. Louis elite of which both their families were a part. Since then her father had lost much of his fortune through bad investments, forcing the cold-hearted, hot-blooded woman to make her own way in the world. She'd had too many lovers to remember their names; she knew the weakness in men, and delighted in teasing them with her exquisitely formed body. And she succeeded most of the time, twisting men around her long, slim fingers like loose twine.
Except for Logan Cord. He knew her too well to let her fool him or use him. He played her own game against her, holding his passion firmly in leash and forcing her to bow to him. It amused him, because it enslaved her.
He let his mouth trail slowly over the quivering softness of her flesh, his kisses moving teasingly until he drew a gasp of bittersweet pleasure from her. She moaned softly, and he drew back again.
"You're a devil, Logan," she said breathlessly through set teeth.
Logan smiled slightly, as his mouth sought the cord of her throat.
She groaned, molding her body to him as his hands moved with maddening slowness to stroke her gently.
"Please, please, I want you," she gasped.
Logan laughed softly, his lean hips moving over her softly rounded ones. His own pulse began to throb, her skin like hot velvet beneath him, her breath eager in his ear.
His passion accelerated, her fingers grasping the muscles at his waist and attempting to pull him closer as she rose to meet him. He used her roughly, because she demanded it that way. Although Isabel treated men like playthings, her own passion was aroused only when a man gave her no quarter. She was a violent lover, never sated for long, never failing to leave streaks of her passion across her partner's back.
The end was a consuming explosion of animal passion, and afterward they lay entwined, their bodies molded together as they regained their breath.
Logan moved first as he rolled away and stood up, and she watched his magnificent body in the firelight as he walked across the room. Isabel watched him, feeling the fire erupt in a hot throb in her loins, even in the aftermath of their furious lovemaking. His shoulders were broad, his chest hard, his arms and legs long and corded with muscle.
She watched him turn toward her as he drew on his buckskin breeches, and her eyes dropped as he buckled them across the flat, ridged muscles of his stomach. While she watched, he sat and drew first one, then the other knee-high moccasin over the bulging muscles of each leg.
She'd been married to Marcus Whitcomb for a year when Logan had gazed wickedly into her eyes and invited her into his bed. Her husband was twenty years her senior, and Logan was not the first man to propose such a thing to Isabel, nor was he the first she'd accepted. She'd married Marcus for his money, knowing that her voracious desires could never be satisfied by the old man. And now that he'd died, she hadn't been able to persuade Logan to marry her.
Damn him, he was arousing her now to near climax as she watched his muscles flex. She wanted him again, desperately now, even though she still tingled from their previous joining.
"Don't leave me, Logan. Not yet."
Logan glanced at her as he drew on his white linen shirt and began buttoning it over the blond mat covering his tanned chest, suddenly eager to be away from her. She kept her gaze on his bared flesh until the buttons hid it from view, disappointment written in her eyes.
"Sorry, Isabel, I've got things to do."
"To hell with them! I want you to stay!"
He ignored her commanding tone and shrugged on a fringed rawhide vest. "Not this time."
"You're cruel, Logan. I hate you." Isabel spoke sulkily.
"So you've said before." A humorless smile flashed across his lips.
He buckled his gunbelt and tied the gun snugly around his right leg, then positioned his large bowie knife on the outside of his lean left thigh.
Isabel wanted to slap him. She wanted to bend him to her will like all the others, but she knew it would never happen. Logan Cord would never be ruled by a woman. He used them as she used most men. As toys of pleasure. He used her that way. But he would marry her eventually. He had to. It rankled her deep into her core, but she swallowed her pride.
"Please," she begged softly. "Please, stay."
He was fully dressed now, and he turned to face her, his teeth white and strong in his dark, rugged face.
"I'll be gone a few months. I might look you up when I get back."
She sat up quickly in alarm and demanded harshly, "Where are you going?"
"That's something, Isabel, that doesn't concern you." He walked toward the bed.
"But, I have a right--"
Her shrill voice was cut off as Logan's mouth came down hard on hers. He pulled her body tightly against the rough leather of his vest, and, helpless to stop herself, she wrapped her arms around his neck, burying both her hands in his thick hair. He broke the kiss abruptly and pulled back, staring down into her breathless face, unaffected by her passion.
"You don't have any rights over me, Isabel, and you never will." His voice was flat.
She sputtered in anger, and he dropped her unceremoniously back onto her bed. He turned and strode out of the room and down the wide upstairs hall. The townhouse was silent; Isabel always banished her servants to their quarters for the duration of her trysts. Strident curses followed him down the curving staircase, and he sighed in relief as he stepped onto the porch and slammed the front door behind him.
The summer night was cool and he breathed in deeply, letting the fresh air cleanse his lungs. He was sorry he had let Isabel entice him into her bed. Although she was a beautiful woman and an accomplished lover he always found himself eager to leave her. She had no real feelings, no love or gentleness. She suffocated him after a time with her constant demands and cruel lovemaking. She drained him like a leech. Walking quickly to his horse, he swung into the saddle and pressed his heels into the stallion's flanks. Perhaps the meeting tonight would give him a good excuse to get away from the boring respectability of Denver for a time. He hungered for the mountains and the life of his Sioux friends. For the last few months he'd been dividing his time between the gold mine he owned near Central City, and his mountain estate, Woodstone, where he caught mustangs to ship back east for sale. But both of his businesses were managed by trusted friends, and Logan didn't worry about leaving his business affairs in their hands when he disappeared for a time.
He turned his horse toward the road and spurred him into a gallop. The brisk night air rushed over his face, the spirited stallion moving with powerful grace between Logan's thighs. John Walker had asked Logan to meet a man named Huddleston in a saloon outside the small town of Boulder. John was a good friend. He was the Indian Commissioner in Denver and probably the only honest man connected with the Indian Bureau. Huddleston needed to hire an expert tracker. Since Logan had gained a formidable reputation as the best white tracker in the area he was the logical choice. Very few of his acquaintances in Denver knew of his sideline or his Indian name, Tracker, and he grinned now at the thought of his father's reaction if he were ever to learn that his son was blood brother to a Sioux warrior.
The thought of Two Bears brought an eagerness to Logan's heart. He would talk to Huddleston, then he would travel on to the Sioux camp on Sand Creek. It would be good to see his blood brother again.
Just after the war, when Mexico had ceded much of Colorado to the United States, Logan had been at loose ends, not wanting to return to St. Louis to help run his father's vast business enterprises. Then he remembered John Winstead from his unit of the Missouri Volunteers, and his accounts of the beautiful, rugged mountains of this new Colorado country. Logan's desire for adventure was sparked. He'd learned how to trap and hunt, and had laid claim to a beautiful valley high in the Rocky Mountains, where John had died one harsh winter. After that Logan returned to St. Louis only periodically to sell his furs. The day he'd first seen Two Bears he had been running his traps in the snow, when a nearby trail of fresh blood and human footprints had aroused his curiosity. He'd followed it, rifle in readiness, until he'd come upon Two Bears. A huge grizzly had the sixteen-year-old Sioux trapped in a tree. Half a dozen arrows protruded from the enraged bear's thick fur.
Logan had dropped to his knees and fired, killing the bear, but Two Bears had already been horribly clawed. He was barely alive, but Logan had managed to get him back to his cabin. He had nursed the young Indian back to health, but it wasn't until they returned together to the Sioux camp the following spring that Logan had learned Two Bears was the only grandson of the tribe's most revered chief. Logan had been welcomed as an adopted member of the tribe, becoming Two Bears' blood brother. It hadn't taken him long to master the Indians' language and their skill at stalking, and he had been honored by the Sioux with the name of Tracker.
Logan forced his thoughts back to the present and the business at hand when he finally sighted the frontier tavern. He had traveled hard for several hours to reach Boulder, and the hour was late. Logan drew up to the run-down building and slid from the saddle, looking around the dark street warily. The Stag's Head Saloon was a rough establishment, a place to be on guard. He tethered his horse, listening to the loud squeals of laughter and tinny piano music that drifted out of the brightly lit windows.
He moved through the swinging doors, his eyes sweeping the rowdy interior. Most of the men inside were dressed in buckskin or leather and carried guns strapped low on the hip. He quickly spotted a man who didn't fit in with the others. He was small, sitting alone in the far corner, anxiously scanning the room from behind wire-rimmed glasses.
John had described Huddleston as a greenhorn from St. Louis, and this little man fit the description well. Logan pushed the door open and walked to the rough-hewn bar at the rear of the room. In the mirror he could see the small man watching him. Logan moved to an empty table with his bottle and waited. Five minutes ticked by before the little man made his move. He stepped in front of Logan, looking nervous.
"Are you Tracker?" he asked, a hint of a tremor in his voice.
Logan looked up and took his time appraising the little man's appearance before he answered. He was dressed in a gray tweed coat and trousers, his high white collar crisply starched and fastened with a string bow tie. A small black derby perched atop slicked-back brown hair parted in the middle. His apparel would have been stylishly correct in Chicago or in Logan's father's lavish parlor on Lafayette Square in St. Louis, but here on the Colorado frontier, he looked ludicrous. He was ill at ease, his brown eyes wary under Logan's scrutiny. He twisted a gold watchchain nervously between his fingers.
"Who wants to know?" Logan finally said in a low voice.
The man looked startled at Logan's curt tone, then stuttered out an introduction.
"I'm Alfred Huddleston from St. Louis, sir. I represent the solicitors' firm of Bradshaw, Stern, and Watson. Here's my card."
He held out a small white card, and Logan watched him with an unblinking blue stare until Huddleston hesitantly laid it down on the table.
"What do you want with Tracker, Huddleston?"
"I have some business to discuss with him."
"An employment proposition. A lucrative one," Huddleston added quickly.
Logan searched Huddleston's anxious face a moment, his blue eyes piercingly intent as Huddleston continued.
"John Walker said Tracker would be the only one who could help me."
Logan raised his glass and drank, still watching Huddleston over its rim.
"I'm Tracker. Sit down."
Huddleston breathed easier, scraping out a chair. He perched timidly on the edge, as if ready to flee, and Logan suppressed a grin.
"All right, let's hear it."
Huddleston shifted uneasily and ran a finger between his neck and the stiff white collar. He took a deep breath.
"The firm I represent has been requested by a client to locate a man who knows the mountains around here. One who's friendly with the Indians." He paused as Tracker lifted an eyebrow.
"Who is this client?"
Huddleston squirmed, and Logan sensed he was reluctant to answer. "I'm not at liberty to say, Mr...."
He groped for a last name, but Logan cut him off.
"Tracker's enough. Seems to me that if you can't tell me who you're working for, there might be a reason behind it. Maybe something illegal."
Huddleston looked up into Logan's narrowed eyes and watched his long fingers tighten around the glass.
"Oh no sir, I can guarantee that there is nothing whatsoever illegal here," Huddleston assured him. "Our firm is quite reputable. You see, the fact of the matter is that my client wishes to remain anonymous for his own reasons."
Logan reached for the bottle and poured another shot of whiskey.
"Go on," he said shortly, and Huddleston quickly complied.
"It's rather complicated, really. Back in 1847, Indians attacked a wagon train on its way to Oregon. It happened right in this area, as a matter of fact, in the South Pass. They took all the horses and supplies and killed almost everyone. There was a family along from St. Louis, a man with his wife and daughter. Both parents were killed, but the few who survived the attack saw the Indians take the child. She was three years old at the time. Her grandparents are very wealthy, and they've kept rewards for her return posted at all the forts and trading posts all these years."
Logan looked at him steadily, and Huddleston dropped his gaze.
"Recently an army scout sighted a blond-haired girl with light eyes with a band of Indians. The hair color is right, and she seemed about the right age. She was spotted in a village on the Crow Creek about eighty miles north of here."
Tracker took another drink.
"Cheyenne. And the wagon train was attacked by Cheyenne, which means it could very well be her."
Logan made a derisive sound. "That was fifteen years ago. If she's still alive, she'll be adopted by now."
Huddleston looked blank.
"What do you mean?"
"I mean, she won't remember her white family, much less want to be with them. She'll be Cheyenne through and through. She'll want to stay right where she is."
Huddleston frowned, considering what Logan had told him.
"It doesn't matter. The family wants her back."
Logan stared at him contemptuously. "Despite her wishes?"
"They didn't mention her wishes."
Logan shrugged. "What's in it for me?"
Huddleston relaxed for the first time as he leaned forward slightly.
"Twenty-five hundred dollars now and twenty-five more afterward."
Logan was surprised at the generous figure, but his blue eyes showed nothing to the little man watching eagerly for his reaction. Logan didn't need the money. His gold mine alone had already earned enough to keep him independently wealthy for the rest of his life. But taking the assignment would mean a chance to spend time with Two Bears. It would be his opportunity to leave the city of Denver and Isabel behind, and to feel the freedom of the open land.
Huddleston peered eagerly at Logan from behind the thick lenses that magnified his eyes. "Are you interested?"
Logan set down his glass and considered, staring into Huddleston's perspiring face. "What guarantee do you have that I won't take your money and forget the whole thing?"
Huddleston looked shocked, as if he hadn't thought of it.
"None, I suppose, but John Walker told me that you could be trusted. If this girl's the right one, her grandfather wants her back."
"It'll take time."
Huddleston showed relief. "How long?"
"Three months, provided she's in the village you say she is."
Logan paused, then gazed directly into Huddleston's eyes as he went on. "And I do it my own way or I don't do it."
"Of course, you'll be in complete control of the entire operation. We can set a date and a meeting place. I'll give you the first half of the money now and when you hand over the girl you'll get the rest."
Tracker nodded. "All right. Let's say the first day of October in Denver. The Cherokee Hotel. If I'm not there, wait."
Logan waited until Huddleston nodded agreement, then asked, "What else can you tell me about her?"
"Not much. Her most recognizable feature will be her eyes. They're supposedly of an unusual violet color."
Huddleston nodded and shrugged. "That's what her grandfather said."
"That should be easy enough to check."
Huddleston looked around the room, then quickly passed a heavy bundle beneath the table into Tracker's hands.
Tracker shoved the leather bag into his vest. Without another word he pushed back his chair and headed toward the door. When he looked back at Huddleston, the little man was wiping sweat off his brow with a large white handkerchief. One corner of Logan's mouth lifted in a half-smile as he pushed open the swinging door and stepped out into the dark night.