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Late September, 1865
Slowly rousing from a restless doze, Christa became aware of the man.
Her heart seemed to fly to her throat, ceasing its beat, then pounding furiously.
He was tall, and he filled the entryway to the tent. His shoulders were broad, and cast against the darkness of the velvet, stormy night, he was touched only lightly by the blood-red blaze of the low-burning fire in the center of the tepee.
Terror filled her in those first few seconds. The red and gold light made him appear like some ancient pagan God of this wild, raw land, some indomitable being, created of muscle and sinew and vengeance.
Dear God! Who was it? Standing in the firelight and shadow, she knew he had come for her.
It must be Buffalo Run, she thought, coming to take his revenge. He would have what amusement he could find from her—and then he would have her scalp. She knew the Comanche sometimes tortured their captives, cutting their tongues out if they screamed in the night.
And when she died, her scalp, with a long black tress waving from it, would be stuck upon a pole high atop a plain’s butte for some other traveler to discover.
Just as they had found that blond scalp themselves, not so very long ago. The blond scalp that must have belonged to a young woman, as Robert Black Paw and Dr. Weland had determined.
Dear God, no!
Jesu, sweet Jesu, let her open her eyes again and see that the man at the entry was gone! That she had imagined the towering figure of a man there in the darkness, touched only by that flickering light! Once it might not have mattered so fiercely. But it did now. She wanted to live. She wanted to live for her child. She wanted to live for the life that they might share together.
She opened her eyes. Her heart seemed to shudder. He was still there. He stared at her in the firelight, and she saw he had the advantage, for he was cast against the blackness of the night while she was bathed by the golden flames. She swallowed hard.
She didn’t show fear, Jeremy had told her once, and that was, perhaps, the one thing he admired about her. Lying in their tent beneath the stars one night, he had admitted with a bitter tone to his voice that she was no simpering belle, no matter how she liked to play the part of the grand dame. Had she been in the midst of the fighting, Grant might never have taken Richmond.
She knew how to fight! But could she fight now? She had fought her way right into the middle of this disaster. Now the red and gold fire lit up the tepee from its center, casting some objects into amber light and some into crimson shadow. How menacing those dark shadows seemed.
How menacing the man who stood between that ominous play of light and dark!
Her heart slammed, seemed to cease its beat, then began to pound with a fury to rival the drumbeats.
The man cast in the light began to move. He took a step forward into the tepee.
Outside, it had been storming. Now, the rains had stopped. Only the chill wind remained. Anguished moans turned into tearing howls, cries that haunted the landscape. She could still hear the endless monotony of the drums as she watched that towering figure come toward her.
The night was savage. So seemed the man.
She placed a hand above her eyes, trying to see him. All around her, the pulse of the drumbeats continued as the seconds ticked by.
What did those drumbeats mean, she wondered desperately. Was she to become a sacrifice to a pagan god? Did each beat spell her doom?
Jeremy would know. He knew the Comanche ways well, just as he knew the Apache, Cheyenne, Pawnee, Ute, and the other tribes along the long trail west. To some of the soldiers, they were all just savages. But Jeremy knew them individually. He had taken the time to do so.
And he had warned her often enough about the Comanche. They could be savage, indeed. But there was more to it than that, he had warned her often enough. They were fiercely proud. They were independent.
She felt a scream rising in her throat. Instinctively, she cast the back of her hand against her mouth, praying that she might choke it back, then wondering why she even cared.
Maybe there was a chance. Comanche sold their captives too. Raped them and sold them to the Spaniards in Mexico, making sure that they only traded soiled goods.
It was warm within the tepee, she realized dimly, despite the pelting rain that had fallen, despite the howling cry of the wind. The Comanche knew how to keep their portable dwellings secure from the rain and the cold. They knew how to live off of this hostile land. They knew how best to torture captives.
She shivered fiercely. He was just feet away from her. In seconds, he would reach the center of the tepee. She would see him bathed in the red-gold glory of the fire, and she would see his eyes, and she would know why he had come.
“You!” she gasped.
He reached the fire. She blinked and her mouth went dry. She could scarcely move, could scarcely believe.
Indeed, the golden glory of the fire touched him. Touched his majestic height, played upon the fine breadth of his shoulders. Touched his eyes, and she saw the jeweled gleam of them. She saw the burning of emotion, but just what emotion, she could not determine.
He reached down his hands to her, catching her wrists when she continued to stare incredulously at him.
He wrenched her to her feet and brought her crashing hard against him.
“Tomorrow, madam, I may die for you,” he said. His voice was rich and deep, his words harsh. The emotion that burned in his eyes brought fire to his fingertips, a touch of steel to the way that he held her. He brought her closer against him. His fingers stroked and cupped her chin, tilting her face, forcing her eyes to his. His fingers threaded into the wild tangle of her hair. His eyes traveled the length of her, assessing her for damage, so it seemed. His fingers, entangled at the nape of her neck, held her head steady as his lips lowered until they hovered just above hers. His grip was forceful. The length of him seemed to shake with electric energy, be it passion or fury.
“Tomorrow I may die. Tonight …” He paused just briefly. She felt the fire in his eyes once again, and the tension of the blaze that burned within his body, as crimson and gold as the flames that lit the tepee. “Tonight,” he continued raggedly, “tonight, my love, you will make it worth my while!”
His lips descended upon hers, hard, questing, demanding.
And bringing all that fire within her.
“Jesu!” she whispered when the bruising force of his lips left her mouth at last. The fire coursed throughout her body. It felt like electricity, moving through her limbs and heart and womb. Her eyes searched his out. God, yes, she had wanted him before. Deeply, passionately. But never like she wanted him this night, with the wind crying beyond the buffalo-hide walls, with the pulse of the drumbeats never ending.
He had come.
She threw her arms around him, clung to him. His fingers moved over her hair, reveling in the length of it. He drew her away from him, the fury, the passion, still alive within him.
“Life—and death. Make them both worthwhile,” he told her harshly.
She stared at him, and then he swept her up into his arms, and bore her down to the furs upon the ground.
“Love me!” he commanded her fiercely.
For a moment his handsome face hovered close over hers. She wanted to reach and touch him, yet she felt as if her limbs were frozen. He stood briefly, casting off his shirt, shedding his clothing, then coming down to her, sleek and naked upon the fur. The length of him was bathed in the fire-gold beauty of the flames. His hands were upon her, stripping her of the fine doeskin tunic the women had given her to wear.
And then she was against his burning, naked flesh.
The corner of his lips twisted into a self-mocking smile.
“Give in to me!” he commanded her. “Everything, Christa, everything.”
Staring at him in the dancing light, she felt a pain like death steal over her heart.
She had given in to him—long ago. He knew that he had brought about her surrender.
But perhaps he didn’t know just how completely he held her heart.
If she said it, he would never believe her. He would assume that she was deliriously grateful that he was here.
She had fought her battles all too well.
Excerpted from "And One Rode West"
Copyright © 1992 Heather Graham.
Excerpted by permission of Random House Publishing Group.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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