Mail order bride Jennifer Andrews heads to Texas ready for adventure. But when her stagecoach is attacked, the auburn-haired beauty wishes she had never left St. Louis. All at once the renegades are gone—and she is cradled in the strong arms of fellow passenger Wade Morrow. The handsome man saved her life, and though they’re all alone on the vast Texas plains, she feels safer than she ever has before.
Though Comanche blood runs in Wade Morrow’s veins, he was adopted by a white family as an infant and knows nothing of his Indian heritage. Still, something in him yearns for the wild, untamed land where he was born. So he heads to west Texas to join his past with his future. But when Jennifer Andrews ends up in his arms, he wants to harden his heart against the sweet desire she awakens—if only he could deny the passion they share . . .
“Time after time, Rosanne Bittner brings a full-blown portrait of the untamed West to readers. Her tapestry is woven with authenticity, colorful characters, intense emotions and love’s power over every conceivable obstacle.” —RT Book Reviews
|Sold by:||Barnes & Noble|
|File size:||2 MB|
About the Author
Read an Excerpt
Slow Woman forced herself to keep going, in spite of the pain. She was a Comanche woman without a husband, taken in by her dead husband's brother, who might just as easily cast her out if she would cause too much fuss and show weakness. Although this was her first baby and she was afraid of the unknown, she knew she must be brave, and she struggled on, taking moments to stop and grip her swollen belly when another contraction came.
How she missed Many Horses, in whom she had taken such pleasure after becoming his wife. Many Horses would have been proud and boastful about the life she carried ... if, indeed, it was his seed that had planted that life.
She sat down to pull up the ankle flaps of her fringed moccasins in order to guard her ankles against the harsh plant life of the western plains of Texas. The tribe with which she traveled was headed into the mountain ranges to hunt, after which they would again descend into Mexico to raid and loot their ancient Spanish enemies.
Now there was another enemy who was making much trouble for the Comanche. They were the white American settlers in Texas, who now called Comanche country their own. It was white men who had killed her husband when they had caught her and Many Horses mating by a river — white men who had raped her, each taking his own turn. Her humiliation and grief were great, and she knew that the life in her belly could very well carry white blood.
The rest of the tribe walked or rode past Slow Woman as with great effort she again got to her feet. She coughed on the alkaline dust that was stirred, then bent over in another gripping pain. Instinct told her the baby would come quickly now. She waited for the rest of her people to pass by, then grasped hold of her horse and staggered to a tumbled pile of large boulders. In the middle of the rocks was a hollow space, where the shadow of one overhanging rock provided some relief from the hot sun. It seemed as good a place as any to give birth.
Her horse bent its head to nibble at a drying bunch of buffalo grass, and Slow Woman managed to raise up and pull a blanket from its back. She threw it down and squatted over it, pulling her tunic to her waist. Soon she was in too much agony to worry over whether the horse would run off. She wondered if her sister-in-law's nagging warnings that she was too young to have a healthy baby could be true.
The thought frightened her, but she reminded herself that very often fourteen-year-old Comanche women had no problems with having babies. Some bore children at even younger ages. She refused to think about the greater majority who had died, or who had weak babies that were killed.
As was the custom, this was a task a Comanche woman had to do alone. She would simply have to follow and catch up with the others as soon as the baby was born. Perhaps her brother-in-law and sister-in-law would drop back and wait for her, but in these days of being hunted like rabbits by white men, it was dangerous to fall away from the others, as she and Many Horses had learned the hard way.
Her thoughts swam with a mixture of the beauty of lying with Many Horses, and the ugliness of her attack by the white men. Which seed had produced this baby? Should she keep it and nurse it, or should she kill it? How could she be sure at birth if the child had white blood, for all newborns were red and wrinkled, the color of their eyes hardly discernible.
She dearly wanted this little baby, and she began to pray to the spirits as she grunted and cried out, "Let my child be a son!" If it was a boy, even though it was a half-breed, she might be allowed to keep it. Sons were vital as protectors and providers. Yes, she decided, she would make her people let her keep this baby, for there was always the chance that this was the child of Many Horses.
Through agonizing pain that tore at her insides, she was vaguely aware that the sun's position in the sky had changed from mid-morning to mid- afternoon. Now the rock hardly shielded her, its shadow cast in a different direction. The sun glared down on her without mercy as she remained squatted in tearful childbirth, until with one agonizing push a squirming bit of life fell onto the blanket. Quickly she took a knife from a belt at her side and cut the cord that had been the child's lifeline while it grew inside of her. She cleaned membrane away from the baby's face, turning it over and patting its back as she had seen other women do with new babies to help them begin breathing.
To her great joy she realized the child was a boy. As it began to squawk its pitiful first cry, another pain hit Slow Woman, surprising her with its intensity. Surely once a baby was born there should not be this same pain. Her insides seemed to be contracting again, and to her amazement and horror she realized another baby was coming.
Twins! It seemed incredible and cruel. Twins were a bad omen. The Comanche never allowed twins to live. For two bodies to share the same spirit meant neither could be strong. She wept as the second child was born, another boy. Through tears she cut its cord also and got it breathing. Minutes later she pushed and worked to rid herself of the afterbirth, while both babies lay squalling, their little limbs flailing, their bodies still covered with blood and membrane.
Slow Woman wiped away her tears and rose, going to her horse to get a canteen. She was proud of having her own horse. It had belonged to Many Horses, who had been a proud warrior and had earned his name by stealing many horses from Mexicans and enemy Indians and the white man. Slow Woman had given all but one of the horses to her brother-in-law in payment for taking her in.
She wet a soft piece of deer hide and washed herself, then wrapped a piece of flannel from a white man's shirt around herself to catch the bleeding. She wet another piece of flannel from her canteen and knelt to wash the babies.
She stared at the crying infants, awed at how they seemed exactly alike. Their little fists were clenched as they bleated in angry hunger, sounding almost like little sheep. Her throat tightened at the thought of how the Comanche men would destroy this life she had just expelled if they saw she had twins. Her eyes misted as she gently washed them. Did they belong to Many Horses? Her heart still ached for her husband, and she had so looked forward to holding a child of his blood to her breast. Her brother-in-law would be pleased to know she had had a son. But twins — that was different! He would kill both babies and perhaps cast her out.
She finished washing them, then untied the shoulders of her tunic and let it fall. She picked up one baby and held him to her breast, and the child sucked hungrily. After a few minutes she lay the now-satisfied infant down on its belly and picked up the second baby to let him feed at her other breast. She looked down at the sweet, innocent child, then over at his brother on the blanket. They were tiny and red and wrinkled, but they were obviously healthy. They had all their limbs, had both suckled at her breasts with an eager appetite. Tiny hands pinched at her skin as the second boy continued to feed, and her eyes teared more. It seemed cruel and unfair that her precious babies should be destroyed, that she should have nothing to show for all she had just suffered, nothing to hold or love after all the months of carrying these tiny bits of life.
She lay the second baby down and rose, walking away from the rocks and looking in the direction in which her people had gone. She realized that none knew what had just happened here. They only knew she had stopped to have her baby. Her heart raced with an idea that was both wonderful and heartbreaking. She could return with one baby. There was a good chance her brother-in-law would let her keep a son. She would have a baby to love and hold, a son to grow into a great warrior, and for now a child to take away her loneliness.
It was the only answer to her dilemma. She must keep one baby and leave the other behind, or both babies would be destroyed. Her young mind whirled with the torment of indecision. She could only hope the baby she must choose to abandon would die quickly, before some animal found it. She bent down to the blanket and studied her tiny sons closely, trying to determine which was the bigger, healthier child. She picked them up in her arms, holding them both close for a moment, finally deciding the child in her left arm was heavier and cried louder. She had no other way of determining which might be stronger.
She choked back tears as she tenderly kissed the baby in her right arm. She laid both babies back on the blanket then and rose, tying her canteen back onto her horse. She took a cradleboard from her supplies, something she had already made for the coming baby. She knelt to the blanket again and swaddled the slightly bigger baby into the deerskin casing of the cradleboard, lacing the skin securely so that the baby was tightly bound. She walked back to the horse and hung the cradleboard on the animal's side.
Quickly wiping at more tears, she returned to the blanket, lifting the second baby and folding the blanket so that the soiled section would be away from him. She held her chin high for a moment, asking the spirits to bless him and take him quickly to the great beyond with the least amount of suffering as possible.
"I am sorry, little one," she said as she laid the child back into the blanket and wrapped the blanket around the tiny life form. "I must choose, or lose you both. Always I will remember you, but no one will ever know my son was a twin. Soon you will join Many Horses in the Land Above and ride free." She leaned down and kissed the baby's cheek. The tiny boy made a little "o" with his mouth and reached toward her.
Through misty eyes Slow Woman wrapped him more tightly so that he could not move his arms and legs. She gently laid him up against the rock that was farthest under the overhanging flat boulder so that the sun would not reach him. He made a small gurgling sound as she rose, and she knew that the baby's last uttering would haunt her the rest of her life.
She turned, refusing to look back as she took up the reins of her horse and led it away, following the trail of her brethren. She felt weak and dizzy and knew she did not have the strength to climb up on the horse. She only hoped she would have the strength to get far away from the baby she had left behind before she could hear it begin to cry.
Vivian Morrow lay in the bed of the lumbering, canvas-topped freight wagon that her husband had rigged into living quarters for them both. Every jolt of the wagon disturbed her much-needed sleep and reawakened her sorrow. This unbearably hot desert was no place for a nineteen-year-old woman who had just lost a baby, but she knew that if she could just get through this desolate country and make it to California, it would be beautiful there, just like Lester had promised.
She loved her husband dearly, and she knew he shared her sorrow over losing the baby. But Lester Morrow had a dream: to get his wagons full of freight to the West Coast, set up a supply business there, and perhaps run supply trains back into the desert forts of Arizona and New Mexico with fresh farm products from California, as well as other valuables. The government had already contracted with him, and Lester was sure he could make his plan work and become a wealthy merchant in California.
Vivian had loved Lester since she first met him back in Houston when she was sixteen. They had married just before this journey, knowing that once Lester reached California, he might never make it back to Texas. He was starting a new life, and they wanted to do it together. Vivian had confidence in Lester, who was fifteen years her senior, and who had driven freight supply wagons for another company all over Texas and was familiar with this land.
Lester's company consisted of twelve huge freight wagons, each one pulled by teams of eight oxen. The supplies inside had been purchased with money Lester had saved diligently, as well as through a loan from a trusting merchant/banker in San Antonio. Both the government and the merchant were confident Lester would manage this journey and would be successful in his venture. He was a big, hard-working man who was known for his honesty and his knowledge of the freighting business.
Once they reached California, Vivian would settle there; but the trip seemed to last an eternity. The wagons were heavily loaded, and the oxen moved at a snail's pace. Besides the heat and Vivian's grief, there was always fear of Indian attack. All day today the train of wagons had been following the trail of migrating Comanche. Lester had said they were Comanche because the long fringes that decorated the sides of their moccasins left little sweeping marks beside the footprints.
"Looks like a whole migrating tribe with women and children along," Lester had told her that morning. "It's no war party. But don't you worry. We're well-armed. And as long as we're behind them, they don't know we're here. They're probably on their way into the mountains to hunt."
Sometimes she wanted to hate him for bringing her, but she knew this was the only way they could be together; and she didn't have the heart to ask Lester to give up his dream and stay in Houston. She knew her feelings were scrambled right now. She had suspected she was pregnant when they left Houston, but she didn't want to tell Lester and postpone the journey he had spent months preparing for; and whenever she looked into his tender, blue eyes and felt his lanky but strong arms around her, his big hands touching her face, all feelings of animosity left her. She realized losing the baby was not his fault, and she told herself she could have more children once she reached California and had gotten settled.
It was getting very dark now, and Vivian heard Lester's familiar whistle, heard him ordering the men to circle the wagons. Bullwhackers snapped their whips and shouted and whistled, while oxen snorted and the cattle that had been herded along bawled as riders began corralling them inside the circle that the wagons were forming.
Vivian was the only woman among a company of twenty-three men, most of them trusting friends of Lester Morrow, and most of whom had investments in Lester's dream. They were sturdy men, familiar with driving teams of oxen and good with their guns. Vivian was seldom afraid of attacks from outsiders because these men were well-armed. But she was terribly lonely, homesick for Houston and her family there, aching for the company of another woman. Most of all, she felt empty — empty of the baby she had hoped to give Lester, the baby she had hoped to hold to her breast, the baby she had planned to love and keep her company during the long periods when Lester would have to be gone because of his freighting business.
Soon the wagons were circled and the general din of making camp commenced. Men shouted back and forth, some unyoking oxen while others began a camp fire using buffalo chips and dry mesquite. Others assigned the job of cook would be opening their bins of flour and bacon and beans and the like. Vivian sat up and brushed her hair, then picked up her Bible, her main source of comfort on this long, lonely journey. She thought if not for Lester and her Bible, she would go insane in this desolate country.
She opened the Good Book to her favorite passage, Ruth 1:16-17. "And Ruth said, 'Entreat me not to leave thee,'" she read softly, "'or to return from following after thee; for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if aught but death part thee and me.'"
Lester was at the back of the wagon then, and she looked up from her reading. "I want you to eat something this time, and no arguments," he told her with his heavy drawl. His square chin was peppered with whiskers from two days of hard work without a shave, and his dusty clothes were damp with perspiration; but he was still the handsome, brawny man she had married.
"I'll try," she answered, setting aside her Bible. She reached out to him and he helped her down from the wagon.
"How are you feeling today?"
"Better," she answered, forcing back the tears of depression that were on the verge of falling. Lester was such a strong, able man. She hated showing weakness in front of him, even though he would understand.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Comanche Sunset"
Copyright © 1991 Rosanne Bittner.
Excerpted by permission of Diversion Publishing Corp..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.